Is 4-Year University Similar to Other Universities? Guide and Explanations

Last Updated on August 11, 2022 by David Shaw

Is 4-Year University Similar to Other Universities Guide and Explanations

You might’ve heard of the term universities and colleges before, but maybe less of the term 4-year universities. If it’s got you wondering before what a 4-year university is, or is it any different than a typical university or a college, then we’re here to help you answer those questions.

Generally, most universities are considered 4-year universities if they offer a complete undergraduate Bachelor’s Degree program. Usually, the term 4-year university is used when compared with 2-year colleges, but it is usually no different than the general term ‘university’ we hear.

Now that you know things are clear, let’s look more in-depth into understanding what a university is, the types of universities, and a little about how they might compare to other higher learning institutions like a community college.

Types of 4-Year Universities

A university as we commonly know it in its general form, is a higher learning academic institution students attend after high school around the age of 18 or in their early 20s. Most universities we know are considered 4-year universities since they offer a wide selection of undergraduate and graduate programs in certain fields of study.

Other than the fact most people attend a 4-year university to earn a Bachelor’s Degree, some university also has well-known Master’s and Doctorate Degree programs that attract scholars from all places.

Common Degrees in UniversitiesLevel
Bachelor’s DegreeUndergraduate
Master’s DegreeGraduate
Doctorate’s DegreeGraduate

However, beyond the scope of just a being a higher learning academic institution, a university can also be categorized into ‘research’ and ‘teaching’ universities which serve different purposes and share different goals. Want to know about the difference between research and teaching universities? Check out our article on Research vs Teaching Universities: Differences, Pros & Cons.

Research Universities

Research universities are typically large, and well-established universities at the state or national level that offer undergraduate and graduate degrees. Furthermore, what mainly separates research universities from teaching universities is that it is heavily research-based, where most of their faculty, spending, and funding is used on research rather than just profiting off tuition fees.

Almost all top universities around the world are considered research universities since they’re actively funding or participating in some areas of research at any given moment.

As a result of being so prestigious, the top research universities easily attract the brightest students, scientists, and researchers from all around the world. And with the large sum of funding they receive from big organizations or governments, they have the proper resources to carry out research to bring improvements to the world or certain industries.

Teaching Universities

Teach universities are more focused and marketing on delivering alumni directly ready for the working industry. Usually, it is common to find teaching universities having certain branches or affiliations throughout several locations or organizations throughout the globe or across states.

Their main purpose is ideally focused on catering to the majority of students who want to pursue an academic degree up to the Master’s Degree level. And for any level of study beyond that, people start looking at research universities that might offer more unique curriculums that better suit them.

What About Community Colleges?

Besides just universities, people in the US and Canada might also often call them colleges. However, many don’t know there is actually a distinction between the word college and university.

Another very population or pathway of higher learning people often is the community college pathway, where one usually spends 2 years to get an Associate’s degree or transfer to a 4-year university upon the completion of their study. To better understand the differences between a college and university, check out this article by us on College vs Universities: Which Is Correct? What Are the Differences?

An Associate’s degree is a professional academic degree like any other, but it is one level lower than a Bachelor’s degree since it only requires 2 years of study. However, most universities do not offer an Associate’s degree, but 2-year community colleges are where people usually attend to get them.

Cost and Timeline of Study at Universities

According to Education Data Initiative, the average cost of attending a 4-year university in the US is around $35,331 per year, and further increasing at a rate of 6.8 percent each year.

Before you let the average figure of costs scare you, know that there are also many kinds of universities across the US that offer lower in-state tuition fees for those applicable, or are nonprofit.

Public Institutions Cost of Tuition (Yearly)
4-Year In-State$9,349
4-Year Out-of-state$27,023
2-Year In-State$3,377

As you can see only out-of-state students in universities are required to pay more. As a rule of thumb, out-of-state students are typically charged 3 times the usual rate compared to in-state fees. As for international students, they are also usually charged similar rates as out-of-state residents, plus a bunch of other miscellaneous fees.

Private InstitutionsCost of Tuition (Yearly)
4-Year Nonprofit$35,807
4-Year For-profit$14,957
2-Year Nonprofit$16,898
2-Year For-Profit$15,333

Tuition fees in private universities are charged differently when compared to public universities. Notice that there are no in-state and out-of-state fees because unlike public universities, private universities are in no way affiliated with funding and systems governed by the state.

Why do out-of-state students get charged more?

Out-of-state students pay more because they don’t pay taxes to the state in which the university is located. As for international students, the same reasons apply to them as to why they pay higher tuition fees, and universities typically charge them a couple more extra miscellaneous fees on top of the tuition expenses.

On the other hand, in and out-of-state tuition privileges don’t apply to private academic institutions simply because they don’t receive federal funding from taxpayers in the state the university is located in.

Timeline of the Academic Degrees in 4-Year Universities

Though the average timeline to obtain a Bachelor’s degree in the US and Canada is around 4 years, the timeline for a Master’s Degree program may vary greatly depending on a university, which can span from as short as 10 months to 2 years.

Note that this data applies most accurately to US and Canadian universities, whereas in countries like the UK, Australia, or New Zealand that mostly follow the UK academic systems might be different.

Common Degrees in UniversitiesAverage timelineNotes
Associate’s Degree1-2 years Mostly done under 2 years
Bachelor’s Degree3-5 years4 years on average, different majors of study might affect the duration
Master’s Degree1-2 years Usually under 2 years, some universities offer Master’s programs as short as 10 months
Doctorate’s Degree3-6 yearsUsually around 4 years and beyond depending on personal preference and pace.

Out of the 4 mentioned degrees in the table above, a 4-year university typically doesn’t offer an Associate’s Degree, which is one of the degrees you can only obtain from attending a community college.

Other than that, the most common academic degree students pursue is a Bachelor’s degree, and the timeline to obtain one will very much depend on which major of study you choose to pursue.

I know that for some universities, even before you finish your undergraduate studies, you can be offered privileges like special graduate study programs which are shorter, whereas some universities even let you skip a Master’s degree if you want to pursue a Doctorate degree with terms and conditions.

How to Decide Which Higher Learning Institution Is for Me?

Given that there are so much more choices to choose from compared to 2 decades ago, it can be daunting and confusing to know which path you want to take. To better guarantee the chances of things going your way, people usually apply to a list of universities, where they’re categorized as safety, reach, and dream schools.

Know that admission rates for research schools are generally more competitive than teaching schools since they often have a larger volume of applicants which drives the competition sky high.

As the term ‘research school’ suggests, if you’re keen on learning about research development where you work on very technical and academic research for good, then you should definitely consider them. Conversely, if you just want to graduate for the sake of getting a steady paycheck, then aiming for teaching universities should put off a good start.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get accepted into a good research school you’re aiming for, know that you can always apply again in the future for their graduate programs, where admission rates might be significantly higher. And when it comes to one’s age, there is also less social stigma when pursuing graduate degrees, unlike getting an undergraduate degree.

From another approach, other than contemplating whether should you choose research over teaching universities, you could probably also ask if a 2-year college or 4-year university is better for you.

For a more detailed explanation of what a 2-year colleges and Associate’s degree are, check out this article on All About Associate Degree: Cost, Requirement, Value, Types

However, know that whatever university you choose to attend, regardless of their ranking, reputation, or tuition fees, it comes down to you whether can you make the most out of the experience. We wish you all the best in your journey and finding your ideal higher learning institution.

More Resources

College vs Universities: Which Is Correct? What Are the Differences

Research vs Teaching Universities: Differences, Pros & Cons

All About Associate Degree: Cost, Requirement, Value, Types

7 Tips to Help You Find Out if Computer Science Is for You

David Shaw

I enjoy blogging about the college experience, teaching people how to navigate and hack their way through college. I also enjoy promoting financial literacy among young individuals.

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