Understanding The College and Degree You Need to Succeed In Your Career

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Iowa College Aid’s “Your Course to College” is hot off the presses and the free publication is ready for download or order on our website. To celebrate it’s release, we’re highlighting some of the content from this guide created to help students and families down the path through high school through college.

This week, a look at the different types of college and degrees available to students after completing high school. Knowing the kind of career a student might want to pursue after high school will help them determine how much college they need and what degrees will be needed for success in that field.

We’ve also put together a video highlighting the degrees needed for different careers to further helps students and families, which can be found here.


Types of College:

Public Universities

Iowa has three public universities, also called Regent universities: The University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa. Each offers bachelor’s degree (four-year) programs as well as advanced degrees (master’s, doctoral and professional). As state institutions, they receive funding from the state of Iowa to reduce tuition costs for in-state students.

Private, Nonprofit Colleges & Universities

Private, nonprofit colleges and universities offer bachelor’s degree programs, and many also offer advanced degrees. Private colleges and universities are often smaller and offer lower student-to-faculty ratios than public universities. While they do not receive direct state support, many have endowments that allow them to offer institutional grants and scholarships, in addition to federal and state financial aid programs, to help offset higher published tuition costs.

Private, For-profit Colleges & Universities

For-profit, or proprietary, colleges and universities are privately owned and operated to generate a profit. These educational businesses often offer technical and pre-professional programs but might also offer associate, bachelor’s and master’s degree programs.

2-Year Public Community Colleges

Iowa’s 15 community college districts include schools offering associate degree (two-year) programs as well as diplomas and certificates for graduates of vocational programs (often less than two years). Tuition and fees are typically lower and admission requirements less stringent than for four-year colleges and universities. Many students start at a community college and transfer to a four-year college or university.

Career, Vocational & Technical Schools

These institutions can be public or private, although many are for-profit. They typically offer programs to prepare for a specific occupation or trade. Training options include computer technology, cosmetology, medical assistance, automotive repair and paralegal studies. The time to complete a program depends on your course of study, but can range from a few months to several years.

Distance & Flexible Learning

If the traditional classroom experience is not feasible or practical for you, look into distance education and flexible learning opportunities, including online, evening, weekend and accelerated programs.

Types of Training and Degrees


Registered Apprenticeships

A Registered Apprenticeship provides 2,000 hours of on-the-job learning and at least 144 hours of related instruction. Most employers cover the cost of education, and you earn a paycheck while you learn. Registered Apprenticeships are available in these industries: construction, plumbing, electrical, heating and cooling, information technology, financial services, health care, transportation, energy, advanced manufacturing, and food and beverage preparation. In Iowa, the average yearly wage is $60,820 after a Registered Apprenticeship. Just as you apply for a job, you apply with the company or business that sponsors the apprenticeship. Your local IowaWORKS Center (iowaworkforcedevelopment.gov) can help you explore options.

Certificates and Diplomas

Certificate and diploma programs focus on particular skills for specific careers. Certificates can generally be completed in a year or less and diplomas in two years or less at a community college, career/technical/business college or some four-year colleges. Career examples: paralegal, cosmetologist, welder, chef, certified nursing assistant, radiological technician.

Associate Degrees

Associate degrees can usually be earned in two years (sometimes less) at a community college or some career/technical/business colleges and four-year colleges. Some associate degrees can be applied toward a bachelor’s degree at a four-year college or university. Career examples: dental hygienist, administrative assistant, registered nurse, veterinary technician, auto mechanic.

Bachelor’s Degrees

A bachelor’s degree typically takes at least four years at any four-year college or university. Career examples: teacher, engineer, accountant, dietitian, social worker.

Advanced Degrees

After obtaining a bachelor’s degree, you might pursue an advanced degree such as a master’s, doctoral or professional degree. An advanced degree can take several years, depending on the type. Career examples: dentist, lawyer, veterinarian, pharmacist, psychologist, college professor and medical doctor.