Difference between College and University: Which is better for you?

Difference between College and University: Which is better for you?

Most of the students have this very question in mind when thinking about higher education. Although we will explain the critical differences between a college and a university, it might be said that a college is a subset of a university in straightforward terms.

There are many colleges under a university, which means the colleges that come under the same university will receive the degree affiliated with that particular university, irrespective of the course.

In this blog, we have all the differences you need to know about a college and a university and what might be a better pick.

What is a college?

We frequently use “college” to refer to all types of higher education. Rarely do we say that someone is a “university student” or has a “university degree,” though there is a fundamental difference between a college and a university.

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The most significant difference between the two is size. That does not mean the campus’s physical size—a college is typically focused on one type of degree level. A two-year college will generally offer associate’s degrees, and a four-year college will generally provide a bachelor’s degree. Colleges typically do not have graduate programs, but there are exceptions.

Because they are more focused on one type of degree, colleges often have smaller class sizes and provide students with a greater degree of personalised attention from faculty and advisors. Colleges are usually more devoted to undergraduate teaching and less devoted to research efforts, although many colleges still have robust research programs.

They are also more course and subject-oriented, meaning that they may teach fewer abstract or theoretical subjects and place less emphasis on hands-on independent research than universities.


Many colleges are specialised because of their limited enrolment. Liberal arts colleges are the most common. Some colleges focus exclusively on the engineering disciplines. Since most colleges are private, meaning state governments do not fund them, many have religious affiliations or teach a unique curriculum.

  • Colleges with specific focuses, like military academies, graphic design schools, or visual arts colleges, do not necessarily need to provide broad offerings because the smaller group of students who apply have self-selected for interest in the unique qualities of the school.
  • Most colleges only offer undergraduate degrees and tend to have fewer program offerings in general than universities. Colleges are divided into academic departments, whereas universities may be divided into separate schools based on significant type.

Some colleges offer graduate and professional degrees(exceptions) are:

  • The College of William and Mary in Virginia, which offers graduate degrees in the arts and sciences, business, law, education, and marine science
  • Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, which offers graduate degrees in medicine, business, engineering, computer science, and more
  • St. Joseph’s College in New York, which offers graduate degrees in education, business, creative writing, and more

Here is a list of some general pros and cons of colleges to help you see the bigger picture:

  • You will likely get more personalised attention from professors and academic advisors.
  • There is often a greater focus on undergraduate teaching.
  • Colleges often have more curriculum specialisation for students with particular interests.
  • Most colleges have a closer, more unified student community.
  • There are usually fewer resources and facilities for conducting research.
  • Faculty at colleges are less likely to be leading researchers in their fields.
  • Colleges don’t offer direct access to more advanced degrees.
  • Most colleges will have fewer overall program offerings.

What Is a University?

Universities are usually larger institutions that offer both undergraduate and graduate degrees. Graduate programs at universities lead to master’s degrees and PhDs. Many universities also have associated professional schools for law, medicine, or business. In some cases, students who attend undergraduate programs at universities can earn both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in a shorter period. A few universities have five-year programs for qualified students, particularly in fields where graduate degrees are vital in the job world (such as engineering).

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Often, universities have greater variety in their course and program offerings due to a more extensive and more diverse student body. Sometimes universities are divided into smaller subsections that might be called “colleges” like “The College of Arts & Sciences” for humanities undergraduates or “The College of Engineering” for engineering undergraduates. All of these “colleges” are still under the umbrella of the more prominent university. This means that undergraduates who choose to attend universities divided in this way usually have to make fundamental decisions about their fields of study before enrolling.

Universities also have more of a research focus overall. Since there are usually more students, and often the majority are not undergraduates, undergraduate teaching may take a backseat to faculty and graduate student research. On the positive side, universities provide many opportunities for hands-on learning through independent research and partnerships with graduate students on various projects. This leads to higher-quality faculty because leaders in academic fields are drawn to institutions with extensive research facilities. However, the focus on research over undergraduate teaching sometimes means that faculty at universities are less engaged with students.

Here is a list of some general pros and cons of universities to summarise the previous section:

  • Lots of research opportunities and facilities are available to students.
  • There is more access to advanced degrees and more interaction with graduate students.
  • Professors are more likely to be highly respected figures in their fields of research.
  • There are more program offerings overall and a more diverse community of students.
  • Universities may offer less personalised attention from professors and advisors.
  • Research is usually prioritised over undergraduate teaching.
  • There is less common ground between the experiences of different students.
  • It’s harder to be switch majors at a university because of the bureaucracy involved.

What is the right choice for you?

Some students may fit in better at either colleges or universities, depending on their goals and preferences. We will give you some basic guidelines for which types of students are more likely to thrive in each environment.

College might be the right choice if:
  • You are looking for a tight-knit community where you’re constantly running into people you know.
  • You like having close relationships with teachers and prefer smaller class discussions.
  • You’re looking specifically for an undergraduate degree rather than an undergraduate degree as a stepping stone to a graduate degree.
  • You think you will feel more comfortable with a greater level of personal attention and academic guidance.
  • You’re undecided in your primary and overall academic goals for the next four years.
You Might Be Better Suited to a University If:
  • You’re looking for a large, vibrant community where you’ll always be meeting new people and attending different events.
  • You also want to research as an undergraduate and are not bothered by large class sizes.
  • You are good at being resourceful and pursuing your interests independently.
  • You’re further hoping to earn a graduate degree of some kind.
  • You’re more certain about your academic and career goals.

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We have answered some frequently asked questions for your help.

Q1. Why are colleges better than universities?

Ans. You will likely get more personalised attention from professors and academic advisors. There is often a greater focus on undergraduate teaching. Colleges often have more curriculum specialisation for students with particular interests. Most colleges have a closer, more unified student community.

Q2. What is the main difference between college and university?

Ans. Colleges are often smaller institutions that emphasise undergraduate education in a broad range of academic areas. Universities are typically larger institutions that offer a variety of both undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

We truly hope we were able to resolve any queries you might have had.

Good luck!