Staff Writer

Staff Writer

MN Office of Higher Education

There’s no one-size-fits-all option when choosing the right college program, so deciding which program works best for you can be a little overwhelming. But if you have an idea of your goals and the type of educational experience you want, you’re already on the right track toward deciding between a two-year and a four-year college course.

Female college student walking in the library

What’s The Best Option for You: a Two-Year or Four-Year College Program? If you are unsure about what career to pursue, it may help to look through the Explore Career Options resource. Get started on narrowing down the best path for you with the guidance below.

Choosing Your Path

What is a Two-Year Program?
These are typically technical schools or community colleges that offer certificates and diplomas for specialized career options. These schools also offer associate’s degrees, which include more generalized courses along with specific skills. Two-year programs tend to be more flexible and affordable and are a quicker way to enter the workforce.

What is a Four-Year Program?
This includes state and private colleges that offer bachelor’s degrees. These programs require general courses not related to your chosen area of study along with in-depth study of your chosen degree. Bachelor’s degrees are an essential step for some career areas that require additional study, like a master’s or doctoral degree.

Online or In-Person Programs?
While most two-year degrees have the option of taking courses online, there has been a recent increase in four-year programs offering the same flexibility for those trying to balance their personal and professional life. Online courses are much more convenient, saving students on the commute, and generally are less expensive. However, some degrees may include course material that requires hands-on experience that cannot be substituted with online classes.

The benefits of convenience and affordability of online courses can be very appealing for some career choices and personal situations, but there are a few potential drawbacks. Some students find it much easier to learn in in-person settings. Online courses can also make it more difficult for the social aspects of studying and for some careers, networking can be an important part of finding job placement upon graduation.

Degree Choice

One of the benefits of a two-year program is that students who know exactly what they want to study can quickly get their certifications and begin working. The majority of college students tend to switch their area of study, so if you’re unsure, a four-year program offers more flexibility so you can switch your major once you get a better understanding of your areas of interest.

One possibility for those attending a two-year program who are considering a change is that you can finish that program and transfer to a four-year program. This is also an option for those looking to get a four-year college experience and reduce the overall cost. While this is a good option, be sure that your credits will be accepted by the new program, as this is up to the individual institutions.

Four-year degrees also have more areas of study. While a certification program may be required for specific careers, taking this route may mean you’ll take a pre-planned set of courses with a little less flexibility.

Certain careers require certifications that can be received through a two-year degree program. If you are ready to enter the workforce and feel confident in your career choice, a two-year program is likely an ideal option. If you’re looking to continue your education and get a graduate degree, it is typically recommended to enter a four-year program.

Other Considerations


It’s no secret that two-year programs are much more affordable than four-year programs. Initial costs are important to consider, along with day-to-day expenses that can come afterward. For example, some four-year colleges require on-campus living, which can be expensive. Going to school for four years can be a lot of time away from being able to work full-time, along with living expenses and tuition.

There are, however, a number of different scholarships and financial aid options that can ease the cost of your tuition, and these are not limited to four-year degrees. If your desired program is outside your budget, take a look at these resourcesfor paying for your education.


While the criteria for admissions is up to the individual institution, technical schools and community colleges tend to have fewer requirements than a four-year program, but that doesn’t mean that the course material is any less rigorous. If you’re interested in pursuing a bachelor’s degree but don’t meet the requirements of the institution you want to attend, in some cases starting at a two-year program and showing improved performance help strengthen your chances of acceptance if you were to transfer.

Creating Your Schedule

Technical schools and community colleges tend to have more flexible schedules, offering night and weekend classes, sometimes online. This makes them ideal for prospective students who have family to care for and need to continue working. While some Bachelor’s degree programs do occasionally offer online courses, it’s more common in two-year programs, which adds even greater flexibility to the schedule. If you’re looking to see which institutions will be more accommodating with scheduling, see our Pathways to Earning Your Credential page.

College Experience  

Due to the flexible nature of the class schedule, two-year programs tend to have less focus on social activities. After school programs like sports teams and clubs exist, but may be less active since many students are working full-time in addition to their studies. One benefit is that class sizes are typically smaller at community colleges, which can be helpful for academic performance.

There is no program that is inherently better than all others; it all comes down to the environment that you see yourself excelling in, and that leads you on your desired career path. If the distinction between two and four-year programs doesn’t help you decide on an institution, it could be helpful to reference the Minnesota College Search Tool and find a specific program that fits your needs.


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