What Is A For-Profit College? Overview and All you need to know

What Is A For-Profit College? Overview and All you need to know

There are so many colleges to choose from. Some are non-profit universities and others are for-profit colleges. For-profit colleges tend to get a bad reputation but there’s no reason to think those are bad for students. They can fit the needs of different students.

When choosing a college, it’s important to understand the difference between non-profit and for-profit colleges. The former is dedicated to providing you with an education and mentorship; while the latter is in it as a business.

For-profit schools benefit from name recognition and big promises. But students can often find the same degree offered at a much lower cost through a community college. 

What is a For-Profit College?

For-profit colleges are higher education institutions owned and run by private, profit-seeking corporations. Student satisfaction typically is not the top priority for these colleges.

Shareholders hold power over you, and decisions are entirely focused on making more money.

Essentially, these colleges prioritize shareholders rather than students, in their attempts to make more money. The best for-profit colleges are those that offer career or tech-oriented study areas because there’s a higher demand for these programs.

These colleges also have highly career-oriented programs, and they offer classes online and, in the evenings, so students can work and attend school at the same time.   

If you’re thinking about going to school for a for-profit degree, some for-profit colleges offer flexible programs that will equip you with valuable, marketable skills and give you the resources you need to be successful.

What’s more, some of these degrees can also be completed while you earn income or even set up part-time in your free time.

If you’re considering attending a for-profit college, take a minute to first read through our article. 

What is the Difference between for-profit and non-profit colleges?


For-profit, institutions can charge higher tuition rates because they do not rely on government funding, and are instead privately run.

For-profit schools operate more like traditional businesses and must focus on earning revenue by enrolling students or selling educational products to keep the business afloat. 

In contrast, non-profit colleges must fundraise to meet their budget. This is accomplished through several means: private donations, federal grants, planned giving, and more. 


Non-profit colleges are regionally accredited and sometimes also nationally accredited.

Some for-profit colleges are also regionally accredited – a huge benefit to the student – but that is not always the case. This can put the student at a disadvantage, depending on the career path they take.

Regionally accredited colleges will give students a boost in the job market and also in transferring to grad school. 


For-profit colleges aren’t any worse or better than non-profit colleges. They just serve distinct goals.

For-profit colleges have shareholders and their goal is to not only improve their students’ lives but also turn a profit for those shareholders.

In contrast, non-profit institutions are working to serve their students, not shareholders. 

The Pros and Cons of for-profit Colleges


  • They have a flexible schedule: For-profit colleges tend to have far more night, weekend, and online courses than their not-for-profit counterparts. If you’re looking for flexibility in your career path, a for-profit institution might be a good fit for you. 
  • Non-traditional Student Population is large: At a for-profit college, the majority of students are non-traditional. They’ve been working and they’re returning to school. This can be a more comfortable environment than you might otherwise find yourself in at a
    non-profit university. 
  • Easy Admission: For-profit colleges normally don’t have a long, drawn-out admissions process. After meeting the basic requirements, you should be able to get into the program easily. 
  • Requirements: You know that non-profit colleges are the most expensive and take FOREVER to graduate. For-profit colleges don’t require as many prerequisites and you can start working in your desired field much sooner. 
  • Faster Graduation: ​For-profit universities often have shorter semesters, meaning students can finish more quickly
    and get their degree or certification. 


  • Online classes: If you’re the sort of person who prefers to learn in the classroom with a professor and fellow students, then for-profit universities are probably not for you. Most online courses are heavily focused on for-profit colleges. That’s why they can be so flexible with scheduling and course loads. Consider what your best learning environment is before enrolling. 
  • Bad reputations: For-profit colleges are becoming more accepted, but there are some fields of work where a degree from one won’t be well-received. Do thorough research on the industry you want to work in so that you know exactly how potential employers will react to your degree recommendation. 
  • Expenses: Be aware that any education loans you take out will have to be paid back eventually, whether you graduate or not. Carefully consider your financial situation before enrolling at a for-profit university. 
  • Less Support for Students: If you decide to go the college route, remember to choose the right school. Do they offer the services you need? A traditional university often has medical offices, housing, dining, mental health services, social programming, and tutoring services available on-campus. For-profit universities typically do not offer these services. Consider whether or not those services would benefit you, and then check to see what your school does offer before enrolling. 
  • More Debt: A for-profit college can be an expensive choice. Students who graduate with a certificate from for-profit institutions have 11% lower earnings and accumulate more debt than those who attend a public or private institution. A 2015 study by The Institute for College Access and Success said students graduating from for-profit colleges have more debt than those attending public or non-profit institutions. 

Is Attending a For-Profit College Right for You?

For students who can’t gain admission into more competitive colleges due to grades, test scores, or other reasons, for-profit colleges provide an opportunity to pursue higher education.

For students with schedule restrictions also benefit from the robust offerings and flexible schedules provided by for-profit colleges.

For-profit colleges are a good option for students who have trouble getting into traditional colleges. They offer opportunities for learning careers in fields like culinary arts, cosmetology, and even medicine. 

Since you can take up a career in Cosmetology, you need to know How Long Is Cosmetology School?

How do I decide between a for-profit and a not-for-profit school?

Think about your motivations for returning to school and ask yourself what will make it easier for you to study. Think about the type of program you want and the degree types you need taken to take the next step in your chosen field.

Find out what online, hybrid, or on-campus options are available.

If you plan to return to school on a full-time basis, then you’re probably looking for a traditional college or university that offers campus-based instruction. But if you have scheduling and cost considerations or if you simply want the flexibility of online classes, then a for-profit college could be your best bet.

For example, completing an associate’s degree at a for-profit college can open up a variety of entry-level career options in the business world, such as data entry and office management.

You’ll benefit from the hands-on expertise and extensive resources, such as career guidance, that are all part of the community environment offered by many for-profit colleges. 

Can I get student loans and financial aid to help pay for my degree at a for-profit
or not-for-profit schools?

You can apply for student loans and a variety of forms of financial aid to help you pay for your degree at both for-profit and not-for-profit schools.

With this kind of financing flexibility, you typically have more freedom to select the school that best meets your individual needs and plans. 

Yu need to understand this about student loans: What Are Subsidized And Unsubsidized Student Loans?

Frequently asked questions about for-profit colleges

What does it mean when a college is a for-profit? 

A for-profit college is college-owned and operated by a private company or business. They are often managed by investors and stakeholders and they generate revenue that is used for non-educational purposes. For-profit institutions usually don’t receive state or federal aid. 

Why would anyone go to a for-profit college? 

For-profit colleges are run like businesses, prioritizing money and revenue over the quality of the education they offer. This fact, combined with high tuition rates, controversial lawsuits, and non-transferrable credits, is why so many people look down on these schools, even the supposed best for-profit colleges. 

What are some of the downfalls of a for-profit college? 

  • They often cost more than traditional colleges. 
  • They might spend less on your education. 
  • You could end up earning less. 
  • Their job placement statistics can sometimes be misleading. 
  • If your school closes, credit transfers might be difficult. 

The Pros of For-Profit Colleges 

  • Flexible Scheduling. For-profit institutions tend to have far more night, weekend, and online courses than their not-for-profit counterparts. … 
  • Large Non-traditional Student Population. 
  • Easy Admission. 
  • Minimum Amount of Prerequisites. 
  • Faster Graduation. 

Are for-profit colleges easier to get into? 

They have higher acceptance rates. The open admissions policy that most for-profit colleges adopt makes it easier for all applicants to get accepted. In most cases, the only requirement is that applicants have a high school diploma or GED certification. 

Why should you be wary of for-profit trade schools? 

For-profit colleges have been criticized for deceptive marketing, aggressive recruiting, targeting low-income students and veterans for the federal tuition money they’re eligible for, pushing private loans for the tuition not covered by federal loans, offering poor-quality programs, low graduation rates. 


For-profit colleges and universities can offer programs that meet the needs of students pursuing specific career goals, but non-profit institutions usually offer a wider range of programs and more flexibility.

Some for-profit schools have reputations for producing graduates who are poorly qualified for professional jobs, or for pressuring students to pay additional tuition to graduate.

Be sure to investigate a school’s reputation thoroughly before applying or paying money.  


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What Is A For-Profit College? Overview and All you need to know

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