College vs University

College and Universities are often discussed interchangeably. To know about the difference and which one is best suited for you, read the blog below.

Updated by Arpit Sachdeva on 30th January 2019

College and University - Both are terms that come across in every student’s life. As the student or their parents progress towards postsecondary education options they may begin to wonder about the differences between a college and a university.

The terms are used interchangeably and often create confusion in student’s mind.  

The distinction between College and University must be known to the student in order to make an informed decision about his/her education. 

What is a 'University'? 

A university is an institution that gives undergrad and graduates degrees. It is basically a degree-granting institution. 

The main difference between university and college is that a university offers graduate programs leading to masters or doctoral degrees. They offer a wide range of resources and are bigger than colleges. 

University is either owned by the government or private individuals or a combination of both. They tend to be larger than schools and hence focus on scholarly or scientific research. 

Some universities offer special programs where the students will earn both an undergrad degree and a graduate degree during a reduced quantity of time. 

Types of Universities

Public Vs. Private Universities

Public Universities are partly funded by state and local governments; every state has at least one public university. They offer lower tuition fees to in-state students than to students from out of state. The case can be different for some universities. 

Private Universities do not receive government funding. They are financed through tuition fees, endowments, and private donations. Their fees tend to be higher than those of public universities.

Research Universities Vs. Teaching Universities 

Research Universities basically focus on research related topics. They mainly consist of some of the top universities that include a wide variety of programs at undergraduate and graduate levels. Cutting edge equipment and extensive libraries are part of the institution. Faculty members are distinguished experts in their field.

Teaching Universities mainly focus on imparting knowledge rather than research. Faculties main purpose is to teach but they can still conduct research at a personal level. You might not find as many facilities at these types of institutions, but you may have more face time with your instructors.

Some examples of the universities are mentioned here.  

Types of Universities

What is a College?   

A smaller institution that characteristically offers undergraduate and graduates degrees is termed as a college.  

Colleges such as community college and junior college might offer degrees of two years duration. A college typically offers degrees in arts and science provided for a duration of four years. 

Few colleges correspondingly offer advanced degrees, for instance, Masters or other graduate degrees, after a student has earned a Bachelor’s degree. 

Different types of Colleges in the US  

Here are some of the types of colleges present in the United States. 

Community College - Sometimes called Junior Colleges, community colleges usually offer Associate degrees, though some also offer Certificate programs. The programs are typically two years long.  

Community Colleges tend to be smaller than universities and offer more interaction with faculty. 

Liberal Art College - Liberal Arts Colleges are four-year institutions that primarily offer undergraduate education.   

They concentrate on a well-rounded general education and emphasize problem-solving, critical-thinking, and communication skills. 

Career College - Also known as Technical Schools, Trade Schools, or Vocational Schools, these colleges provide job-oriented training that's designed to prepare you for direct entry into the workforce. Typically, they offer Certificates, Diplomas, and Associate degrees that take two years or less to complete. 

Colleges are usually small, with smaller class sizes, and students tend to have more individual attention from faculty and are goal oriented. 

Some examples of the colleges are given here.


[Also Read: What are the Cheapest Online Colleges? ]


Difference between College and University 

Some of the differences between the colleges and universities are given below.

  1. Definition - A college is a learning institution which offers degree and diploma courses to its students. A university is a higher education research center which offers an award degree and diploma to its learners.

  2. Scope - The scope of college as compared to the university is less since many colleges can be affiliated to a single university. College does not offer a research program to its students, but the university offers the same. 

  3. Affiliation - Affiliation to a college can be granted by a university or the college can behave as an autonomous body. Conversely, University doesn’t require any affiliation from another university. 

  4. Courses Available - Colleges have a limited number of courses. On the other hand, universities provide a diverse range of courses and programs.  

  5. Authority - The chief of a college is known as a Dean or Director while the chief of the university is known as Vice-Chancellor. 

  6. Students Enrolled - The number of students in a college is less as compared to the university since the availability of seats in college is limited. 

  7. Campus- A university usually has a large infrastructure as compared to colleges.


Making the choice 

College Vs. University - A difficult choice. With the options of educational institution available for students, finding the school that best suits you can be tough. Following criteria can help a student clarify his/her thoughts.   

Career Goals 

What are your future goals? What kind of career do you want to start with? These are the questions that you should be asking yourself before you make your choice. 

If you want to be job-ready in a short amount of time, then you should look for a career college. However, if you aren’t sure about your career and want to start by achieving a general education then a four-year institution might be the correct choice. 

Academic Record 

Based on your academic record, you may have a clearer idea regarding the places where you can be admitted. 

Colleges usually have an open-admission policy which means that anyone who completes a high school degree is eligible to enroll in the college. Competition for spots in top institutions is very fierce and one needs a very high-grade score to be eligible. 

Learning Style 

Class size can have a very big impact on one’s education. Universities can have a class consisting of hundreds of students in a single class whereas a college may consist of 25-30 students in a single class. 

Research facilities and equipment provided in small colleges are of low caliber as compared to university. So, making a choice of being a self-learner or want to be directed by experts can be the reason for choosing between one. 

Financial Situation 

How much can you afford on your education can be the breakpoint of your choice? Community Colleges are way cheaper than four-year institutions. 

This could be the reason why students begin with the community college and then take a transfer to a 4-year school. 


[Also Read: Financial Aid Programs Available For You]


College experience you want to take with you 

Most of the colleges don’t offer dorm facilities so if you want to stay with your classmates in small bunkers then universities can be your choice. 

If you have a job or family and want to fit your class schedules according to your work or travel commutes, then career colleges can be chosen. They provide flexibility to students. 

Another aspect is the co-curricular activities, where students can involve themselves. Universities provide a greater scope of this as compared to colleges.

 College Experience 


This blog talks about the differences between college and university. Each has its own perks and one must consider all the aspects before making a decision to choose among them It is an important step in a student’s education and one must be sure before choosing one. 


  What is a College?

A college is an educational institution which offers degree and diploma courses to its students.

  What is a University?

A university is an authorized educational and research institution that grants degree and diploma to its students, in the respective fields.

  What are Liberal arts colleges?  

Liberal arts colleges are four-year institutions that primarily offer undergraduate education. Because of the lack of graduate programs, research is not usually a major focus of these schools.

They concentrate on a well-rounded general education and emphasize problem-solving, critical-thinking, and communication skills.

  What are Community colleges?

Sometimes called junior colleges, community colleges usually offer associate degrees, though some also offer certificate programs. Programs are typically two years long.

Community colleges tend to be smaller than universities and offer more interaction with faculty. Most of them also have open admissions, meaning that anyone with a high school diploma or GED certificate can enroll.

  What are Career colleges?

Also known as technical schools, trade schools, or vocational schools, career colleges provide job-oriented training that's designed to prepare you for direct entry into the workforce.

Typically, they offer certificates, diplomas, and associate degrees that take two years or less to complete.

  What kind of degree do you get from a 2-year college? 

A 2-year degree program most commonly results in an associate's degree, and these degrees may be earned at community, technical, and vocational colleges. A 4-year degree, in comparison, is most commonly awarded as a bachelor's degree at a college or university.

  Is Community College better than Universities?

Students at community colleges tend to perform much better than students starting out at four-year universities.

Community colleges offer the same level of educational quality but in more reasonable doses. They have the same classes and curriculum but at a cheaper cost.

  What is the difference between Harvard College and Harvard University?

Harvard University refers to the full set of graduate schools along with the undergraduate institution (Harvard College). 

Harvard College refers to the undergraduate institution, which is served by the faculty of Arts and Sciences. In other words, Harvard College is one of the schools that makes up Harvard University.