What Are Undergraduate Schools?

Jul 25, 2018

Many students continue their post-high school education at undergraduate schools, where they can earn certificates, diplomas, or degrees. Undergraduate programs can take 1-4 years to complete, and programs are offered in a variety of subjects.

View Popular Schools

Find the perfect school

Undergraduate Schools

Individuals who are interested in undergraduate education can find programs available at universities, liberal arts colleges, community colleges, and vocational technical schools. Undergraduate schools offer associate's and bachelor's degree programs, as well as certificate and diploma programs.

Students have the opportunity to choose programs in their preferred field of interest, such as science, math, or English, among many others. Not all undergraduate schools offer the same programs, so individuals looking for a specific program may have to be more selective when choosing an undergraduate school.

To be admitted to an undergraduate school, students need to have earned a high school diploma or completed a high school equivalency program. Some schools also suggest that students have completed high school courses in certain subjects, like English, math, social studies, science, and foreign languages. Other application materials can include SAT or ACT scores, letters of recommendation, and personal essays.

There are many different types of undergraduate schools. Some undergraduate schools are part of larger universities that also offer graduate-level educational options, including master's and doctoral degree programs. Other undergraduate schools, such as community colleges, technical colleges, and vocational schools, do not typically offer advanced levels of study. Some undergraduate schools offer online and distance learning opportunities as well as part-time and evening classes.


Universities are located in every state and offer the largest selection of programs among undergraduate school options. Although some universities award associate's degrees, many only award bachelor's degrees and higher. The most common types of bachelor's degrees are a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and a Bachelor of Science (B.S.). Universities typically offer a mix of large and small class sizes, and some undergraduate classes may be taught by graduate teaching assistants or adjunct instructors.

According to 2017 rankings by U.S. News and World Report, the top five undergraduate universities in the country are Princeton University, Harvard University, the University of Chicago, Yale University, and Columbia University.

Liberal Arts Colleges

Liberal arts colleges are 4-year schools that award bachelor's degrees in the liberal arts and sciences. Fields of study can include English, psychology, history, sociology, math, chemistry, and biology. Many liberal arts colleges are private schools with small student populations. These colleges often feature small class sizes and low student-to-faculty ratios that allow for more individualized instruction than many large colleges and universities.

U.S. News and World Report ranked these five schools as the top liberal arts colleges for 2017: Williams College, Amherst College, Wellesley College, Middlebury College, and Swathmore College.

Community Colleges

Community colleges are public schools offering programs that can be completed in two years or less. These schools are typically thought of as starting points for students' education, since they are often less expensive than 4-year schools. Community colleges offer Associate of Arts (A.A.), Associate of Science (A.S.), and Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree programs. The Associate of Applied Science option is often designed to prepare students for direct entry into the workforce.

Associate of Arts and Associate of Science degrees, on the other hand, are typically designed for students interested in transferring to 4-year universities. Community colleges also offer certificate and diploma programs for students interested in professional advancement and entry-level training.

Vocational and Technical Schools

Vocational and technical schools are similar to community colleges in that they offer short-term training programs. However, the difference is that programs at these schools aren't usually designed for transfer to a 4-year university. Instead, they focus on helping students develop the hands-on skills required to enter the workforce.

Although many states operate public vocational and technical schools, some are run by private for-profit companies. These schools can specialize in specific vocations, such as cosmetology or auto repair.

Depending on their interests and goals, students at undergraduate schools can earn degrees or certificates in academic topics or gain skills for specific career paths.

Next: View Schools

Popular Schools

The listings below may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users.

Find your perfect school

What is your highest level of education?