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Tertiary Education Institutions Guide for Prospective Students: Where Should You Go?

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Tertiary education, more commonly referred to as postsecondary education, refers to any academic pursuit undertaken after, and an optional final stage of formal learning upon completion of, secondary education. Tertiary education, also called higher education, includes undergraduate and postgraduate education.

Undergraduate education include any postsecondary education that takes up to four years to complete, including certificates, diplomas, associate's and bachelor's degrees, while graduate education typically requires prior completion of an undergraduate degree and, in culmination, awards postgraduate diplomas and certificates, master's and doctoral degrees.

Providers of tertiary education ranges from traditional universities to specialized institutes. As you choose your degree, you need to take many factors into consideration, this is why you need to know exactly the institution that is the best fit for you.

Here’s a rundown of the different types of tertiary education providers to guide you on that.


Public or state colleges and universities are institutions that are publicly owned or receive significant public funds through a national or subnational government, as opposed to a private one. The government pays for the operating costs of public colleges and universities and oversees their operation through boards and trustees. The influx of financial aid means that students do not pay the real cost of attendance, rather, they pay the cost after significant subsidies from the government. For this reason, public colleges and universities can afford to offer lower tuition prices on average.

Additionally, universities often are larger and offer more majors and degree options, from Bachelor's to Master's and doctoral degrees, than colleges. Most universities contain several smaller colleges, such as colleges of liberal arts, engineering or health sciences. These colleges can prepare you for a variety of career options or for graduate study.


Private colleges and universities are higher educational institutions that are set up and funded by individuals outside of the government. Private colleges and universities may either be “non-profit” or “for-profit”.

a. Nonprofit Private Colleges and Universities

Nonprofit colleges and universities aim to provide a full educational experience to each attending student. Nonprofit colleges and universities work hard to serve the students instead of shareholders. Further, nonprofit institutions offer more affordable degree options than for-profit schools. They may receive additional funding from a variety of sources, including private donors and local governments, to help keep tuition fees low.

b. For-profit Colleges and Universities

For-profit colleges and universities are run like any other business; the owners and shareholders expect the school to turn a profit. For-profit schools must focus on earning revenue; the school will raise tuition costs when it deems necessary. Students who are seeking specific programs can usually find a for-profit university that specializes in a specific field of study.


Community colleges, sometimes called junior colleges, are two-year schools that provide affordable postsecondary education as a pathway to a four-year degree. They are post-secondary, undergraduate educational institutions offering lower-level (freshman and sophomore) classes. Community colleges are not selective and they provide a higher education opportunity for applicants who didn't earn outstanding grades in high school as well as applicants who have been out of school for years. Community colleges are almost always open admissions. Simply, anyone who has a high school diploma or equivalency will be admitted. Also, they are significantly less expensive in tuition fees than public or private four-year schools. 


Career schools, also known as technical, vocational, or trade schools are designed to provide vocational education, or technical skills required to perform the tasks of a particular and specific job. Vocational courses are offered at a number of levels – from very basic courses at Certificate I level, up to Diplomas and Advanced Diplomas which are often equivalent in complexity to first year university study. Vocational training has expanded beyond the scope of trades to encompass industries such as information technology, tourism, retail, cosmetics, healthcare, childcare, management and business. Vocational schools are traditionally distinguished from four-year colleges by their focus on job-specific training to students who are typically bound for one of the skilled trades, rather than providing academic training for students pursuing careers in a professional discipline. 

There are also specialized colleges and universities, some of them are listed below. 


These educational institutions offer a broad base of courses in the liberal arts, which includes areas such as literature, history, languages, mathematics and life sciences. Most are private and offer four-year programs that lead to a bachelor's degree. These colleges can prepare you for a variety of careers or for graduate study. 


Art colleges and conservatories focus on the arts. An art school is an educational institution with a primary focus on the visual arts, including fine art, especially illustration, painting, photography, sculpture, and graphic design. Most of these institutions offer associate or bachelor's degrees in the fine arts or a specialized field. 


Some private institutions are connected to a religious faith. Some include programs that contain active teaching in those religions. 


These colleges place a high emphasis on military preparation, academic rigor, and physical fitness. Most military schools are private and have high tuition, with financial aid available. 


Research institutes are educational institutions that are committed to research as a central part of their operation. Such institutes have a strong focus on research. Undergraduate courses at research institutes are often academic rather than vocational and many employers value degrees from research institutes because they teach fundamental life skills such as critical thinking. Globally, research institutes are predominantly public institutions. 


Single-sex schools are educational institutions that are exclusively for males or females.



A specialized mission college is a college that focuses on a specific student interest or student population. Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) focus on educating African American students. Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs) are colleges where at least 25 percent of the full-time undergraduate students are Hispanic. HBCUs and HSIs may offer programs, services and activities targeted to the underrepresented students they serve.