A grass lawn and a large brown building in the background

What Is The Difference Between A College And A University?

Here's what we'll cover

Majority of the people don’t know the difference between a college and a university. However, there is a need for you to note the difference.

So let’s dive right in.

You must have questions about the difference between a college and a university if you are a parent or a student.

There are many misconceptions among the populace who believe colleges are privately owned institutes of higher learning, and universities are government-funded. 

Your keenness is necessary for you to discern the difference.

In this article, I will show you what the difference between a college and a university is. 

 How college And university terms Are Used In different Countries 

Your country of origin tends to determine how you understand the terms University and College. 

 United States

United States natives use the terms interchangeably, referring to postsecondary institutes.


In the US, the universities are the large tertiary institutes offering graduate studies while colleges are schools providing undergraduate education in degree and associate degree levels. 

United Kingdom

In the UK, colleges are facilities or schools associated or found in a university but are not offering degrees. There are instances when a college refers to secondary schools where students enroll for advanced qualifications. 


In Canada, third state education in vocational, scientific, artistic, and technical are offered in colleges.

Nonetheless, there are university colleges in Canada. The institutes provide university programs but have not yet met the threshold of operating independently as a university. 


In Australia, secondary schools are the same as colleges. The colleges offer high school education, and nothing postsecondary.

 What Is The Difference Between A College And A university?

Small-sized institutes offering undergraduate degrees, vocational training, and two-years-degrees are referred to as colleges.

There are two-year degrees offering colleges, while others provide both associate degrees and four-year undergraduate studies. 

On the other hand,

Universities are big institutions of higher learning, offering both undergraduate and graduate studies. Therefore, the degree programs offered in these institutions prepare the students for masters programs and later on doctorates.

Universities have law and medical schools for respective professionals. 

When comparing colleges to universities, the universities have a larger student enrollment, and their curriculum is broader.

The student enrolled in a university has the capability of speeding up their studies and graduate before the four years for a bachelor degree. 

 An example is Harvard College vs. Harvard University

You must also have realized that there is Harvard College and Harvard University. Harvard College has around 6,500 students who want to pursue four-year program courses.

On the other hand,

Harvard University does encompass Harvard College together with the other ten schools. Encompassed schools offer professional and graduate studies and programs. 

What Qualifies An Institute To Become A University?

Many are the times when institutes get established as colleges and later on advance or qualify for universities. For a college to advance, there are qualifications that need to be met. This takes more than five years.

What are the requirements?

  •  Programs
  • Organization
  • Resources
  • Accreditation


A university should have a broader undergraduate scope offering different subjects helping students graduate with a bachelor’s degree. The institute must also provide graduate studies in more than three various professional and academic fields. 


The institute should have adequate staff members helping in training both undergraduate and graduate students. The graduate studies and programs must be distinct from the undergraduate ones. 


A university must have enough resources to fund all the undergraduate and graduate programs. The institute must have sufficient and ideal facilities and equipment hence enabling smooth learning.  


A university must meet the accreditation or licensing threshold. Licensing is necessary as per the laws of the state. 

 Do Colleges Offer Graduate Studies?

A faint line between universities and colleges is evident at times. There are colleges out there offering graduate studies in specific programs or professional fields.

For instance,

Colleges like St. Joseph’s College, New York, and the College of William & Mary do offer graduate programs. 

The majority of the colleges offering graduate studies prefer to remain in the collegium level to uphold their heritage. There are instances when students and alumni protest towards the advancement of colleges to universities since they need to retain the name of the institute. 

For example.

When Mt. Union College in Ohio once decided to change its name to the University of Mt. Union. It is the alumni that protested against the name change since they were never ready to let go of their heritage and the name. 

  What Should You Choose?

As a student, you need to understand your needs, preferences, and high school qualifications. There is no better choice when it comes to colleges and universities.


There is a crowd thinking mentality that universities are superior and better than colleges. Academically, colleges are equal to universities.

Nevertheless, where you need an institute offering a broader scope of studies and programs, a university will be the ideal choice. 

A college enables students to interact well with their professors and the students at large. The classes are small-sized. 

The name of the school should never bother you. Therefore, ensure to examine the programs offered and determine whether they are ideal for you.

What is your anticipated college experience? Answering this question helps you decide whether you are to settle for a college or a university. 

History Of The College And University Terms 

The Words University and College have a Latin origin with the university word surfacing first between 1250-1300 CE during the Middle English period.

The college word appeared decades later. In some instances, the university shares the guild, corporation, and society synonyms while collegium shares the community, club, and society synonyms. 


To fully discern the difference between a college and a university, you must understand the origin of the names and the institutes.

The above guidelines help ingrain the necessary facts about colleges and universities hence enabling you to spot the difference with a lot of ease. Both institutes play an imperative role in sharpening students who anticipate tertiary education. 

Scroll to Top