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Types of U.S. Universities

The U.S. Undergraduate Landscape

What are the different types of universities?

Broadly speaking, there are three different types of U.S. universities:


Liberal Arts Colleges

Liberal Arts Colleges (LACs) focus on teaching the liberal arts and sciences. They are usually undergraduate focused, and do not offer graduate programmes. Classes at LACs tend to be smaller and more discussion based owing to the small cohort sizes.


Public Universities

Public Universities (or state schools) are publicly funded. They offer lower tuition rates for state residents and are typically very large, comprising over 10,000 students. They are often made up of multiple campuses (like the University of California colleges, for example).


Private Universities

Private Universities are not publicly funded and unlike liberal arts colleges, do offer graduate programmes. They usually only have one campus, and are typically quite research focused. The Ivy League colleges are all private universities.

What will my education look like?

Higher education in the United States follows a liberal arts model of education, emphasizing the broad-based study of various disciplines (like the sciences, the humanities and the arts) as well as an in-depth understanding of your chosen field of study, or major.


At most public and private research universities — whether you go on to study Engineering at MIT, Economics at Penn State or Comparative Literature at Harvard—you will be required to take a few classes that teach you foundational knowledge in writing and quantitative reasoning. This is not the same as a liberal arts college.

Liberal Arts Colleges

Liberal Arts Colleges will allow you to major in a variety of disciplines. Students take core classes across all disciplines in the first year.

Research Universities

Within the University as a whole, you can apply to study in the College of Arts & Sciences, the College of Engineering, or the College of Business.