What is the difference between a college and a university?

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Colleges vs. Universities vs. Schools:
The difference between a college and a university is that a college just offers a collection of degrees in one specific area while a university is a collection of colleges. When you go to a university you are going to be graduating from one of their colleges, such as the business college. As to which is better, it depends on what you want. Single colleges tend to be smaller while universities are bigger, but universities are better known.

Explanations from other contributors:
  • Be aware that there is a very distinct difference in terminology between the USA and the rest of the world. In the US, there is very little difference academically between a "college" and a "university." In the US, the terms are synonymous; other countries use "college" to refer to some secondary schools, but "university" is always used to mean an institution of tertiary education and higher learning. Universities are usually larger and often contain multiple "colleges" within them. However, some of the top-ranked schools in the US have a name including "college" (e.g., Dartmouth College). In other parts of the English-speaking world, the term "university" equates to the US use of "college" and the term "college" refers more to a trade or vocational school.
  • Depends on the country you are in. Here in the UK, a university can award its own degrees and has a charter giving it various guarantees of independence. A college usually depends on a fully-fledged university to validate its degrees, or may even be part of a university, as in Oxford or Cambridge colleges. Or a college may be little to do with degree-level education at all, such as a Further Education college.
  • Also don't forget Community Colleges. In that usage a college is very different than a University because a community college can't offer a 4-year degree (i.e., a B.A. or a B.S.). Community colleges can offer trade and technical certifications and training as well as the first 2 years of a 4-year program, but they are unable to grant Bachelor's degrees.
  • In Canada, a University is an education institution that can grant degrees (BA, BSc, MA, PHd, etc). Colleges can grant certificates or diplomas, but not degrees.
  • Maybe it is in Canada alone that universities are different than colleges. Most countries except Canada (developing or developed countries), colleges offers four (4) year course - Bachelor's Degree. Of course, universities are more prestigious and more expensive. Also, universities offers further studies after a Bachelor's degree like Master's degrees, Doctorate degree, and Post Doctorate degree - these degrees can be achieved if you have earned a Bachelor's degree first. Basically, colleges are small and faculties (such as lecturers) are more focused to students. They usually focus on a few courses (for a Bachelor's degree). In universities, a professor handles more students and they most likely can't place a focus on each individual student.
  • Australia is in the same boat as Canada, then. Here, Universities offer degrees, but Colleges (also known as T.A.F.E.,) offer Diplomas and Certificates.
  • In France, college Grande Ecole is highly reputing than University especially in Engineering. It is part of National Polytechnic Institute taking into account the selection criteria.
  • A university confers degrees up to PhD. A 4-year college confers Bachelor's and Master's degrees (BA, BS & MA, MS). A 2-year or community college confers the associate degree (AA or AS).
  • The main difference between a college and a university is that the university maintains research requirements for its instructors and that the university is, in essence, a more research-focused institution.
  • A college can offer many majors with which to direct your studies. However, doctorate programs are more prone to be offered at universities where they have the money to support such programs.
  • This is probably related to the fact that Universities conduct research, which in turn allows them a certain degree of recognition, attracts a larger student body and affords them the capacity to offer higher learning options than a college can offer.
  • While the terms today are often used interchangeably, originally a college was a specific school teaching a specific subject, such as Education, Medicine, etc. and a University is a school made up of numerous colleges.
  • In general the difference is the level of degree that they can award. Colleges typically award Bachelor's degrees and Universities can confer Master's and Doctorate degrees. The distinction has never been "enforced" by any organization.
  • Sometimes a college could have called themselves a university, but chooses not to for historical reasons and/or continuity of its name. The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, founded in 1693, could have long ago called itself a university, with studies available in many areas, undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate. However, to maintain the historical title that dates back to colonial times, the college has never adopted the title of university.
    Those of us who work here commonly refer to it as "the university," and as a Virginia Charter University, which has allowed William & Mary a large degree of independence from the commonwealth, all new employees are now "university employees" vice "state employees" as the college now has its own human resources structure separate from (but similar to) the commonwealth's HR structure. Current "state employees" also have the option to convert to "university employees." Bottom line: While W&M operates at a level commonly equated to universities, it chooses to maintain the title of college for historical reasons. I suspect that Dartmouth College has the same or similar reasoning for not taking on the title of university, although it certainly would be justified in doing so.
  • A few notes on some of these comments:

    1) Community colleges absolutely do now offer bachelor degrees and not always in conjunction with a 4-year college or university. This is a new trend in the US and many are fighting it, because that wasn't the purpose behind the community college concept when it was first developed.

    2) Universities are not more prestigious than colleges. I defy anyone to tell me that MIT, which isn't a university, isn't as prestigious as Harvard University.

    3) In answer to this post: "A university confers degrees up to PhD. A 4-year college confers Bachelors and Masters degrees. (BA,BS & MA, MS) A 2-year or community college confers the associate degree. (AA or AS)": There are many colleges that offer doctoral degrees. In the US, a "4-year college" does not offer a masters. That goes beyond the 4 years. As I wrote before, many community and 2-year colleges offer bachelor degrees.

    4) Last point, in answer to "The difference between a college and a university is that a college just offers a collection of degrees in one specific area, while a university is a collection of colleges": Universities contain colleges and universities offer the degree. For example, my degree is from the University of Illinois, not from the College of Education. I earned the degree through the COE, but UI granted the degree.
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