British usage of the word "college" remains the loosest, encompassing a range of institutions:
In some cases, colleges prepare students for the degree of a university of which the college is a part (e.g. colleges of the University of London, University of Cambridge, etc.) In other cases, colleges are independent institutions which prepare students to sit as external candidates at other universities or have authority to run courses that lead to the degrees of those universities (e.g. many higher education colleges and university colleges).
In American English, the word, in contrast to its many and varied British meanings, often refers to liberal arts colleges that provide education primarily at the undergraduate level. It can also refer to schools which offer a vocational, business, engineering, or technical curriculum. The term can either refer to both a self-contained institution that has no graduate studies or to the undergraduate school of a full university (i.e., that also has a graduate school). In popular American usage, the word "college" is the generic term for any post-secondary undergraduate education. Americans go to "college" after high school, regardless of whether the specific institution is formally a college or a university, and the word and its derivatives are the standard terms used to describe the institutions and experiences associated with American post-secondary undergraduate education.
Colleges vary in terms of size, degree, and length of stay. Two-year colleges offer the associate's degree and four-year colleges offer the bachelor's degree. These are usually primarily undergraduate institutions, although some might have limited programs at the graduate level.
Four-year institutions in the U.S. which emphasize the liberal arts are liberal arts colleges. These colleges traditionally emphasize interactive instruction (although research is still a component of these institutions). If not associated with a university, they are often categorized as residential and generally have smaller enrollment, class size, and student-teacher ratios than universities. These colleges often encourage a high level of teacher-student interaction at the center of which are classes taught by full-time faculty rather than graduate student TAs (who sometimes teach the classes at Research I and other universities). The colleges are either coeducational, women's colleges, or men's colleges. Some are historically black colleges. Some are also secular (or not affiliated with a particular religion) while others are involved in religious education. Many are private. Some are public liberal arts colleges. In addition, colleges such as Hampshire College, Pitzer College, Sarah Lawrence College, Bennington College, Marlboro College, Bard College at Simon's Rock and New College of Florida offer experimental curricula.
On the other hand, public and private universities are research-oriented institutions which service both an undergraduate and graduate student body. Graduate programs grant a variety of Master's degrees including M.B.A.s or M.F.A.s. The doctorate is the highest academic degree, and the Ph.D. is given in most fields. Medical schools award M.D.s while law schools award the J.S.D. as the highest academic achievement. These institutions usually have a large student body. Introductory seminars can have a class size in the hundreds in some of the larger schools. The interaction between students and full-time faculty can be limited as compared to some liberal arts colleges. At some of the larger universities some undergraduate classes are taught by graduate student TAs.
At the same time, some American universities, such as Boston College, Dartmouth College, the College of Charleston and The College of William & Mary, have retained the term "college" in their names for historical reasons or because of an undergraduate focus, although they offer higher degrees. This problem led, in part, to the threatened lawsuit between Yale College Wrexham (equivalent to an American "high school") and Yale University, the latter claiming trademark infringement. As of 2003, there were 2,474 four-year colleges and universities in the United States.
Usage of the terms varies among the states, each of which operates its own institutions and licenses private ones. In 1996 for example, Georgia changed all of its four-year colleges to universities, and all of its vocational technology schools to technical colleges. (Previously, only the four-year research institutions were called universities.) Other states have changed the names of individual colleges, many having started as a teachers' college or vocational school (such as an A&M — an agricultural and mechanical school) that ended up as a full-fledged state university.
It should be noted, too, that "university" and "college" do not exhaust all possible titles for an American institution of higher education. Other options include "institute" (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), "academy" (United States Military Academy), "union" (Cooper Union), "conservatory" (New England Conservatory), and "school" (Juilliard School), although these titles are only for their official names. In colloquial use, they are still referred to as "college" when referring to their undergraduate studies.
The term college is also, as in the United Kingdom, used for a constituent semi-autonomous part of a larger university but generally organized on academic rather than residential lines. For example, at many institutions, the undergraduate portion of the university can be briefly referred to as the college (such as The College of the University of Chicago, Harvard College at Harvard, or Columbia College at Columbia) while at others each of the faculties may be called a "college" (the "college of engineering", the "college of nursing", and so forth). There exist other variants for historical reasons; for example, Duke University, which was called Trinity College until the 1920s, still calls its main undergraduate subdivision Trinity College of Arts and Sciences. Some American universities, such as Princeton, Rice, and Yale do have residential colleges along the lines of Oxford or Cambridge, but the name was clearly adopted in homage to the British system. Unlike the Oxbridge colleges, these residential colleges are not autonomous legal entities nor are they typically much involved in education itself, being primarily concerned with room, board, and social life. At the University of California, San Diego and the University of California, Santa Cruz, however, each of the residential colleges do teach its own core writing courses and has its own distinctive set of graduation requirements.
Contrast this with Europe, where only universities could grant degrees. The leaders of Harvard College (which granted America's first degrees in 1642) might have thought of their college as the first of many residential colleges which would grow up into a New Cambridge university. However, over time, few new colleges were founded there, and Harvard grew and added higher faculties. Eventually, it changed its title to university, but the term "college" had stuck and "colleges" have arisen across the United States.
Eventually, several prominent colleges/universities were started to train Christian ministers. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Brown all started to train preachers in the subjects of Bible and theology. However, now these universities teach theology as a more academic than ministerial discipline.
With the rise of Christian education, renowned seminaries and Bible colleges have continued the original purpose of these universities. Criswell College and Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas; Southern Seminary in Louisville; Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois; and Wheaton College and Graduate School in Wheaton, Illinois are just a few of the institutions that have influenced higher education in Theology in Philosophy to this day.
In U.S. usage, the word "college" embodies not only a particular type of school, but has historically been used to refer to the general concept of higher education when it is not necessary to specify a school, as in "going to college" or "college savings accounts" offered by banks. "University" is sometimes used in such contexts by Americans who wish to avoid ambiguity, for example in the context of Internet message boards where the reader hail from a different English speaking country.
In the 1860s, when this act was established, the original colleges on the east coast, primarily those of the Ivy League and several religious based colleges, were the only form of higher education available, and were often confined only to the children of the elite. A movement arose to bring a form of more practical higher education to the masses, as “…many politicians and educators wanted to make it possible for all young Americans to receive some sort of advanced education.” In 1862 Congress passed a measure that “…made it possible for the new western states to establish colleges for the citizens.” This was extended to allow all states that had remained with the union during the American Civil War, and eventually all states, to establish such institutions.
Most of the colleges established under the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act have since gone on to become full universities. Some are amongst the elite of the world.
In Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory, "college" refers to the final two years of high school (years eleven and twelve), and the institutions which provide this. In this context, "college" is a system independent of the other years of high school. Here, the expression is a shorter version of matriculation college.
In the state of Victoria, many public schools providing secondary education are known as secondary colleges, though most Victorians still refer to this level of education as "high school".
In Western Australia, private and independent High Schools are known as colleges, such as Mazenod College or Trinity College.
In the state of South Australia nearly all private schools, including those with year levels from Reception (5 year olds) through to year 12 and 13 are called Colleges.
In Canada, the term "college" usually refers to a community college or a technical, applied arts, or applied science school. These are post-secondary diploma-granting institutions, but they are not universities and have limited degree-granting authority in several provinces. In Quebec, it can refer in particular to CEGEP (Collège d'enseignement général et professionnel, "college of general and professional education"), a form of post-secondary education specific to the Quebec education system that is required in order to continue onto university (unless one applies as a 'mature' student, meaning 21 years of age or over, and out of the educational system for at least 2 years), or to learn a trade. In Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta there are also institutions which are designated university college as they only grant under-graduate degrees. This is to differentiate between universities which have both under-graduate and graduate programs and those that do not.
The Royal Military College of Canada, a full-fledged degree-granting university, does not follow the naming convention used by the rest of the country, nor does its sister school Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean or the now closed Royal Roads Military College.
The term "college" also applies to distinct entities within a university (usually referred to as "federated colleges" or "affiliated colleges"), akin to the residential colleges in the United Kingdom. These colleges act independently, but in affiliation or federation with the university that actually grants the degrees. For example, Trinity College was once an independent institution, but later became federated with the University of Toronto, and is now one of its residential colleges. In the case of Memorial University of Newfoundland, located in St. John's, the Corner Brook campus is called Sir Wilfred Grenfell College. Occasionally, "college" refers to a subject specific faculty within a university that, while distinct, are neither federated nor affiliated—College of Education, College of Medicine, College of Dentistry, among others.
There are also universities referred to as art colleges, empowered to grant academic degrees of BFA, Bdes, MFA, Mdes and sometimes collaborative PhD degrees. Some of them have "university" in their name (Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University) and others do not (Ontario College of Art & Design and Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design).
Unlike in the United States, there is a strong distinction between "college" and "university" in Canada. In conversation, one specifically would say either "I'm going to university" (i.e., studying for a three- or four-year degree at a university) or "I'm going to college" (suggesting a technical or career college). Due to this distinction, the cultural phenomenon known as college radio in the United States is more properly called "campus radio" in Canada.
In a number of Canadian cities, many government-run secondary schools are called "collegiates" or "collegiate institutes" (C.I.), a complicated form of the word "college" which avoids the usual "post-secondary" connotation. This is because these secondary schools have traditionally focused on academic, rather than vocational, subjects and ability levels (for example, collegiates offered Latin while vocational schools offered technical courses). Some private secondary schools in Toronto (such as Upper Canada College) choose to use the word "college" in their names nevertheless. Some secondary schools elsewhere in the country, particularly ones within the separate school system, may also use the word "college" or "collegiate" in their names.
A small number of the oldest professional associations use "college" in the name in the British sense, such as the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.
In the Republic of Ireland, the term "college" is usually limited to an institution of tertiary education, but the term is quite generic within this field. University students often say they attend "college" rather than "university", with the term college being more popular in wider society. This is possibly due to the fact that, until 1989, no university provided teaching or research directly. Instead, these were offered by a constituent college of the university, in the case of the National University of Ireland and University of Dublin — or at least in strict legal terms. There are many secondary education institutions that use the word college. Many secondary schools formerly known as technical colleges, were renamed as community colleges. These are secondary institutions in contrast to the American community college.
The state's only ancient university, the University of Dublin, is really English in its origins and, until recently, its outlook. Created during the reign of Elizabeth I, it is modelled on the universities of Cambridge and Oxford. However, only one constituent college was ever founded, hence the curious position of Trinity College, Dublin today. For a time, degrees in Dublin Institute of Technology were also conferred by the university. However, that institution now has its own degree awarding powers and is considering applying for full university status.
Among more modern foundations, the National University of Ireland, founded in 1908, consisted of constituent colleges and recognised colleges until 1997. The former are now referred to as constituent universities — institutions that are essentially universities in their own right. The National University can trace its existence back to 1850 and the creation of the Queen's University of Ireland and the creation of the Catholic University of Ireland in 1854. From 1880, the degree awarding roles of these two universities was taken over by the Royal University of Ireland, which remained until the creation of the National University in 1908 and the Queen's University of Belfast.
The state's two new universities Dublin City University and University of Limerick were initially National Institute for Higher Education institutions. These institutions offered university level academic degrees and research from the start of their existence and were awarded university status in 1989 in recognition of this. These two universities now follow the general trend of universities having associated colleges offering their degrees.
Third level technical education in the state has been carried out in the Regional Technical College network since 1970. These institutions are now referred to as Institutes of Technology, and some have delegated authority that entitles them to give degrees and diplomas in their own name. Initially these institutions offered only National Certificate and National Diploma courses. Now they also offer academic degrees at undergraduate and postgraduate level.
Other types of college include Colleges of Education, such as National College of Ireland. These are specialist institutions, often linked to a university, which provide both undergraduate and postgraduate academic degrees for people who want to train as teachers.
In Hong Kong, the term "college" has a range of meanings, as in the British case. In the first case it can refer to a secondary school. It is also used by tertiary institutions as either part of their names or to refer to a constituent part of the university, such as the colleges in the collegiate Chinese University of Hong Kong; or to a residence hall of a university, such as St. John's College, University of Hong Kong.
The term university is more common than college in India. Generally, colleges are located in different parts of a state and all of them are affiliated to a regional university. The colleges offer programmes under that university. Examinations are conducted by the university at the same time for all colleges under its affiliation. There are several hundred universities and each university has affiliated colleges.
The first liberal arts and sciences college in India is CMS College, Kottayam, Kerala estd. 1817 and the Presidency College, Kolkata (estd. 1817) (initially known as Hindu College). The first commerce and economics college in India was the Sydenham College, Mumbai which was established in the year 1913. The first Missionary institution to impart Western style education in India was the Scottish Church College, Calcutta (estd. 1830). The first modern university in India was the University of Calcutta (est. January 1857). The first research institution for the study of the social sciences and ushering the spirit of Oriental research was the Asiatic Society, (est. 1784). The first college for the study of Christian theology and ecumenical enquiry has been the Serampore College (est. 1818).
The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) are specialized institutions that award their own degrees. They are premier institutes in India. There are only seven of them at present.
In New Zealand the word "college" normally refers to a secondary school for ages 13 to 17. In contrast, most older schools of the same type are "high schools". Also, single-sex schools are more likely to be "Someplace Boys/Girls High School", but there are also very many coeducational "high schools". The difference between "high schools" and "colleges" is usually only one of terminology. However, many private or integrated schools are known as "such and such college" There does seem to be a geographical difference in terminology: "colleges" most frequently appear in the North Island, whereas "high schools" are more common in the South Island.
The constituent colleges of the former University of New Zealand (such as Canterbury University College) have become independent universities. Some halls of residence associated with New Zealand universities retain the name of "college", particularly at the University of Otago (which although brought under the umbrella of the University of New Zealand, already possessed university status and degree awarding powers). The institutions formerly known as "Teacher-training colleges" now style themselves "College of education".
Some universities, such as the University of Canterbury, have divided their University into constituent administrative "Colleges" - the College of Arts containing departments that teach Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Science containing Science departments, and so on. This is largely modelled on the Cambridge model, discussed above.
Like the United Kingdom some professional bodies in New Zealand style themselves as "colleges", for example, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, the R.A.C. of Physicians
The Philippines is heavily influenced by American educational system. Colleges are institutions of learning that grant degrees. Amongst the institutions of higher learning in the country include the University of the Philippines System, Ateneo de Manila University, De La Salle University, and others.
The term "university" is used to describe higher-education institutions offering locally-conferred degrees. Institutions offering diplomas are called "polytechnics", while other institutions are often referred to as "institutes" and so forth.
There are several professional higher-education institutions that offer higher-education without granting degrees that are referred to as "colleges". This may include Sri Lanka Law College.
Similar to New Zealand, in South Africa the word "college" normally refers to a secondary school. Nevertheless, most secondary schools are called "Someplace High (School)". The word "college" in South Africa generally implies that the school is private. In many cases the high school is exclusive and follows the English public school model. Thus no less than six of South Africa's Elite Seven high schools call themselves "college" and fit this description. A typical example of this category would be St John's College.
Another category of private high schools also use the "college" term. However, these schools do not follow the English public school model, but rather are more informal in character and specialize in improving children's marks through intensive focus on examination needs. These "colleges" are thus often nick-named "cram-colleges"
Although the term "college" is hardly used in any context at any university in South Africa, some non-university tertiary institutions call themselves colleges. These include teacher training colleges, business colleges and wildlife management colleges to name a few.
In Brazil the term colégio (college) is normally used to refer to primary and secondary education institutions and mainly limited to private schools. It is more common to call a primary or secondary public school escola (school). Colégio is never used to refer to tertiary education institutions, which are called either universidade (university) or faculdade (faculty or college in US terminology).
The origins of the college lie in the madrasah of the medieval Islamic world. The madrasah in an Islamic college of law and theology, usually affiliated with a mosque, and is funded by a charitable trust known as Waqf, the origins of the trust law. The internal organization of the first European colleges was also borrowed from the earlier madrasahs, like the system of fellows and scholars, with the Latin term for fellow, socius, being a direct translation of the Arabic term for fellow, sahib.
While philosophy and the rational sciences were often excluded from a madrasah's curriculum, this varied among different institutions, with some only choosing to teach the "religious sciences", and others teaching both the religious and the "rational sciences", usually logic, mathematics and philosophy. Some madrasahs further extended their curriculum to history, politics, ethics, music, metaphysics, medicine, astronomy and chemistry.
In Italy the term collegio, in school contest, refers to a particular school (with elite, alternative or stricter education; a collegio offered by the State to the children of some of its civil employee, or a collegio related to a military education, is more commonly called convitto), with possibility of passing here the night or most of the day.
Examples of Swedish universities are found at List of universities in Sweden
Vietnamese usually say "college" refers to "cao đẳng". "Cao đẳng" is a higher education institute in Vietnam. The courses last for 3 years, 1 year shorter than "đại học" (Vietnamese, means "university"). After graduation from a college, students are awarded a degree. This degree is evaluated below a degree from a university. If necessary, the student with a colleges' degree can transfer to a university and study in one year or more to complete their course at a suitable university. Vietnamese students would rather attend a university than a college. The university enjoys more prestige and popularity than colleges.
The second usage is not common. "College" refer to a school in a university, like some in the US. Vietnam National University, Hanoi has 5 colleges in its divisions.