What Is The Difference Between College And University?

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Are you planning to attend a college or university and need clarification about what is the exact difference between a college and a university? Here is your solution. 

People in the U. S. often use the terms college and university interchangeably, which creates confusion among students.

Both colleges and universities offer undergraduate degrees and are considered valid higher education institutions, but universities fulfill some additional requirements.

To know what makes a university different from a college, let us dive into the comparison between the two.

Difference Between College And University 

Colleges and universities mainly differ from each other in degree types and program offerings.

The major difference between college and university is that universities offer both graduate and undergraduate programs and provide various research opportunities.

On the other hand, colleges do not offer a wide range of graduate programs like master’s degrees or doctorate programs.

Overview Of College vs University

Below is a quick overview of what colleges and universities exactly are.

Overview Of College

Colleges are educational institutions that mainly offer undergraduate degree programs.

They are institutions of higher learning that provide higher education or specialized professional or vocational training.

Difference Between College And University - College

Colleges are generally smaller in size and may not offer many major programs as compared to that universities.

Overview Of University

Universities are institutions of higher education and research that offers both graduate and undergraduate programs and are known for their lively and diverse environment.

Universities are large institutions with numerous buildings on campus. They offer a broad scope of programs.

Difference Between College And University - University

Universities offer a wider varieties bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral. degrees

Types Of Colleges And Universities

Below are some of the types of colleges and universities.

Types Of Colleges

  1. Liberal arts college

Liberal art colleges are institutions that offer several courses in liberal arts like literature, mathematics, history, and languages.

These institutions are primarily private and prepare students for multiple career options and graduate studies.

 2. Community college

Community colleges are institutions that offer two-year associate degree programs and are affordable options because of their lower tuition costs. 

Community colleges prepare undergraduates before they transfer to a four-year university program to pursue bachelor’s degrees.

     3. Vocational/Technical College

Technical and vocational colleges, also called trade schools, mainly focus on a particular career or industry.

These colleges or institutions are mainly known for their small campuses, affordable tuition fees, and intensive programs.

    4. Public and private colleges

Private college is the ones that mainly depends on non-government funding sources and tuition fees and generally have small class sizes as compared to public colleges.

Public colleges are institutions that are funded by state governments, and they tend to offer affordable tuition.

Types Of Universities

   1. Public universities

Public universities are also called state universities. These universities are state-financed, i.e. the funds are provided by the state to provide better educational opportunities for the students.

The selection criteria for public universities are not much strict, and they offer more seats.

  1. Private Universities 

Private Universities are educational institutions whose funding originates from student tuition fees, endowments, and alumni donations. They are more expensive as compared to public universities.

Private universities offer limited seats and admit students based on stringent criteria.


Following is the curriculum offered at colleges and universities.

Curriculum At Colleges

The curriculum at college is generally based on the skills required for a specific job. The core curriculum at colleges mainly focuses on foundational and introductory courses that help students to

  • Develop new skills.
  • Enhance creativity.
  • Understand the global problems.

They generally offer a two-year associate degree program that covers a basic curriculum.

Curriculum At Universities

The curriculum at universities is generally broad and is meant for theoretical knowledge in 

different subjects.

Universities provide opportunities to build strong networks and often provide opportunities to connect with prospective employers.

Program Offerings

Wondering which programs are offered at colleges and universities? Read on to find out.

Program Offerings At College

Colleges offer a wide range of degrees as follows.

  1. Associate degree: An associate degree is a two-year program that is generally offered at community, degree, and technical colleges.

For example, the Associate of arts (AA) mainly prepares students for liberal arts, business administration, culinary arts, etc.

Associate of Science (AS) mainly focuses on preparing students for maths and science-related careers.

  1. Bachelor’s degree: colleges offer bachelor’s degrees like Bachelor of arts (BA), Bachelor of Science (BS), and Bachelor of Architecture (BArch).

Program Offerings At Universities

Universities provide a diverse range of programs as follows.

  1. Undergraduate degree: Like colleges, universities also offer undergraduate or bachelor’s degrees in a diverse range of academic subjects.
  1. Graduate degree: Graduate degrees are the advanced degree that a student can enrich their knowledge of their field. 

Students can pursue graduate degrees after earning a bachelor’s degree.

For example, The Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MS), and Master of Business administration (MBA).

  1. Doctorate and Professional degree: The doctorate and professional degree are research-oriented degrees that signify mastery over a subject and come with the coveted title of a doctor.

For example, the doctor of philosophy (PhD), doctor of medicine (MD), and doctor of pharmacy (PharmD), etc.

Fees Structure

If you are wondering how much college and university costs, then read on to find out.

The tuition fees for universities depend upon the type of university, whether it is a public or private university, and the duration of the course. 

Tuition fees at private universities are high compared to that of public universities.

As per the source U.S. News and word report, In 2021, the average college tuition fee at public universities was found to be $10,388, and at private universities, it was found to be $38,185.

The cost variation between attending a community college and attending a university is very high, as community colleges are less expensive to attend than universities.

As per the source, U.S. news, in 2022-2023, the average fee to attend a public college is found to be $10,423, and that of a private college is found to be $39,723.

Pros And Cons of College vs University

Let’s understand the pros and cons of college and university.

Pros And Cons of Colleges


  • Colleges offer a personalized learning experience.
  • They offer special assistance from the faculty.
  • Colleges have more focus on undergraduate teaching.


  • Colleges cover the basic or limited curriculum. 
  • Colleges have limited access to resources and lack diversity as compared to universities.

Pros And Cons Of Universities


  • Universities offer diverse campuses and cultures.
  • Provide opportunities to interact with faculty and peers from a variety of backgrounds.
  • Universities offer a broad array of programs.
  • Provides exposure to new research and technology.


  • Large class sizes lead to less personalized attention.
  • Expensive education at universities often leads to substantial student loan debt.

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Key Takeaways: Difference Between College And University

All higher education institutions have pros and cons; it’s up to you to determine which one aligns best with your professional and financial goals.

Cultural fit is also one of the factors students can consider before selecting a college or university.

I hope you found this article helpful, do let us know in our comments section.


How can colleges attain university status?

Colleges can attain university status when they start offering graduate programs such as masters and doctorate degrees.
They should also have facilities and equipment to exhibit the work required in both programs and should also be accredited.

Which is better, college or university?

Colleges and universities are academically equal, but if you prefer institutions with a wide choice of programs like master’s and doctorate, then universities can be a better option.

Is it necessary to go to college before university?

A lot of money can be saved if you acquire an associate degree at a community college and then transfer in the third year to the university. 
Also, the class sizes in community colleges are small so that you can get a more personalized learning experience.

Which factors should be considered important before selecting a particular college or university?

The factors that should be considered before selecting a particular college or university are academic support and career services, fee structure, internship opportunities, campus life, class size, location and distance from home, etc. 

Alvin Parker

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