Major Difference Between Universities and Colleges

difference between universities and colleges

College and university are two terms that most students use randomly to indicate institutions for higher education. We often confuse one with another. Knowing the differences between universities and colleges is thus essential. Here is a brief look into the two terms and what they mean.

What is a college?

Colleges are educational institutions with numerous diploma and degree courses for higher education. They offer these courses only in specific disciplines or subjects. The main difference is that multiple colleges can be  part of a university.

Some colleges are independent and do not have any university affiliation. This number is small across the world. Colleges are smaller in comparison to universities and are either public or privately owned.

The word college comes from the Roman word Collegium. The term secondary school also denotes a college in many countries. Colleges usually have their own Bachelor’s or Master’s degrees for applicants, while other options include diplomas at the graduate and postgraduate levels. There are associate degrees too.

Colleges usually have fewer courses and research options than universities. Their fees may be more affordable as a result

What is a university?

A university is an educational institution that offers courses in many disciplines. Universities often have multiple affiliated colleges in their kitty. They also offer associate, master’s, bachelor’s, and doctorate degrees along with graduate/post-graduate diplomas and certifications. Universities that are approved or recognized by the governments in their respective countries can award degrees to students.

There are central, private, state, and deemed universities throughout the world. They usually have larger campuses with departments covering various streams. Universities have multiple schools within the campus with several faculties, research labs, and more. Fees are often higher at universities owing to the sheer volume of courses and facilities available for students. They also offer professional degrees and special programs for students.

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Difference between universities and colleges: Usage of the terms and comparison table

The following table will help you understand the difference between universities and colleges.



Smaller campus and size 

Bigger campus with multiple affiliated colleges and huge campuses 

Mostly limited to undergraduate courses 

Courses include everything from graduate and postgraduate to doctoral programs 

Owing to lesser space and infrastructure, fees are more affordable 

Fees are higher owing to more facilities and course options 

Here are some footnotes on how the two words often overlap and change their meanings across countries. ‘College’ is not used in the same manner in countries like the USA, UK, Australia, Ireland, and Canada. It is  where high school students enroll in some countries.

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a) The word ‘college’ is a synonym of the term university in the US and is also used interchangeably. If someone is going to college in the USA, then it means higher education.

b) Universities may often have multiple ‘schools’ at varying levels and in diverse academic disciplines. These ‘schools’ are nothing but colleges!

c) The term ‘college’ generally means vocational, artistic, technical and scientific tertiary education in Canada.

d) Canadians  also use the term ‘university college’ for colleges that aren’t independent like universities.

e) Australians use ‘college’ to mean secondary education. They often use the term ‘faculty’ for post-secondary education.

f) Ireland requires registration in a college for completing a high school education. It is the same in Canada, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand.

g) Colleges in the UK are schools within a university that can’t award degrees. Colleges can even mean facilities or accommodations in a university. 

h) Some colleges like King’s College (part of the University of London) also offer high school education along with certificate and diploma courses. 

i) Imperial College in London provides higher education ranging from bachelor’s degrees to PhD. programs, despite being called a college.

j) College in Australia or Canada will mean high school study. The United Kingdom may have either of the two scenarios.

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