When it comes to higher education, students have two basic choices: to attend a college or to attend a university. Both colleges and universities have a wealth of opportunities to offer students and college and university graduates tend to be more successful in their professional lives.
For those who are applying for post secondary education, thinking of studying abroad, or are just curious, the question still remains. What is the difference between a college and a university?
The Difference Between a College and a University in the United States
While the idea is that the college/university distinction is based on the institution’s size, determining whether a higher education institution is a college or university has nothing to do with its size or the number of students enrolled. The difference between a college and a university in the United States has to do with how the institution is structured.
Schools that designate themselves as colleges are usually organized into departments, and these departments combined are what comprises the college. According to College Prep U, colleges tend to specialize in a couple of specific academic areas, such as the arts and humanities at liberal arts colleges, or function as a community college or a technical college for students looking to earn an associates degree or professional certificate.
Universities are comprised of several distinct entities, which are then broken down into departments. For example, a university will be broken down into colleges or schools, such as the college of arts and sciences; the college of business; or the college of education, health, and human services. From there, colleges within a university may be further broken down into schools, such as the school of visual design within the college of arts and sciences or the school of public health within a college of education, health, and human services. Within these smaller schools, there are departments that offer courses that relate to major programs of study.
Both colleges and universities are authorized to grant various levels of degrees, professional certificates, and graduate certificates as determined by their state’s board of education.
The Difference Between a College and a University in Canada
In Canada, the difference between a college and a university has more to do with the institution’s academic offerings as opposed to the school’s structure.
According to the College Bound Network, Canadian colleges typically offer professional certificates and career diplomas, similar to programs at two-year technical colleges or vocational high school programs in the United States. Canadian universities, on the other hand, are degree-granting institutions that are certified to offer a variety of degrees in an array of disciplines and at different academic levels.
While the terms “college” and “university” differ in meaning depending on where the institution is located, the differences between colleges and universities have very little to due with the size of the school or the number of students enrolled. Regardless of whether a student attends a college or a university, however, he or she is exposed to a wealth of opportunities that allow a student to grow and develop academically, professionally, and socially.