Why go to a Four-Year College or University


This information will help you decide if starting at a four-year institution is the right move for you.

There are many benefits to all forms of higher education.  Likewise, there are some drawbacks.  I address some of the drawbacks to four-year college and university degree programs while highlighting the benefits of two-year degree programs in the “Two-Year Colleges” blog.  Feel free to revisit or check out that post if that is the information for which you are looking.  In this piece, I will stick to the benefits of a four-year bachelor’s degree and the colleges or universities that house those degree programs.  

I think the four-year bachelor’s degree program is what most people think of when they hear the term “college”.  It was for many years the standard for those that wanted to continue their studies after high school.  When you see movies set in college it is almost always at a four-year institution.  As a matter of fact, I can’t think of one that isn’t.  So it is no wonder that the typical college experience is most closely related to the four-year experience.  That is not to discount other forms of higher education but those looking for the typical experience should look to four-year institutions.  

Possibly the most important benefit of a four-year degree program is that the student will take a wide variety of classes in different subjects because of general education requirements for that degree program.  Typically, many more classes than at the two-year degree level.  These general education requirements have students taking multiple courses in fields that may not be easily related to their degree program.  The idea is to give the student a more well-rounded education and help you expand your way of thinking. Typical general education requirements and courses you will see along with mathematics and writing requirements:

  • Humanities/Fine Arts

    • History, Art History, Philosophy, Foreign Language, etc.

  • Social Sciences

    • Psychology, Sociology, Economics, Anthropology, etc.

  • Physical/Life Sciences

    • Biology, Chemistry, Zoology, Physics, etc. 

This is by no means a complete list of the options you will find in the general education electives at the school you plan to attend or are considering.  And depending on the major, you may take more than just the general education minimum in one or more of the fields above.  

Another benefit of four-year institutions is the wide range of major options available.  This range is greatly affected by the size and focus of the institution.  In Montana, we have the flagship university system schools, Montana State University, and the University of Montana.  These schools have the widest range of major availability. Whereas, a school like Montana Tech, will have fewer options based on its size and STEM focus.  If you truly have no idea what you want to study but know you want to pursue a Bachelor’s degree, a school like U of M or MSU will probably give you the best opportunity to find a path.  

Do you want the opportunity to choose from a wide range of extracurricular activities as well?  If yes, a four-year institution is the way to go.  Most college and university campuses have all sorts of extracurricular activities such as clubs and student organizations, student government, academic teams, internship opportunities, intramural sports, and on-campus entertainment.  The list goes on and on.  Two-year institutions may have some of these options or a way for you to take advantage of the opportunities on a four-year campus in the same town but you will find the breadth of options and participation greater on a four-year campus.  

Now, the discussion about cost.  It is true that the cost of a four-year education is expensive.  And prices are not going down anytime soon.  But is a four-year Bachelor’s degree worth it and why not start at a two-year college, save money the first couple of years, then transfer to get the four-year degree?  Valid questions, that deserve some critical thinking about your goals, skills, interests, and personality.  Again, what type of experience are you looking for and what do you see in your future as personal success?  If you are looking for the typical college experience with a bunch of other students of similar age and experience and you can make the cost manageable then starting at a four-year school makes sense. Much of the decision could be based on the degree program you are thinking about and what the return on that investment would work out to be.  For example, many STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) degrees have a high return on investment because starting salaries for graduates with Bachelor’s degrees tend to be higher than starting salaries in non-STEM fields (Education, History, Arts, Communications, and so on).  A higher starting salary often correlates with higher long term earnings as well.  This means that the money you invest in the degree is more easily justified by the potential money you can make after graduation.  Oftentimes, students need to take loans to work through a four-year degree program, but the income after graduation makes the loans you have to pay back more manageable.  Now, every individuals situation is going to be different.  Take into consideration what experience you want in school, what program you are interested in, and what you want your financial situation to look like after graduation.  This information will help you decide if starting at a four-year institution is the right move for you.  

Thank you for taking the time to read through this.  If you have any questions or want to dive a little deeper into your personal situation, please feel free to contact the Outreach Advisor in your area.  Contact information and resources related to college exploration can be found on our website.

Reach Higher Montana is passionate about helping Montana high school students achieve personal success in education, career, and life. Our advisors can help guide you along your individual path. To find the closest advisor to you, click here. Stay informed, sign up for our newsletter and like our Facebook and Instagram page so you don’t miss out.

Montana high school students exploring their college options