If you are heading off to college in the near or distant future, this is a question that might be confusing you. Higher education options often include both colleges and universities.  Differentiating and judging them can be difficult.

In the United States, colleges and universities are often discussed interchangeably.  In fact, you’ll likely consider yourself a ‘college student’ no matter which type of institution you attend. Even though this usage is perfectly acceptable, it’s important to note that colleges and universities have several differences that could affect which type of school you choose.

So what is the real difference between a college and a university?

The main difference between one and the other boils down to the size of the school. A university can be public or private, but generally tends to be larger.  Student population at a university can range from 5,000 to 30,000 students.  Universities also tend to offer a broader range of fields of study (usually including post-graduate). Colleges are usually smaller, institutions with less than 3,000 students.  They boast smaller class sizes, and more personal attention from faculty. Also, colleges are made up of different academic departments. Universities are made up of different colleges (or schools) that are separate entities from each other.

For the most part, colleges tend to be private institutions, though public options do exist.  A private college can be more expensive when compared to a public university.  Generally, colleges offer fewer options of fields of study than a university. Both colleges and universities are 4-year institutions and they offer Bachelor’s Degrees once you graduate.  Note that Junior College or Community College are 2-year institutions that offer Associates Degrees- not the same as a 4-year college. 

Students can get an excellent education and degree at both a college or university.  A college degree isn’t more valuable than one from a university.  Nor does studying in a college mean you’ll have a higher academic level than in a university, or vice versa.  It is also a mistake to assume that a public institution is bad and a private one is good, and vice versa.  Going by a school’s name alone, or by what others have told them, is a common mistake that students and their families should avoid. 

“How do I know if a college or university is better for me?” you may ask. 

At CPOA, we advise students to analyze each opportunity that is presented (through the CPOA program or other channels), with an open mind.  Don’t make a college decision based of the name of the school, whether it is a college or university, or because of what others have told them.    Doing so can be a recipe for disaster!

First determine what characteristics are most important to you personally in your college search.  Write them down in a journal or spreadsheet, and then start comparing and analyzing those specific characteristics between different institutions.  This way, you will be sure to weigh the pros and cons of each of your options in an unbiased manner, and will make the best university decision for YOU personally.

As mentioned above, it is common for students and parents to confuse Colleges and Junior/Community Colleges for the same type of institution.  Again, please note that in a University or College (4-year institution) the students earn a Bachelors Degree after they finish their selected course of study.  At a Junior College or Community College (2-year institution) the students earn an Associates Degree.  The credits earned at a Junior or Community college can be transferred to a 4-year institution, where the student can continue their chosen course of study to complete a Bachelors Degree, usually with 2 more years of study.

If you still have questions about this topic, or any other in the recruiting process, contact your CPOA adviser today!


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