What is the Difference Between a University and a College?

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What is the Difference Between a University and a College?

As the end of high school approaches, many students and their parents begin to focus a lot on the education options for their future careers, and one question often pops up: what’s the difference between a college and a university?

Some people tend to believe that colleges are private institutions while universities are state-funded. Others think that a university provides a higher quality of education than colleges.

None of these facts are absolute, some colleges are private and other are state-funded and the same goes for universities. However, the truth is that the difference is much finer and difficult to point out.

What is a College?

Normally colleges are smaller institutions that offer undergraduate degrees. Some of these colleges, like junior colleges or community colleges, offer two-year degrees while most colleges have bachelor’s degrees as well as associate degrees.

What is a University?

Universities typically offer undergraduate and graduate degrees. The graduate programs that universities offer usually lead to a master’s degree or a Ph.D. Universities also tend to have medical and/or law schools for those students that want to pursue those careers. Some also have special programs available that allow the students to earn both undergraduate and graduate degrees in less time.

In general, universities are more diverse in their class offerings than colleges because they tend to be larger and have more students enrolled and more faculty available as well. Universities are also more involved in research projects, however, it is not exclusive. Many colleges are involved in research and have amazing facilities to do so.

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Do Colleges Offer Graduate Degrees?

Sometimes colleges also offer graduate degrees, sometimes it can be confusing as to why if they’re “colleges” they also have those programs. For example, The College of William & Mary in Virginia, while it’s called a college, offers many graduate degrees, including business, law, education and marine science. In some cases, it boils down to tradition.

Some colleges have been named that way for many years, maybe even before they started offering graduate programs, and changing their name would be both a hassle and upsetting to students and alumni. Mount Union College in Ohio once proposed changing their name to the University of Mount Union, and there was a lot of angry protests by the alumni on social media.

What’s Right for Me?

This is also a very common question among higher education hopefuls, and the answer lies on what the student needs. Depending on what the student is after; if they’re interested in a large variety of programs and classes, maybe a university is the way to go. However, if they want smaller classes and close relationships with professors, then a college might be a better choice.

If the student is interested in a bachelor’s degree or a graduate degree, then they shouldn’t pay so much attention to the name behind the school. What’s more important is the experience they get and that the expectations of both education and quality are met.


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Indu has been educator since last 10 years. She can find all kind of scholarship opportunities in the USA and beyond. She also teach college courses online to help students become better. She is one of the very rare scholarship administrator and her work is amazing.