What’s the Difference Between a College and a University?

In the United States, a number of different terms can be used to describe higher education including college, university, junior and honors colleges. While most people say they are attending “college” after high school you may wonder what the difference between a college and university is.

 Whether you attend a university or a community college, be prepared to study hard.

Whether you attend a university or a community college, be prepared to study hard.

College vs. University

The terms college and university are oftentimes used interchangeably within the United States and with no national standard, it’s just fine that they are used interchangeably. However, there are some general rules and characteristics that set colleges and universities apart.

A college is an educational institution dedicated to teaching along a specific area of instruction. For example, you may have liberal arts colleges or colleges of engineering. Colleges that are part of a university are run autonomously and are comprised of students studying similar majors.

Colleges can be further classified as a specific type such as community, junior or honors college.

Universities are large degree-granting institutions comprised of one or more colleges. For example, the University of Minnesota is comprised of eighteen colleges including biological sciences, dentistry, design, law and liberal arts just to name a few. Universities will generally offer both undergraduate and graduate level degrees and are focused on four year degrees and beyond.

What Is Community College?

A community college is a smaller institution that focuses on serving a smaller number of students in a specific community. Community colleges are certainly open to anyone, but you won’t be likely to find exchange students or students from out of state attending a local community college.

Community colleges focus on instruction in professional trades and liberal arts to prepare you for additional education or to jump out into the workplace. These schools usually offer associates degrees and trade certificates.

If students are looking to get their four year degree, it may be wise to start at a community college to get their general classes out of the way. As community colleges are generally cheaper than a large public university, it can be a way to save some money. Afterwards, you can transfer your credits to a 4-year degree granting institution.

What Is a Junior College?

Junior colleges can be thought of as similar to community colleges in that they offer two-year instruction and associates degrees but are privately run. As you can imagine, there aren’t that many privately run two-year colleges anymore. According to “the Survival of Private Junior Colleges” by ERIC Digests there were 350 private junior colleges in the 1940s and as of 1989 when the report was written, only 89 remained.

What Is an Honors College?

Honors colleges and honors programs are offered by universities to lure in highly talented students. Some universities will build a “college” around their honors program so it is run as a separate unit from other colleges within the university. Honors colleges may offer instruction in a number of fields whereas honors programs may only offer instruction in a single field such as liberal arts.

No matter your preference for attending a college or university, College Factual can help you find the college and major that will fit best for you. Just fill out some information about your preferences and College Factual will return with your best math college and major.