Colleges vs. Universities

Whats the Difference?collegeuniversity
Choosing a school is hard enough but trying to decide whether to go to a small college or big university can make all the difference in your higher education experience. There are so many options to think about when deciding on your location of higher education. If you already know what you want to study that narrows it down but it is definitely important to understand all of your options. Both Americans and international students looking to study in the states should understand the difference between colleges and universities.

One of the primary differences between colleges and universities is the number of programs offered. A college will offer degrees with one specific focus like liberal arts or letters and science. A university, on the other hand, is made up of a variety of colleges with a variety of majors and focuses. Universities also offer post-graduate degrees whereas colleges typically do not.

University Major
Declaring a major at a university defines your future on campus. If you decide to study engineering for example, you will become a part of the college of engineering. Within that college there can be various departments, for example the Department of Biomedical Engineering offers a Biomedical Engineering major. If this is your interest, your major is chosen. You will then take most all of your classes in this department within the Engineering College of the University you are attending. When graduation arrives you will walk with others in your ‘college’ while representing the University.  

College Major
When arriving on the campus of the specific college you have chosen, the general area of study is already decided for you. For example, if you made a decision to attend a liberal arts college, you will select your major the liberal arts fields. You will decide your major from the departments that are available.  For example if you choose a biology major you will be in the biology department. Most colleges focus on a smaller number of majors and minors whereas universities offer wide array of majors and minors. When you graduate from college you will walk with your entire college class, similar to a high school graduation.

Another big difference that is most often true, but not always, is the size. Most colleges are small whereas universities are generally quite large. Because of the size difference, the number of students for every professor often times varies between the two types of institutions. Big universities will have large lectures and classes making it hard to ever talk one on one with the professor. Sometimes, classes and lab sections are not taught by professors, but their TA’s or graduate assistants. However, a couple of benefits of the larger size is that there are many more majors to select from and a large number of classes offered, with a wider selection of topics. Another benefit is that many times large universities, particularly those that focus on research, are able to attract very well-known professors so there is the potential to be taught by someone who is a leader in their field.

Most of the time, colleges provide class sizes that are smaller and taught by professors rather than assistants. Generally, there are fewer majors and classes offered at a college as compared to a university. However, because of the smaller class sizes, it is usually much easier to interact and work one on one with the professors.

A way to determine class size when researching schools is to find out about the student to professor ratio. Many times, this information is published in information booklets about the school. Or, just ask if you visit the campus.  It is beneficial to get the best out of your college education and getting direct feedback and advice from your professors will increase the value of your experience

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