College and University

A general question on education in the USA is, what is the difference between college and University? Since education is more and more represented in the world, it is also becoming a default achievement. Now, what is the best option for you? Let me define both institutions and explain the differences. 

Let’s start with the difference in size. Colleges are smaller institutions. On the other hand, universities are large buildings with more prominent campuses and space for students who want to enroll. 

The second main difference in college vs.. University is the education level that those institutions give to you. Of course, you mostly choose your education level, but some educational institutions cannot offer you every level. 

By graduating from college, you have only the first degree, which is generally the most significant difference between college and University. University is offering you a variety of options, degrees, study programs, and majors. And college is offering you an undergraduate which can be explained as a kind of preparation for continuing education and raising it to a higher level of knowledge.

What is a university?

University is an educational institution with education levels and degrees within students to master degree or doctorate. Furthermore, universities usually have a significant number of different programs representing a high quality of education. From University to University, there are some differences. 

Most of them are very similar, but the most important thing to know is the education levels you can have if you are interested in raising your knowledge to the next level. There are three cycles of degrees. First is bachelor’s (first cycle), master’s (second cycle), and doctoral (third cycle). Of course, they are all connected. Explained, they are complimenting students’ knowledge through levels of education. 

First of all, the University’s point is to create knowledge in the programs and majors those interest students and supplement that knowledge and get the opportunity to have maximum education in those fields.

Over time, depending on the student’s interests, he may become a science doctor who will either continue educating other students at a university or research and deepen knowledge of topics and science that interests him through projects, experiments, and further research. 

This choice of the student who graduated leads us to the next difference between a variety of universities. Not every University is an excellent educational place for every major. Therefore some are better for studying the natural sciences, and some are better for studying the social sciences. Moreover, we divide universities into two groups. Research universities and teaching universities. Well, what is the difference? 

The main difference between these two types of universities is pretty much explained when you read their name.

Research universities vs. Teaching universities

Teaching university is an institution that provides students with outstanding teaching programs with unique educational resources. The professors are dedicated to students only, which is very good, but it also makes the professor far from their field of science. 

On the other hand, research universities have both in one place. They do experiments and projects with researchers who are working there. At the same time, some professors are leading the researchers, but at the same time, they are also teaching students. 

People around the USA prefer research universities more because students can learn from people who have excellent knowledge in both parts, theoretical and practical. Even if the research universities are more like in the students’ world, there is no significant difference in the number of enrolled students between these two types. Both of the institutions are very good, and they are both providing the same education level. 

Some people are confused by two groups, thinking that teaching universities are the same as college. So, are college and teaching university the same? No, they are not, and the difference is shortly explained above this topic and will be explained in detail later on. 

Public vs. Private universities

The next prevalent groups of the University are private and public Universities. What are the differences between these groups?

The main difference is how they are funded. Colleges and universities which are supported by the government are called public colleges and universities. Opposite of it, there are universities and colleges with their private fund, called private ones. Also, private educational institutions depend more on students’ tuition fees than public institutions. 

Some of the research showed no significant difference in scores of students from private and public universities. Individual private universities provide better teaching conditions, better campuses, learning equipment, and the like.

What is College?

It represents an educational institution that is giving you the possibility of learning and improving your academic level. However, there is a difference between University and college, and also there are differences between colleges themselves. 

The basic definition of a college is a smaller institution that mainly offers undergraduate degrees. There is a variety of diplomas and degrees you got from different types of colleges. For example, there is a two-year degree. You can get it from the community or junior college about whom I will write about later on. The most valuable education level you can get from college is a four-year bachelor’s degree, with some associate degrees. 

As you can conclude, a college education is weaker than a university education. It does not allow you to obtain a master’s degree or have a doctorate of science that you are studying and that interests you. Of course, not everyone is interested in becoming a doctor of science or improving their knowledge to the maximal level. College is also a great educational institution for students who are interested in gaining experience and expertise. 

Besides the difference in degrees, there is also a difference in the building size, campus size, and enrolled students. College is smaller. 

People are usually perplexed with colleges, their types, universities, and similar educational institutions. Let me explain the most important things you must know about college before applying to one. 

Career colleges

First of all, a significant type of college is a career college. Other names for institutions are also technical or vocational schools. A career college is a private or public institution that provides career preparation in various career-specific areas across a series of certifications and degrees. It is beneficial for people who are determined to start working as soon as possible. 

Since career colleges are top-rated, they also have a range of majors. Of course, it also depends on the college you want to go to. Some of them have only a few majors related to specific fields, but on the other hand, some colleges are excellent and full of different career-oriented subjects. That will be a perfect choice if you are not the type who has no ambitions higher than graduating from college as soon as possible and getting to work. 

Community college

The next term you should learn about is a Community College. Like every term mentioned above, this is also an institution dedicated to giving high school seniors a higher education level. But what is precisely community college? First of all, this term is not the same everywhere. It is a lot different in Canada and Australia than in the USA. Since we are talking about universities vs.. colleges in the USA, community college represents a two-year higher education. It values much less than regular college, and community college vs. University is incomparable. Community colleges known as junior colleges are providing you with tertiary schooling. It is a post-secondary education, which is simply lower education after graduating from high school. 

Every city has its junior college, and most students who were not interested in grades are enrolled. By graduating from community college, students are getting diplomas, associate degrees, and certificates. A significant number of students are interested in enrolling in a four-year liberal arts college after finishing community one. 

Liberal arts college

Now, what are liberal arts colleges? Like I have already said, mostly they are continuing education for people who have graduated from a community college. Just as any usual college, it has an emphasis on undergraduate study in science and liberal arts. Students have a lot of choices, and there is a variety of majors and programs. It aims to higher education, and it is also representing the traditional type of college. 

The liberal arts college is strongly associated with American higher education. Even if they are also ubiquitous worldwide, including Europe, they are mostly presented as the American model. The top-ranked liberal arts college is Amherst college, and if you are interested in enrolling, you should look at this one. 

Also, a liberal arts college is defined as “schools that emphasize undergraduate education and award at least half of their degrees in the liberal arts fields of study.”

You should also know that some specific liberal arts colleges have graduate programs that lead to the master’s and doctoral degrees in majors such as nursing, medicine, and even law.

Now I will give you an example of one of the most prestigious educational institutions globally; I will explain the comparison we have talked about so far in more detail and bring you closer to the topic of college vs. University even more. 

Everybody heard about excellent Harvard University. It is one of the highest-ranked universities in the USA and even further. Only the best students can get it, and it requires a lot. It is also one of the oldest universities globally, and it is exceptional because this institution is a university and a college at the same time. 

Example:  Harvard College Vs. Harvard University?

Both education systems are excellent and high quality, with a high percentage of employment after graduation. 

The first difference, which is also the significant difference, is that the University refers to the entire Harvard educational institution. At the same time, the college only represents the part and area of Harvard University. Since Harvard is considered one of the best educational institutions, it is one of the world’s 8 Ivy League universities. This applies to both Harvard College and University.

Here is a more detailed explanation of the difference for those interested in applying to Harvard through the definitions I wrote above. 

Now, Harvard College is the undergraduate college of Harvard University. Undergraduate or first degree is preparation for further education in majors and subjects that students are interested in. You can stay an undergraduate, or you can apply to higher educational institutions. In this case, that would be Harvard University. 

The University of Harvard offers you all three higher cycles (bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral). The good thing to know is that Harvard is also providing you with the most extensive library in the world with the best books you can find in every field of your studies and work. 

Moreover, I have mentioned the difference between private and public universities. Well, Harvard educational institution is a private college and University. The government does not fund Harvard. It is still one of the most successful universities, and if you are interested in private colleges more, Harvard would be a fantastic choice.

Also, the difference is in the students’ plans. Some people are interested in raising their knowledge to a master’s degree or even a doctoral, but some want college knowledge, which is fine. 

Anyway, the institution was founded in 1636, and Harvard College is the original school of Harvard University.

College or University, what’s the best choice for you?

It is a period for high school seniors to decide what they want to do with their life after high school. Will they stay in their hometown, start working, seek higher education, and other possible options. The biggest struggle of future students who are sure they want to continue their educational path is better for them, college studies, or the university education system. 

If you are unsure if you should enroll in University or college, this part of the article will help you decide between college and University. 

A college is ideal for safer and calmer people in smaller institutions with fewer students and professors. Furthermore, the college provides you with smaller yet most beautiful campuses, friendly classrooms, and good rooms you will spend the next four years of your life.

If you are looking for, let’s say, a closer relationship with professors, college is also a better choice. Because of the smaller number of enrolled students, professors can be more dedicated to you and your work. That is a great privilege, and you should embrace it. There is also a certain number of subjects, so be careful while choosing a college. And of course, each provides you with a certain number of extracurricular activities and programs. 

On the other hand, universities are full of people, more prominent campuses, blocks of student dorms, great amphitheaters. Professors have thousands of students, and sometimes they can’t even remember your name, but the quality of education and the way they make classes don’t even require them to do so. Also, universities usually have more majors and subjects, so you do not have to be careful while choosing the perfect University. 

A vital thing that should have a significant impact on your choice is your interest. If you are more likely to seek the highest education possible, the University is a must. Universities are giving you the possibility of getting a doctoral degree, also a master’s and bachelors. 

You must work very hard and study a lot, but if education is this important to you, you should not think between college and University, but between universities themselves. 

College does not have an option of giving you a higher degree than a first degree or so-called undergraduate. For example, community colleges also provide you with diplomas, and they last only two years. They are the right choice for someone who is not interested in educational improvement at all. On the other hand, having finished college and first degree is perfect for a person determined to start working as soon as she finishes college.

I believe that both institutions are giving you an excellent academic background. It’s just your choice how much you want to invest in your education. 

Pros and Cons of Universities and colleges 

Many people are also very interested in learning about the other side of college and university education. I will try to write and explain some of the most common pros and cons of universities and colleges that you must know about before enrolling in one.

  1. More job opportunities (additional education is a big bonus)
  2. New experiences (fantastic period of life you will enjoy)
  3. Living your family nest and getting out of your comfort zone (even if some people don’t like the idea of this, it’s perfect for your inner development) 
  4. Preparation for living on your own when you graduate 
  5. Find new contacts that will be very useful for your future life.
  6. Provides a chance to improve your social, organizing, and work skills. 
  7. Enjoying your last four years of education 

But also this…

  1. Debt or student loans (it is tough to pay off, you must work a lot) 
  2. A large dose of stress daily (not everything about college is a heaven on earth, remember that)
  3. You’re not guaranteed a graduate job (jobs rarely require college but graduating from one is a great bonus as well. 
  4. If you do not take college and University seriously, you will waste three years of your life. 
  5. You may not get employability and technical skills (universities and colleges teach you a lot, but sometimes not enough for your life knowing you must-have for jobs and business.)
  6. Lifetime earnings can be higher with an apprenticeship (this is not something pervasive, but it happens, so you should be aware of it). 

None of the cons is something you should be afraid of. Every student is going through it, and it is entirely normal to feel stressed or to have a student loan, you must pay off. Moreover, there are not only adverse facts about university or college education. Both institutions are fundamental and not just because of your future career, but because of experiences and friends, you will meet.
College is mostly a favorite part of everyone’s life. Do not let some facts, pros, and cons stop you from the enjoyment of the last four years of your education.


Well, we have come to an end with this article. University is objectively one of the most important institutions of your life. Before applying to one University or college, you must be aware of it and be maximally informed. Even if in the world exists people who are amazingly rich without college, University, or any high educational level, you must know that the key to success is working hard on yourself and going to the institutions I talked about above.

College vs. University, or the difference between college and University, is pretty much visible. Still, I stand behind the fact that it is crucial to enroll in one of the two institutions and, of course, adjust your interests and goals accordingly. There are so many educational options for you, community colleges for people who are not much school type, private universities, public universities, research universities, teaching universities… Also, I must mention the importance of liberal arts colleges.

I am sure that at least one is similar to you, that Is why I believe that every person’s success starts with the right choice of University and college where he will expand his knowledge and perspectives!

Helen Vlasova
Helen is the co-founder of, a career guidance website for students and young professionals. She has a degree in English from the University of Michigan. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, reading, and traveling.

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