What Is The Difference Between College and University?

I know most of us at n point or another have wondered whether or not university and college are the same, and if not, then what are the differences. Most people, especially in the U.S, never use the term university when they are attending the institution; they will always use the term college even when they are attending either of the two.

Differences in the two are not very easy to explain or clear cut as in different places, they probably mean different to people, but we shall try and give the general descriptions, similarities, and differences that make sense to most people.

Some universities are referred to as colleges, not on paper, but due to maybe tradition as most institutions start as colleges and are later turned into universities. Therefore once people are used to referring to them as college, when they are turned into colleges, they might find it challenging to change how they refer to them as

Of the two, the university came first as it is older than college, given that it originated in the 13th century while college came after that.

There are a few distinct differences between the two. Let’s delve into them!

A College

Generally, a college is a learning institution that focuses on awarding undergraduate degrees only and don’t have an extensive selection of graduate programs to choose from even though that has been changing as more colleges are offering more option for these programs.

Most colleges are usually smaller in size and student capacity as compared to universities. Some people believe that the quality of education in colleges is better compared to that of universities because there isn’t an overwhelming number of students studying; therefore, the one-on-one interaction between students and lecturers is better.

Different types of colleges offer various certifications to students. Some examples of these colleges include four-year college which its main focus is to acquire a bachelor’s degree in the long run.

Another example of a college is a vocational training college, which focuses on training on skills and knowledge required for a specific job and is usually certified rather than acquiring a degree. And finally, the community or junior college, which generally lasts two years to either gain requirements that will enable one to transfer to a four-year college or get an associate’s degree.

In most cases or places, for an existing college to be called or become a university, it usually has to expand its graduate programs into more options. Some universities or other learning institution have colleges in them for different undergraduate areas or study which some student can still earn their undergraduate degrees.

Some people might have the misconception that colleges are privately owned. In contrast, universities are owned by the government; this is not accurate. Whether an institution is privately owned or state-owned has nothing to do with the name of the institution. Both universities and colleges can either be private or state-owned.


Universities, on the other hand, differ from colleges in that it’s an institution of higher learning that offers a broader range of studies. A university provides both graduate and undergraduate programs and has a wider variety too.

As mentioned above, universities do have colleges in them where students can earn their bachelor’s degree. The institutions also have graduate-level schools where one can acquire their Master’s degree, and later their Ph.D. Universities also contain schools in them that enable students to earn their professional degrees such as in medicine or law.

Unlike colleges, universities are more extensive due to the variety of schools they have. Universities also have a more significant number of students attending; they have a vast range of degree options and extra activities such as sports teams, etc. people tend to associate university with a higher prestige as opposed to colleges.

A common misconception is that one institution is better than the other; the truth is a degree earned at either institution is viable and respected. It is also probably good to know that Americans only use the term college to refer to higher learning institutions; otherwise, other countries such as England, Canada, and Australia use the word university.

Requirements for a College to Become a University

For a college to become a university there are specific boxes that the institution need to tick out which include;

First is the organization of the institution, which should have graduate programs that are separated from undergraduate programs and experienced staff who can guide students towards acquiring their graduate and professional degrees.

The second requirement is the programs that should be undergraduate, which must lead to a bachelor’s degree and a graduate degree program that leads to advanced degrees.

The third requirement is the resources of the college that are required to support their professional and graduate programs plus have equipment and facilities needed to facilitate the two programs.

Finally, the last requirement is accreditation. Quite straight forward really, as the college must be accredited or licensed.

Once these requirements are met, a college can finally become a university with the main changes being, having a more extensive range of options for programs in the institution.

Because of the variety of programs and the size of the institution, many will think that going to university is better, and some will even get stuck on which one they should choose to attend. Just as mentioned above, the education you will receive in both is the same, and none is more superior.

The difference in choosing is that one has a wide variety, while the other has limited. If you are one who would love more experience and a more comprehensive range of classes to choose from, then the university could be for you. Still, if you prefer a more intimate and one-on-one with your fellow scholars or lecturers, then a college would suit you best. All in all, your decision should lean more on which one suits you personally, which one will give you what you desire.

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