Aside from the timeframe of their degree programs, two- and four-year schools have significant differences in the campus culture and types of programs offered. Some students complete a two-year degree only and then enter the workforce. Others start at a two-year school and then transfer to a four-year college.
The degrees offered at two-year community colleges or trade schools are distinct from those offered at a four-year school. Two-year schools offer liberal arts associate degrees or associate degrees in vocational areas, such as marketing, business administration or criminal justice. You can also earn shorter-term certificates or diplomas to enter work in certain fields. Four-year schools offer bachelor's degrees, which include general education and program-specific courses to prepare students for entry-level careers in a field of study.-
Two-year community colleges are usually less expensive than four-year programs. The average cost at a four-year public school was $8,244, according to an October 2011 "CNN Money" article. Comparatively, a typical community college program costs around $3,000 per year. The price tag is much steeper at private schools. You often pay $15,000 to $20,000 in annual tuition for a typical in-state private college. Some private schools cost in excess of $100,000 for a four-year degree.
The level of admissions selectivity also varies between two- and four-year schools. A July 2010 comparison of community colleges to four-year public and private schools noted that community colleges tend to have much more open admissions policies. This type of school has long filled the void for students who need a chance to prove themselves at the college level. Four-year schools range in level of selectivity, but they tend to have more restrictive enrollment standards. This is especially true in highly regarded institutions, where admissions standards help establish their reputations.
The overall college experience is quite different at a typical two-year school compared to a four-year college. Community colleges often have limited, if any on-campus living. Students may live nearby with parents or in an apartment off-campus. This leads to a commuter culture where students come for classes and go to work or back home. A typical four-year school has on-campus dorms and additional apartments on or off-campus. This contributes to a more evolved campus life with social and extracurricular experiences.
Neil Kokemuller has been an active business, finance and education writer and content media website developer since 2007. He has been a college marketing professor since 2004. Kokemuller has additional professional experience in marketing, retail and small business. He holds a Master of Business Administration from Iowa State University.