When you leave high school the next level of education is undergraduate studies. This is in contrast to graduate studies that you may pursue for a Master's degree after earning a bachelors.
Junior College vs. University
From an educational standpoint, most jobs that require a college education will require a four year degree. A number of positions require master's degrees or more. Still junior and community colleges have their place and can be an important strategy in getting a low cost education.
A number of course from junior college can transfer to a four year school. Many motivated high school students will take prerequisite classes from their local junior college so they don't have to take and pay for them at the higher rate of a four year institution.
Junior colleges often offer courses in between normal schools sessions. For example, you can often take a full three hour American History class in a bit over a week over the Christmas break or an English class over a month period during the summer.
You should choose the courses you take strategically. English may be a bad class to take a a junior college if you are getting a four year degree that requires a lot of writing. Taking English at your four year school will help make sure you understand their requirements and expectations. However a history or science course might be ideal to take if it isn't a key part of your major.
It is realistic to expect that someone who is motivated in high school and is willing to do some course work over the summer and winter breaks can finish a four year degree in three years. With a bit less effort, one can reduce the four year requirement by a single semester. Regardless, these strategies have significant cost savings associated with them.
Another strategy is to go to junior college for two years, graduate and then transfer in all your credits to the four year institution and finish there in another two years. Depending on your major, this may or may not be a good move. The advantage of going straight into a four year degree after high school is that it moves your study expectations quickly to what is required at the university level and gives you more time around your fellow students and teachers that may be useful in networking.
A third strategy involves taking distance education classes from an inexpensive junior college at the same time you are taking classes at a four year school. This can be tricky to manage, but is possible as long as you don't over extend yourself.
State vs. Private Schools
Private schools are often much more expensive than state schools because the don't get as much money from the government. It is important to understand what each school is good at and find a school that is known for a quality education in the area you want to pursue. You can get a very good education at a state school, but you have to pick the right one. Of course the same thing holds true for private schools. In fact since they are often smaller, you have to be even more selective about picking a private school simply because they don't have the resources to throw at as many areas.
Don't overlook the non-academic aspects of your education. A school known for partying is going to be a very difficult place for someone with a weakness for alcohol. If you are very conservative in your views, you may find it difficult to relate to classmates at an extremely liberal school and vice versa.
Out of State Tuition
State schools have different tuition prices depending on where you live. If you live in the same state (or in some cases adjacent states) the tuition is much lower because your (and you parents) tax dollars have been funding the school for years. If you want to go to an out of state school, it may be worth considering how long it takes to establish residency in that state in order to get the lower rate of tuition. You may end up paying the higher rate for the first semester, but the lower fees for the remaining 3.5 years. Talk to the admission department to find out exactly how residency is determined.
Private schools usually charge the same tuition no matter where you come from since they get much less (or no) funding from the state.
Several top level schools have been under fire from congress for their huge endowments and high tuition prices. There are several schools that will let you go for free if you are accepted and your family makes less than $60,000 per year. If you are a good student, this may be worth looking into and there may be value in at least sending in some applications as it may allow you to go to a top private institution with very little cost.
College loans are usually subsidized by the government. Because of this the rates on these loans are often the lowest you can possibly get. They are often as low as a home mortgage. Because of this, you are usually better off with a college loan than with credit card debt or an auto loan.
Schools want good students, good athletes and good musicians. They way a school gets students is by having good programs, a desirable campus and through scholarships. Be sure to checkout what scholarships are available when you look into a school. Make sure you understand how transferring in credits can change what scholarships you are eligible for.
People who plan the tuba, viola, or bassoon are often in demand because music departments usually are not awash in people who play these instruments. Even if you aren't majoring in music, playing an instrument that is in demand may give you a decent sized scholarship for colleges that need these instruments to complete their orchestra.
Graduate school is what you may want to pursue after finishing a bachelors degree. Graduate school typically includes degrees like a masters degree, doctorate or professional degrees.
A masters degree is one of the most common graduate degrees. A masters degree will typically take 2 to 4 years to earn. It allows you to further specialize in a field of study. Unlike an undergraduate degree, almost all of your courses in grad school will directly relate to your area of study. The general education that is required will all be directly related to your subject area.
Masters degrees are a very good way to show that you have an above average education and can significantly help you in the job market. However, they can be expensive in terms of cost and also in lost wages and opportunities while going to school.
Graduate Citations and Certificates
Citations and certificates offer graduate coursework recognition without earning a degree. This can be a valuable way to beef up your resume without making the time and financial commitment that would be required for a complete degree. It is also a good way to highlight your academic credentials--especially if you graduated from a lesser known university. A graduate citation from an Ivy League school is likely to give you a very large return on investment in how people view your resume.