What's the Difference Between College and University?

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After graduating high school, many students continue on to college or university to earn an undergraduate degree. While the terms "college" and "university" are used interchangeably, there are a few key differences.

While the term "college" is more widely used to describe the next step of education after graduating high school, there are some differences between colleges and universities. One of the main differences between a college and university is most universities offer undergraduate and graduate programs. In contrast, a college may only offer undergraduate programs, or a combination of undergraduate programs with a few graduate programs. Because universities offer both undergraduate and graduate programs, they tend to be larger than colleges. A university campus often includes several buildings, while colleges, especially smaller ones, may only consist of a few buildings. Some universities offer smaller buildings on campus called colleges. For example, there may be a building called College of Liberal Arts or College of Engineering within a university campus. It is possible for some universities to be smaller than colleges, especially when comparing a private university to a larger public college.

Class offerings are often more varied at universities, as many students continue on to get advanced degrees. A university offers graduate studies with the ability to get an advanced degree in at least three professional or academic fields. A university also generally offers classes in a wide range of academics while some colleges center around a specific discipline such as technology or the arts. University students who continue on to a graduate program have the option of earning a master's degree (M.A.) or a doctorate degree (Ph.D.).

Many colleges and universities require four years of studies to obtain a degree. Baccalaureate and bachelor's degrees are offered at both colleges and universities. There is technically no difference between a bachelor's degree from a college and one from a university. However, the reputation of the school may make the degree sound more prestigious. Some colleges offer shorter, two-year programs for students who prefer to get an associate's degree or a certificate, while universities don't provide programs of fewer than the traditional four years. Some schools may have stricter admissions criteria than others but one type of institution is not more difficult to get into than the other. Colleges and universities can be public or private.

When choosing the most appropriate environment for their continuing studies, prospective students should consider a few general differences between colleges and universities. Since most colleges don't offer a full array of graduate programs, the population tends to be smaller. A smaller student body size often means smaller classes and more personal attention from professors. Students who prefer a larger student body as well as bigger classes and less interaction with their professors may find themselves more comfortable with a university. Since more students are often enrolled in a university than a college, there are often more classes offered. Students who aren't yet sure of their major may do better in an environment with more choices. These smaller classes typically offer a more supportive learning environment for students.

Another point to keep in mind is that faculty at universities tends to be split between researching and teaching. Many college faculty members are solely dedicated to teaching.