Prospective students may also sometimes mistakenly believe liberal arts institutions only focus on the humanities, admissions experts say. But many of these schools offer degrees in science fields too.
Another common misconception is that schools with “college” in their name don’t offer much in the way of research opportunities, said Fishbein, who serves as president of the International Association for College Admission Counseling. But, for example, 65 percent of Franklin and Marshall students participate in research before they graduate, Mankus says.
Another type of school in the U.S. with “college” in its name is a community college. These are two-year schools that grant associate degrees and career-related certificates. Community colleges vary in enrollment size – some are large, despite having “college” in their name.
Some students begin their education at a community college and then transfer to a four-year college or university to complete a bachelor’s degree.
Many schools with “university” in their name are larger institutions that offer a variety of both undergraduate and graduate degree programs.
Public universities are some of the most sizable schools, sometimes enrolling tens of thousands of students. These schools are also highly committed to producing research.
But it is a misconception that all schools with “university” in their name are big, says Chelsea Keeney, assistant director of international student recruitment at the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities.
Some are relatively small, such as Marymount California University, which had a total enrollment of 985 students in fall 2016, per U.S. News data.
Also, not all universities are public. Private universities include, among many institutions, some of the Ivy League schools, like Princeton University.
Sometimes adding to the confusion for international students, Keeney says, is the fact that large universities are often made up of smaller divisions called colleges. Each of these colleges has a specific academic focus, such as business, engineering or social work.
And liberal arts-type study is not exclusive to small colleges. Some, but not all, universities have a core curriculum for undergraduates, meaning students take a variety of general education courses before focusing on their major.
By nature of their size, large universities tend to offer a wider array of research opportunities than small colleges. “But undergraduate students may need to compete with graduate students for resources and opportunities,” Fishbein said.
Which Type of School Is Right for You?
Mankus from Franklin and Marshall says prospective international students may want to keep their options open by applying to different types of institutions in the U.S. She says students often learn new things about themselves and their options later in the application process.
“If some place really interests you or some place just sounds so tantalizing, even if it’s not that same type that you think you might want when you start out, keep it in the mix,” Mankus says. “What harm could it do?”