The Difference Between College and University in America

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It is very common that parents and students at the earlier stage hunt for different academic options available to them right after the high-school. Picking the right college or a university is one of that.

What is the difference between a college and a university? Are you one among those who are confused between a university and a college? Don’t know what to choose? Then do not delay! Read further to know what these two terms mean.

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These are just like two different words that sort of has the same meaning.

The difference between a college and a university may not generally be evident to students or their parents, but as they advance toward postsecondary education they may start to ponder the contrasts between a university and a college.

The terms are used interchangeably and often create confusion in the student’s mind. You must comprehend the distinctions so that you can make an informed decision.

In the US, enrolling in University or College follows once the high school or secondary school is completed.

Many colleges offer graduate programs in designated subjects. However, it’s typically universities that provide graduate programs. To many, the word “college” indicates a smaller institution, perhaps offering a smaller range of educational programs, generally at the level of a 4-year degree program. “University”, then, would be used to describe a large institution that grants graduate as well as undergraduate studies.

Be that as it may, there is a whole other world to these two words than these general definitions.

What is a College?

A smaller institution that characteristically offers undergraduate degree programs is termed a college. Colleges such as community colleges and junior colleges might offer degrees of two years’ duration. A college typically offers degrees in arts and science for four years.

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

Specialized Colleges in the US

Colleges are usually small, with smaller class sizes, and students tend to have more individual attention from faculty and are goal-oriented. There are many specialized colleges in the US, which are mentioned below.

Community College 

They offer two-year programs leading to the Associate of Arts (AA) or Associate of Science (AS) degree. These colleges also have technical and vocational programs with close links to secondary/high schools, community groups, and employers in the local community. Example – Santa Barbara city college

Junior College

It offers two years of studies corresponding to those in the first two years of a four-year college and often offers technical, vocational, and liberal studies to the adults of a community.

Technical/Career College

Technical Colleges commonly offer programs in automotive technology, cosmetology, culinary arts, health sciences, and skilled trades, such as welding and more. These programs may result in an Associate degree, Certificate of completion, or Diploma, depending on the school.

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 the problem.

solving, critical thinking, and communication skills. Example – Dartmouth College

Top Online Colleges in the US

Some of the best colleges in the United States are given here.

Boston College 

Ashworth College

Bay State College

Wesleyan College  

Virginia College

What is a University?

A university is termed an institution that provides both undergraduate and graduate degrees. Universities present graduate curricula leading to a Master’s degree or a Ph.D. Universities might also hold Medical or Law schools for students who wish to pursue professional degrees. Mostly, universities own more contradictory offerings of sessions and programs than a college as it enrolls a larger number of students.   

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

It 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.  

They tend to be larger than schools and hence focus on scholarly or scientific research.

So, technically a university is a superset of a college offering a multitude of programs and courses to choose from usually showcasing an interdisciplinary design of the study.

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.

Also Read: For-Profit Colleges vs Not-For-Profit Colleges

Research Universities Vs. Teaching Universities 

Research Universities focus on research-related topics. They mainly consist of some of the top universities in the US 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 of the top universities in the United States which are known for providing the best online education had been listed in the below table.

Rank Best Universities 

1 University Of Massachusetts

2 Northeastern University

3 Indiana University Bloomington

4 Arizona State University

5 The University of Arizona

College Vs University – Which one is better?

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


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


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


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. 

Courses Available

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


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

Students Enrolled

The number of students in a college is less compared to the university since the availability of seats in college is limited. 


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

Criteria for a College to become a University

The following requirements must be met for a College to apply for University status. 

source –


It should include an undergraduate program that principals to a bachelor’s degree in an extensive range of academic subjects as well as graduate studies program.


An organization must include a graduate studies program and its associated programs also can be detached from undergraduate programs and the complete organization.


It must be essential to be able to economically hold its graduate and professional programs and must include amenities and equipment needed to display the level of effort required in both.


It must be accredited and reliant on the state, conceivably approved and merged within the state. 

Is a University better than a College?

Well, that depends specifically upon the choice of the student. Students generally asked one type of question if a university is better than a college. A College and a University are academically equal. For example, if a student wants to attend a school with a variety of programs and classes, then a university may be a better choice. 

If a student values small class sizes and a closer relationship with professors, then a college might be the best option. If you are a student considering getting a Bachelor’s or Graduate degree, your school’s name is less important than whether or not the school is a good fit. Think about what you want your college experience to be like, and choose the college or university that meets your expectations.

Making the choice – Which One Should You Choose?

College Vs. University – A difficult choice. With the options of educational institutions available for students, finding the school that best suits you can be tough. The following requirements can help a student clarify his/her thoughts.   

  1. Career Goals

What are your future objectives? What sort of profession would you like to begin with? These are simply the inquiries that you ought to present yourself before you settle on your decision.

If you need to be work prepared in a short measure of time, at that point you should search for a lifelong college. Nonetheless, on the off chance that you aren’t sure about your profession and need to begin by accomplishing general training then a four-year establishment may be the right decision.

2. 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. 

3. 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 universities. So, choosing between being a self-learner or wanting to be directed by experts can be the reason for choosing one. 

4. Financial Situation

How much can you afford for 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.  

5. College experience you want to take with you

Most 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.


It all boils right down to the size of the school system. Universities tend to supply full undergrad and graduate programs, which means there are multiple schools inside their system. Many students ask if a university is better than a college. Well, the choice lies in the hands of a student to choose a college or a university for pursuing the degree.

Because while there may be a difference between a college and a university, the real question to ask is whether that given institution, regardless of name, seems like it will be a good fit for you

Both of them have their ups and downs, it completely depends on the student to choose it. However, in my opinion, the change in infrastructure may sometimes impact the quality of education being provided. 


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