Trying to decide what type of college is best for you? For-profit schools are ideal for students interested in a flexible course schedule or skills-based training. But if you’re looking for a more traditional college experience and degree program, nonprofit colleges are the way to go.
For-profit vs. nonprofit colleges at a glance
Below is a breakdown of how these two types of schools stack up against each other:
Public and private nonprofit colleges
Costs for tuition and fees per year*
In state: $8,138
Out of state: $18,304
Typically nationally accredited — or not at all
Typically regionally accredited
Eligible for federal student aid?
Yes, for accredited colleges
Yes, for accredited colleges
Types of programs
Vocational or career-based programs
Typically traditional degrees, including:
Online courses are limited
Limited campus life due to flexible schedule options
For-profit colleges are run by a CEO who must answer to shareholders. Because of this, they’re often more focused on making money than student experiences.
For-profit colleges can be more expensive than four-year in-state universities and can be significantly more expensive than community colleges. However, for-profit options can actually be less expensive than four-year private nonprofit colleges or out-of-state public universities.
Unfortunately, not all for-profit colleges are accredited and some have issues maintaining accreditation once they receive it.
If a for-profit school is accredited, it’s typically nationally accredited. This type of accreditation is usually saved for schools that are career or skills based, as opposed to regional accreditation that’s reserved for schools that offer a more comprehensive education. Because of this, it’s often difficult to transfer credits between schools with different types of accreditation.
Pay close attention to the accreditation of any college you’re considering. If it’s not accredited at all, it could be a warning sign that the for-profit school is a scam.
Accreditation is one of the main factors that affects a college’s eligibility for federal financial aid. Since for-profit colleges can struggle with accreditation, they can also have issues securing federal aid. This is another reason why you should check the accreditation of any school before you apply.
Types of programs
For-profit colleges generally offer trade-based programs, rather than traditional degrees. Programs are typically shorter, sometimes less than a year.
Another potential benefit of for-profit schools is the option for a flexible schedule. Schedules are built to fit students with families or full-time jobs, and many often offer night and weekend classes. Some even have programs that are fully online and allow for self-paced courses.
While some for-profit colleges offer traditional campus life such as dorm living and sporting events, most don’t. Because for-profit colleges offer flexible schedules or operate fully online, it can be difficult to create a traditional campus atmosphere.
Nonprofit colleges are the more traditional route and include state universities, community colleges and private schools. They’re run by a board of trustees that make decisions based on the students’ best interests.
State universities and community colleges are typically much less expensive than for-profit schools. Private nonprofit universities are often the most expensive.
Most public and private nonprofit colleges are regionally accredited and don’t have issues maintaining accreditation. While strong accreditation upholds the validity of your credits, it also means the school is eligible to participate in federal financial aid programs.
Eligibility for federal student aid
Because most nonprofit schools are accredited, they’re eligible for federal student aid. Also, since nonprofit colleges have more traditional campus settings, they have more options for work-study programs.
Types of programs
Nonprofit colleges offer more traditional academic curriculums such as arts, sciences and mathematics. Programs are structured on associate, bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral tracks.
One downside to nonprofit colleges is that schedule flexibility is limited. Programs are typically semester based with specific start and end dates. There are little to no options for self-paced degrees.
Social life at nonprofit campuses can include dorm living, campus activities, sporting events and school-sponsored organizations and clubs. Having a traditional campus life can help with student retention rates.
Which type of school is right for me?
Looking at your career goals, schedule flexibility and budget can help you decide which school is the right fit for you.
Consider a for-profit college if …
You want a trade or vocational degree.
You’re interested in a flexible schedule.
You want to complete your degree as quickly as possible through accelerated or self-paced courses.
Consider a nonprofit college if …
You’re interested in a traditional two- or four-year degree.
You want the cheapest option out there.
You’re looking for traditional campus life with dorms and sporting events.
For-profit colleges can be risky — especially if they’re not accredited. But they can be helpful if you’re looking for a flexible course schedule or are interested in pursuing a trade-based career. On the flip side, nonprofit schools offer a more traditional college experience and can even be cheaper if you opt for an in-state public university.
Some do. It really depends on the school and the resources they have available. But even with scholarships, for-profit schools can be more expensive than public, nonprofit options.
You can, but you will likely lose credits. Since for-profit and nonprofit colleges are accredited by different accrediting bodies, credits are not always transferable between them.
This question is a little tricky: Technically, a for-profit college that qualifies for other federal aid could qualify for a work-study program. However, if a school only operates online or has a small campus, there might not be opportunities for work-study positions.
Deni Sharp is a freelance writer with years of experience in higher education, particularly student loans and financing. She has a passion for helping students navigate the trenches of financial aid so they can realize their full potential. In her free time, you can find her at home in Arizona hanging with her family and adorable pup, Theo.
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