Two-Year vs. Four-Year Colleges: Which One is Right for You?

Congratulations! You’ve made it (almost) through high school. Now all you’ve got to do is plan out the next few years of your life. When it comes to choosing your next educational step, you’ll need to think about how much of a time and money investment you’re prepared to make as well as what kinds of jobs you can see yourself holding in the future. To help you figure out where your next move should be, here’s a short breakdown of the pros and cons of two- and four-year colleges.



Although four-year schools get all the media hype, many high school graduates head right to a two-year institution. Looking at the facts, it’s no surprise why. Cheaper, quicker, and highly vocational, two-year schools offer students the chance to start their careers sooner and with less (or no) debt. You can also use a two-year school as a launching point to start earning your bachelor’s degree.

Who Goes There

Students looking to go directly into a trade or technical vocation, those with blemished high school transcripts looking to work their way into a four-year school, and students who simply want to save money on their general education courses before transferring to a more expensive four-year institution.

What You’ll Take

Depending on your degree program, two-year students typically either focus on taking general pre-requisite courses that can transfer to a four-year institution or courses in their specific trade. Since community colleges are closely linked to area industries, students will find a wide array of courses that cater directly to the local job market.

Other Learning Opportunities

In addition to in-class learning, two-year college students frequently take on apprenticeships and internships within their local community. Beyond getting an insider’s look at their future job, interns and apprentices also gain valuable industry connections they can use to land a job upon graduation.

The Cost Factor

Here is where two-year institutions shine. Since most two-year colleges are designed for commuters, students are responsible for finding their own housing and get to avoid the high costs of room and board. Two-year students get a huge break on tuition as well.

According to the College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees at a two-year school is only $3,131, just over one-third of the cost for a year at a four-year public institution.



Get ready to make an investment. Students who put the time and money into a four-year education will reap the benefits throughout their lives. Though four-year schools require at least twice the amount of time as two-year schools AND three times the tuition, they offer students on- and off-campus learning opportunities you simply can’t find anywhere else.

Who Goes There

Those who want a well-rounded education and a flexible degree. While four-year students are required to take a much broader range of courses than two-year vocational students, four-year students graduate with degrees that can be used for a wide spectrum of jobs in the real world.

What You’ll Take

Everything—math, biology, English, history, even music therapy. Although four-year students typically spend the first two years taking generalized courses then the last two years taking courses in their major, students are free to take electives in any field of study.

Other Learning Opportunities

This is where four-year institutions shine. In addition to in-class learning, four-year institutions offer an enormous spectrum of on- and off-campus learning opportunities. On campus you can attend performances, cultural events, and guest lecture series, as well as participate in student-run clubs and honor societies. Students also go off campus for service-learning projects, study abroad trips, internships, cooperative education programs, and field trips.

The Cost Factor

Get ready to cough it up. The College Board reports that the average cost of one year of in-state tuition and fees at a public four-year school is $8,655. Tack on another $9,205 in room and board costs and you’re looking at an average yearly bill of $17,860. For private school students, the situation is even worse. The average private school student pays $29,056 in tuition and fees per year and $10,462 in room and board for a grand total of $39,518. While four-year college students are forced to fork over the dough now, they’ll reap the financial benefits later with higher salaries in the future.

Christina Couch is a freelance writer based in Richmond, Virginia, and Chicago, Illinois. She is the author of Virginia Colleges 101: The Ultimate Guide for Students of All Ages (Palari Publishing, 2008). Her byline can also be found on,, and Wired Magazine.


This article was written by Christina Couch

Christina Couch is a freelance writer based in Richmond, Virginia, and Chicago, Illinois. She is the author of Virginia Colleges 101: The Ultimate Guide for Students of All Ages (Palari Publishing, 2008). Her byline can also be found on,, and, and in Wired Magazine.


  1. Jilver Mazariegos

    I am currently in 11th grade hoping to get to a 4 year college because of the variety of courses as well as getting the career I want but what scares me is the tuition since I am not born in a wealthy family but I appreciate the information the author has given to me and I will definitely think this through clearly

  2. Antonia

    I graduated from high school with Honor’s but spent the two years following that working as CNA. Then I went back to a tech college to get my two year degree never planning to get my four year degree. But through a local internship I came to the choice that I would to better my career options. My sister went right onto a four year school and has 8000 some in debt after her first semester. I will only have debt for my last two years. Two years schools are a great way to get an education and figure out if you want to go on to more later.

  3. lyn

    its really iam thinking to take a degree course..though iam not sure what is good enough for me..because iam thinking for the expenses ,,that was so expensive for me..iam a working student,,so its really nice to read this site..thanks to the author..

  4. Megan

    I graduated high school in the top 10% of my class with highest honor and chose to go to a 2-year college and then after receiving my 2 year degree I transferred to a 4 year university despite the scholarships I was offered out of high school at various 4 year Universities. I came to that decision because I firmly believe community colleges offer a better education experience than 4 year Universities. All of my professors at community college were caring and knowledgeable, all of my professors were doctors except for 2 (who had master’s). Smaller class sizes and professors that actually give a crap if you pass make a HUGE difference in your learning experience. I graduated Community College with honors and I am currently pursuing my bachelors in biomedical sciences with hopes to enter medical school. I’d do it again if I had the chance: Save money!!! Go to a community college first!!

  5. Madeline

    I’m starting my junior year this fall and looking to become a paramedic, possibly by starting at a local community college and then transferring to a college specializing medicine. I think the best thing about starting at a community college is that it’s much easier to adapt your plans should you find that your plotted career was really an implanted dream, and your love is more in, say, music. But I love the way that Ms. Christina has presented the information, and it is a useful article.

  6. Ashley

    Perfect exactly what I was looking for xD

  7. Christopher

    Wow all this seems like a lot, i graduated high school worked for 2 and a half years and now i’m ready to start college. I’m currently stuck because i’m not sure which direction to take, my first options were either a private school or a public school, everyone keeps recommending the public one but the thing is its a 4 year college, i can get my associates in less than 2 years at the private school but its more expensive than the public school. I’d appreciate some advise.

  8. Heidi

    this is somewhat helpful for the occupation that i want to attend.

  9. Jake Klein

    Jake Klein
    Two years school provide less opportunity for the job you are looking for but it is quicker. Four year schools seem to give you more of a chance but it takes more time and it is more expensive.

  10. Colton crook

    I am currently a senior, I plan in graduating and going to the tech school for my core classes then get transferred to north Georgia to major in criminal justice for the GBI. So I would say that a four year college would be the choose for me.

  11. Marion clayton

    Marion Clayton- Right now I don’t know if college is the thing for me, I plan on going into the working field first and see how I like it and see what I want to major in when I go to college.

  12. Cody Goode

    I’m not sure if I even want to go to college yet, and there are certain careers that require different amounts of educating. If a career path requires four years of college, then thats how long I would go.

    – Cody Goode

  13. heidi

    This article gives great insight on vocational schools and four-year colleges. There are many pros and cons to both choices. If you are wanting to major in a profession that is very common in your city then it would be a better choice to attend vocational school, but a con to that is that you dont get to experience the college life without having to live with your parents and follow anyone elses rules but your own. When you look at the the finance part of both schools, it is proven that vocational schools are much cheaper. Also you have to look into different options when it comes to scholarships and many other benefits. It all depends on what you believe which is the best choice for you.

  14. Jessica Mayfield

    Jessica Mayfield- I defiantly choose a two year degree over a four year degree. I would much rather spend half the money, and still get the same amount of education in my field choice. I also prefer the community college over a really large campus. The room and board costs are outrageous. I want to go for the education and not all the “luxeries”.

  15. Kayla

    Ok so im still a little confused about what i really want to do im in the 9th grade as of now we have started our second semester and i really want to figure out what i want to incase i do really want to go to college i want to be prepared for my future so im still thinking on what i want to do i really need help though!

  16. ashely

    this site wasvery helpful for me. I am about to start college in the fall.

  17. steven hendricks

    i am in 10th grade i want to be a game warden What would be best for me

  18. Rawrs

    im thinking of going abroad for 2 years and coming back for the other 2 years, think i should,can do that? or i can just spend the whole 4 years abroad, but one question..when can i visit my family and such when going abroad, maybe using the study abroad program.

  19. Christopher

    We’ll, I graduated from high school 5 years ago! I’m thinking of going for either a two year college or a four year college this summer but I’m not so sure what class I want to take!

  20. roxy

    I think its a cop out to go to a 2 year school. College isn’t just about the degree. Prove to yourself that you can make it on your own and build your confidence. As an HR professional- your bachelors degree will be better for your career.

  21. Kmeier

    I am currently at a Junior standing at a four year university. I basically have all my Gen. Eds. completed but now that I am getting into my major, I don’t see myself doing this and know it’s not what I want. I am stuck between just going to get my associates and be done (or continue on if I needed) or transfer and finish at another university that has what I want. Any advice would be great.

  22. Eva

    I would recommend transferring to another college that has your program. Speak with an advisor at the school you plan on transferring to and verify which courses will transfer and what Gen ED’s they fulfill at the new school.

  23. Pingback: 2 year vs 4 year - Marketing Program at Western Technical College

  24. Katie

    I’m a high school senior who’s stuck on deciding between two instate colleges. It’s currently March, and I still don’t know which to go to – neither are what I’m looking for, but they’re my only options. But the other day I realized – why not go to community college? I’ve built up this stigma against CC over the course of my life, and had never imagined myself going there until up two days ago. But now I’m in love with the idea. Why would I want to pay $20-27,000 a year, for four years, at a school I don’t like all that much? My new plan is to go to CC for two years for my gen-eds, and then go on to one of the two colleges. And after that, I’ll have more money available to spend on two more years for a masters degree. Community college just sounds like the better option.

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