What is the Difference Between a College and a University?

What's the difference between a college and a university? The terms university and college are often used interchangeably, but they are actually not the same.

Wondering what the difference is between a college and a university?

I know, I know. College, university. It’s all the same, right?

Well, yes and no.

The terms college and university are often used interchangeably here in the United States. Generally, people use both terms to refer to any institution of higher education.

But technically speaking, there is a difference. Colleges and universities are not quite the same things. Let’s explore colleges and universities… what they are and how they differ.

students learn the difference between college and university

What is the difference between a college and university?

The difference between a college and university is the type of programs offered. Colleges typically offer only undergraduate degrees, while universities offer both undergraduate and graduate degrees.

But there are exceptions to this rule!

Difference between Boston College and Boston University

For example, Dartmouth College and Boston College are colleges that offer graduate level education.

What is a college?

A college is an institution of higher education that focuses on undergraduate degree programs. That is, they may offer 2 year associates degrees or 4 year bachelor’s degrees, but typically do not offer graduate level programs such as a master’s degree or doctorate degree.

For example, Ivy League university, Columbia University, also has a college: Columbia College.

At the college, there are a wide-range of majors offered to undergraduate students.

Columbia University vs. Columbia College

But if you want to pursue a master’s degree or doctoral program, you will be enrolling at the university, Columbia University. For example, if you want to pursue a Master’s degree or Doctoral degree in Anthropology, the programs are offered through Columbia University:

List of differences between colleges and universities

Types of Colleges

Colleges come in all shapes and sizes.

When comparing colleges, there are several types including:

  • Community Colleges
  • Liberal Arts Colleges
  • Career Colleges
  • Technical Schools
  • Trade Schools
  • Vocational Schools

It’s easy to see why so many people are confused about the differences between a college and a university!

For example, Penn Foster Career School is a college that offers undergraduate programs leading to a diploma, certificate, or an associate’s degree. Some might refer to Penn Foster as a college or even a university, but since they do not offer graduate level degree programs like master’s programs and doctorate degrees, they are not a university. The school is a college, but most refer to these types of schools as a career school or a technical school.

college vs university

Colleges are generally small in terms of enrollment and degree offerings, but that is not always the case. Large colleges such as Columbia College offer dozens of undergraduate programs. But your local community college may only offer a dozen associate degree programs.

If you’re interested in exploring the different types of degrees offered by colleges and universities, you can do that here.

What is a university?

A university is an institution of higher education that offers both undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Generally, universities are large – some enroll tens of thousands of students – and offer a wide variety of courses.

harvard university

Oftentimes universities are comprised of multiple schools or colleges, each dedicated to an area of study. For example, under the umbrella of Harvard University we find the graduate schools Harvard Business School, Harvard Law School, Harvard Medical School and so on. Similarly, under the umbrella of Cornell University, we find Cornell College of Business, Cornell College of Engineering, and so on.

Are university and college the same thing?

Technically, a university and a college are not the same. The term university refers to an institution offering both undergraduate and graduate degree programs, while the term college generally refers to an institution that offers only undergraduate degree programs.

The lines can really get blurred when you start talking about special degree programs such as a combined bachelor’s degree and master’s degree program. In most cases, these types of programs will be offered by a university since part of the program of study involves graduate-level study.

However, in everyday speech, most people use the two terms interchangeably. Both terms are used to describe any institution of higher learning, and few people differentiate between the two.

Which one is better college or university?

Whether a college or university is the better choice for you depends on what type of degree you are pursuing.

If you’re looking to earn a bachelor’s degree, you can consider either option. Both colleges and universities also offer fast online classes that last only 5 weeks to 8 weeks long. Even if you plan to pursue a more advanced degree later, you can earn your undergraduate degree from either a college or a university.

If you’re pursuing a graduate level degree such as a master’s or doctorate, a university is the choice for you.

What is the difference between community college and university?

Community colleges, also called junior colleges, offer 2-year degree programs, awarding associate degrees and professional certificates.

Universities, on the other hand, offer 4-year bachelor’s degrees, as well as graduate-level degree programs.

While a 2-year associate degree is sufficient in some professions, most students use community college as a stepping stone on their way to earning a bachelor’s degree. They enroll at a community college to earn general education credits at a lower cost and then transfer to a college or university for their remaining two years.

frequently asked questions

What is the difference between a 4 year college and a university?

The difference between a 4 year college and university is the degree levels offered. A 4 year college offers undergraduate degrees, while a university offers degree programs at both the undergraduate and graduate level.

Some might say that a college offers the easiest college majors and degree programs, but that is not always the case. Many community colleges have been known to offer top-notch academic programs to help students prep for a 4 year university.

What’s the difference between college and university in USA?

In the USA, the terms college and university are often used interchangeably and refer to the same thing.

But technically speaking, a college is an institution that focuses on undergraduate degrees, while a university is an institution that offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees.

What is difference between university education and college education?

Both university education and college education will provide a foundation of skills and knowledge to help prepare you for a career.

At a university, you may pursue a more advanced degree such as a master’s or doctorate, while colleges usually only offer undergraduate degrees.

What’s the Difference between Harvard College and Harvard University?

Harvard University refers to the whole school, including all of its undergraduate and graduate level programs.

Harvard College, on the other hand, refers only to the undergraduate liberal arts program available at Harvard University.

Is Harvard a College or a University?

Both! Harvard University is comprised of Harvard College, the school’s undergraduate liberal arts program, as well as 10 graduate and professional colleges. You can learn more about the differentiation here.

What is the difference between Columbia College and Columbia University?

Columbia University is made up of a number of schools, including its undergraduate liberal arts college known as Columbia College.

columbia university

What is the difference between Yale University and Yale College?

Yale University is comprised of fourteen schools, one of which is Yale College. Yale College is the university’s undergraduate liberal arts college. The university’s other schools are at the graduate level and include Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and twelve professional schools.

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Lindsay Aldini
Lindsay Aldini
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