Difference Between College and University: Key Facts

Is it a college or university? While both are institutions for higher learning, it can be hard to understand the difference between college and university, since the words are used interchangeably. Additionally, the words are used differently depending on the country you’re in. However, when it comes down to a college vs. university, it’s a matter of size and focus. Colleges are typically smaller institutions focusing on undergraduate education, while universities are larger institutions with a vast array of undergraduate and graduate education options. To see how these two terms vary, it’s helpful to look at the key facts for each one.

difference between college and university difference between college and university

What Is a College?

The world of academia can get a little muddy. But, when discussing a college, you can generally think of this as smaller institutions of learning with a vast array of undergraduate degrees. These degrees can cover a range of credentials from short certificates to 4-year bachelor’s degrees.

You can break colleges down into two different types: 2-year and liberal arts colleges.

  • Two-year colleges are typically known as community or junior colleges. These institutions offer a diverse range of career-oriented, applied certificate, and associate programs as well as transfer programs. An example of a community college is the Louisiana Delta Community College.
  • Liberal arts colleges are harder to distinguish from a university since they offer an array of undergraduate and graduate programs. These colleges typically have a diverse liberal arts tradition in their history. Although, many times, the only difference between this type of college and a university will be the naming convention. A liberal arts college example includes Williams College.

Usage of College in a Sentence

Interested to see more of how college might be used in English? Check out a few examples of college used in a sentence.

  • My program is in the College of Arts.
  • I applied to California College of Taxidermy.
  • My daughter will be going to college this fall.
  • We are so excited to drive our son to college.
  • She’s studying modern literature in college.

What Is a University?

In the grand scheme of things, a university is defined as a large institution with undergraduate and graduate programs. Universities offer diverse educational experiences from art to science. Many times, graduate programs focus on research within a university. That’s not to say a college doesn’t have research opportunities, they are just more widely known in a university.

Additionally, universities are typically broken down into different colleges or schools. For example, New York University (NYU) has a College of Dentistry and a College of Arts & Sciences. These are in addition to the Grossman School of Medicine.


Using University in a Sentence

Now that you have a solid understanding of what a university is, explore how university can be used in a sentence.

  • She is going to one of the top universities in the country.
  • We took a tour of the University of Michigan.
  • He hasn’t decided on which university he will attend.
  • More than 400 students graduated from the university last spring.
  • This university is hard to get into.

College vs. University

Now that you’ve looked at colleges and universities in turn, it’s nice to have a chart to quickly and easily break everything down.



Smaller institutions of learning

Larger institutions of learning

Two types: 2-year and liberal arts

Divided into different colleges/schools

Applied, career-oriented education, on-the-job training

Research and academia

Open enrollment

Selective enrollment, in some instances

Typically less expensive

Typically more expensive

Which Is Better, College or University?

When considering the college vs. university debate, it’s easy to think in terms of better. However, with a college or university, neither is better. It’s more a question of what you are looking for in your higher education experience. If you are seeking tailored career training in your desired field, then a college might be more your style. However, if you want a research focus or the field of medicine, a university may have more to offer. So, knowing which one is the better choice comes down to you.

Now that you’ve explored the difference between a college and university, it can be helpful to look at the difference between civil liberties and civil rights. While they are two different words, the distinction can become blurred just like with a college and university.