What is the Difference Between a College and a University?

students in the US commonly use the word college instead of university to refer to their bachelor’s degrees or four-year undergraduate programs.

The term ‘school’ in the US is used to describe any place where people go to learn. Therefore, both a university and college can be classified under the category of school. The term ‘school’ can be used when describing any graduate or undergraduate program, English language institution, or secondary school which is also commonly known as high school. In the US, college or university education is what follows after high school. University or college education starts when students are in their 13th year of school, usually between the ages of 17 and 18 years. Four-year university or college institutions offer students bachelor’s degrees, whereas two-year college institutions offer students associate degrees. The programs offering such degrees are known as ‘undergraduate’ schools.

What are the Differences?

Normally, a college tends to be a much smaller learning institution offering undergraduate degrees. However, there are colleges such as junior colleges and community colleges which only offer two-year degrees. While some colleges only offer associate degrees, most offer bachelor’s degrees as well. On the other hand, a university is a much larger learning institution offering both graduate and undergraduate degrees. Universities offer students graduate programs that may lead to a master’s degree or even a PhD. University institutions may also feature a law or medical school for individuals that wish to pursue a professional degree. There are also universities offering special programs during which students can earn both a graduate and undergraduate degree in a shorter duration of time. Universities tend to be more diverse than colleges when it comes to programs and classes being offered, mainly due to the high number of students enrolled.

What are the Similarities?

Most people tend to wonder why institutions such as Boston College or Dartmouth College are not called universities since they both offer both undergraduate and graduate programs. Although it is possible to earn a bachelor’s degree at either a university or college, students in the US commonly use the word college instead of the university to refer to their bachelor’s degrees or four-year undergraduate programs. Most of the time phrases like ‘getting a college degree’ or ‘going to college’ are used when talking about undergraduate programs at either university or college institutions. Similarly, not all higher learning institutions that can call themselves a university choose to do so because the term ‘university’ has more positive connotation. Some of the colleges choose to stick with the name ‘college’ due to tradition. Another similarity is that both universities and colleges can be either private or public. Most people assume that getting into university is much harder than getting into college which is not necessarily true.

Which One is Better?

A large number of students often ask if going to university is better than going to college, but in the real sense both are academic equals. When choosing the right university or college, one must consider their student needs first. For instance, if a student wants an institution with a wide array of classes and programs then they might want to consider a university. However, if the student wants a more personalized experience, they should opt for a college since it will have smaller class sizes. The student also needs to consider what fields of study they want to pursue since there are some that are only offered at a university.


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