What’s the Difference Between College and University


So, you are out of high school and are planning your future. Or you are still in high school and like to plan ahead. Either way, it is fine. If you are planning to study in the United States, then you might hear about “college” and “university” applications. (At least, if you are doing your research right.) You might find that there are many people in the United States that use both terms in similar contexts, but there are differences between both of these terms. (Surprising as it may seem.) If you understand the differences, then you will be able to know where to apply and what is better for you.

What is a College?

In the United States, colleges are smaller educational institutions that offer higher education for undergraduates. Typically, you will find that you will receive a comprehensive education on the subject of your choosing. The comprehensive education is an alternative to specializing in a specific subject from the start of your undergraduate education. You might not find many colleges that offer graduate programs. Additionally, you will not find many research opportunities in colleges like you will with universities. (As always, there are exceptions to the rule.) You might find colleges that offer graduate programs. But, you will need to actively look for them.

There are colleges that offer four-year programs. But, you can also find two-year associate degree programs in community colleges. Once you receive your associate’s degree, you can always transfer to a four-year college or university. (If you want to finish your Bachelor’s degree, then you should think about transferring.)

What is a University?

On the other hand, a university is an educational institution that provides students with both degree programs. You can receive your undergraduate degree and your graduate degree from a university. The accessibility to both types of degree programs is the most significant difference between a university and a college. Also, universities are larger in size and subjects than colleges. Universities offer a wide range of subjects in their degree programs. You will find that universities highlight the importance of producing research.

Make sure you keep in mind that universities consist of several entities that are referred to as colleges or schools. In this context, each school or college concentrates on a specialized area of study. For example the University of California, Los Angeles has a department that specializes in Aerospace Engineering, which is referred to as Aerospace Engineering College.

Which Term Should You Use and When Do You Use It?

Even though there are students who are attending university, you will find that there are students in the United States who use the term “college”. (It sounds really confusing and makes everything ten times harder to research.) Do not worry, though. You are not the only one who mixes up the terms; almost everyone mixes up between the two. Once you spend more time in the United States, you will be able to distinguish between the terms based on the context that is used. (Think of it like a cultural experience, more than anything.) You will get the hang of it, and you will probably do the same.

College vs. University: Which One Is For You

Now, the tough question that you are probably asking yourself is which one you should choose. Are you going to a university or a college? Well, there are many students who wonder which is better for them. Both options are great, but it all depends on you and what you want. (There are pros and cons to both sides. But, the more important question is which one do you prefer?)

Before you decide, you should consider three main components that are vital to think about. The three components are: the future, the size of your class, and your life as a student.

Future Opportunities

If you plan on pursuing a graduate degree after you receive your undergraduate degree, then you should consider a university. A university will provide more options for you to pursue the graduate degree, since universities highlight on producing research. (So, a university will provide easy access.) However, if you are thinking about only pursuing a specific field of study for your undergraduate degree, then you should consider a college.

Regardless, if you choose a college or a university, both options will offer many future opportunities for you.  (You will get a job and get promoted in a couple of years, whether you go to a college or a university.)

How Big Will Your Class Be?

It all depends on how you learn and your educational style. Universities have a larger class size, while colleges have smaller classes. If you prefer a quiet lecture hall, then you should add small class sizes to the pros column in colleges. However, if you prefer a loud and lively discussion in class, then a university is a better choice. Of course, you can always be flexible when it comes to class size. But, it is a good thing to keep in mind.

Your Life As a Student

Going to college (or university) does not only revolve around studying. There are other aspects that you should consider and one of them is your life on campus. You will learn a lot from your social interactions in college (or university). Both colleges and universities can offer opportunities and activities for you to take part in. Since you are an international student and you do not really know the American culture yet, then we suggest you take part in everything. College (or university) is an experience, even if you are studying.


In conclusion, whether you pick a college or a university, get ready for an adventure. A university is your best bet for pursuing a graduate degree after your undergraduate degree. But, if you want to specialize in a particular field of study, then you should think about applying to a college. (Regardless, have fun and enjoy yourself!)