Career college or community college? Deciding which is right for you

(BPT) – What’s the difference between a career college and community college? While both types of learning institutions share the goal of enriching students’ lives through education, the experience they provide to students can vary greatly.

Community college, educational and social enrichment

Community colleges are designed to serve a diverse group of students, from recent high school graduates to those looking for educational and social enrichment. To meet the needs of this varied student body, community colleges tend to offer numerous programs and classes, but don’t necessarily focus on hands-on job skills.

Community colleges typically offer non-degree classes and two-year associate degree programs for those looking to later transfer to a traditional college or university. With the recent national push encouraging high school students to further their education, many community colleges are struggling to cope with the surge in new students, which has resulted in large class sizes and waiting lists for many popular programs.

Career college, workforce preparation and hands-on learning

At career colleges, the main focus is to prepare students for the workforce once they graduate. These career-focused schools want their students to have the necessary skills to hit the ground running their first day on the job. This intensive approach is made possible with classes of smaller sizes that are taught by experts who are working in their field.

Some may know career colleges as vocational schools, tech schools or trade schools, and more recently they have expanded to include many more in-demand career programs. In addition to the traditional trades, career colleges now also focus on graphic design, information technology, business, criminal justice and health care professions.

For those who are thinking about enrolling in college, have a specific career in mind and excel in a hands-on learning environment, a career college might be a good option. Most students at career colleges have already tried community or even traditional colleges and are looking for programs that train them for the workforce, not post-graduate education.

Benefits of choosing a career college

“Everything we do is focused on preparing students for the career path they have chosen, and we structure the programs to give them skills they need to be successful on the job,” says Westwood College Chicago Campus President Hamed Shibli. Westwood offers 35 career-focused degree programs across its 14 campuses. Learn more about the various types of career-focused programs offered at Westwood College.

The Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities provides a wealth of information about career colleges. Notably, there are a few key distinctions found at career colleges.


Career colleges’ curriculums are designed to meet specific needs of employers. They focus on specific tasks students will need to accomplish in their field of training.

Hands-on training:

Much of the curriculum at a career college will be spent focusing on actual tasks that will need to be completed on the job.

Technical skills:

Career-focused training is most appropriate for jobs that require technical training. For example, students in graphic design get a lot of hands-on training with design programs like Adobe InDesign and Photoshop so they become proficient and are ready to work once they finish their degree.

Staff with experience in the field of study:

Many staff members of career colleges are also working in the fields they teach and can help students gain a better understanding of what might be expected of them once they get a job.

Career services:

Career colleges have a team of career services representatives who can help students prepare resumes, practice interview skills and locate job search resources. 


Career colleges are typically accredited by national accreditation agencies that measure faculty experience and outcomes such as graduation and employment rates. Conversely, community colleges and traditional colleges are most often regionally accredited and are measured on areas such as student learning, teacher effectiveness, and resources available.

“Career colleges and community colleges appeal to different types of students,” says Shibli. “We recommend visiting colleges and talking with enrolled students to determine the best choice. We want to enroll students who are passionate about their future and will be successful.”

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