College Vs University | What’s The Main Difference?

College Vs University

Millions of people in the USA and around the world are unaware about the difference between a college and a university. Generally, this confusion arises because there’re different education systems worldwide.

Some countries in the world have continued to follow the old British system that has existed for nearly 200 years. Others have their own education systems.

Therefore, a lot depends on which country you would go to for higher studies.

However, with the USA being the favorite destination for local as well as international students to do an undergraduate or graduate course, it’s important to know about the difference between a college and a university in America. That’s because the US has its own educational system.

The Meanings of School, College and University in USA

Before I write about the differences between a college and a university in USA, it’s essential to know some common terms used in the country.

  • School: A ‘school’ is a broad definition or word used for describing everything from a kindergarten to a university. Literally, a ‘school’ in USA means an institute for learning. This covers every educational institute. Hence, we have names such as ‘Harvard Medical School’, where students learn graduate medical courses.
  • College: Again, broadly, a college can sometimes refer to a high school. That’s because some ‘colleges’ offer the two-year high school courses to students graduating from their regular schools. This isn’t truly a college because it doesn’t offer the type of college courses that one would expect.
  • University: Also broadly, a university is a term used very loosely in the US. It can refer to an actual university or even a college. It also covers ‘schools’ offering graduate courses. Therefore, there’re no exact definitions of the word ‘university’ because people use the term rather vaguely, as part of colloquial language.

Therefore, as a student or their parent, it’s very important that you should know the differences between a college and a university. That’s because you can get some of the best educational courses from there for higher learning. These would help shape your career and life, in general.

Main Features of a College

Here’re some main differences between a college and a university. I will write about a college first. Because, that’s the place you would normally go for higher studies.

In the US, there’re four types of colleges where you can study. Below are these types where you can study.

  • Two-Year College: These are educational institutions known as colleges. However, they offer only the high school courses for two years. In some instance only, you might find they offer higher secondary plus an undergraduate course.
  • Community College: A community college, as the name suggests, can be operated by an ethnic community or even a local community. They’re smaller colleges that offer two-year Diploma or Certificate courses, mainly in vocational fields.
  • Undergraduate College: An undergraduate college is the most common and most important. Here, you can do a Bachelor’s degree for four years. Some colleges offer their own undergraduate courses while others provide a certification from the university. To get the university certification, they need proper accreditation.
  • University Colleges: Usually, a university college is located on the campus of a university. These colleges can also be known broadly as ‘school’ in some cases. These schools offer undergraduate and graduate programs and sometimes, post-graduate programs too.

Then, there’re a few other elements that make a college separate from a university. Knowing these is also very important while you’re seeking admission to any program.

  • A college can have its own, independent system of assessing whether you qualify for doing a program.
  • The college operates as an autonomous body and doesn’t depend on the university for its undergraduate, graduate and post graduate certifications.
  • A college can often be financially autonomous. Meaning, the college generates its own revenue and doesn’t get grants or funds from a university, the state of the government.
  • Some colleges can have own curriculum for various programs. These can differ slightly or even totally from the same course from a university or another college in the area.

These are some of the major elements that set apart a college from a university. Now, let’s look at some of the elements of a university.

Read also: 20 Best Online Jobs for College Students that Pay $20 Per Hour

Main Features of a University

Here are some of the main features of a university. These would differ a lot from a college. However, some features might remain the same.

  • Universities generally offer only graduate and post graduate studies such as the Master’s degree or Doctorate. There’re some colleges that function under a university but a university never functions under a college.
  • A university is always autonomous. It receives funding from various charities, founding groups, the state or even Federal government. A university also generates its own funds in the form of admission fees, leases of space and other sources.
  • All universities have the power to waive fees from students, if necessary. Generally, they offer scholarships, grants and other financial benefits to students from financially poor families and economically backward foreign countries too.
  • A university can accredit a college. In such cases, the degrees awarded by the college will be from the university.
  • Another feature is that a university campus can house one or more of its colleges. However, this is not a rule, as such. Some universities have colleges located in altogether different states and cities. Some universities also have campuses in foreign countries.
  • Some universities offer online courses or distance learning programs to students in USA and abroad. In such cases, the degree awarded to the student is given directly by the university only.
  • A university has lots of research programs during their graduation and post-graduation programs. Colleges generally don’t have research programs. As a matter of fact, some colleges have researches done in collaboration with the US government and other prestigious organizations, jointly.

Wrap Up

The US is also home to lots of private universities and private colleges. Some of these are topmost colleges and universities and a few features in the Ivy League too.

Therefore, before seeking admission, you can learn about the type of college or university you would attend. Also, check on some places that call themselves ‘school’ because these can be colleges or part of some big university.

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I'm very passionate on writing about personal finance, economy, helping people save money and making you better. I've worked closely with The Peninsula, Qatar Tribune, Pattaya People, Al Jazeera and other major news networks around the world. Member of Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders & other organizations.