College and university – two terms often mistaken for the same thing. But the reality is that, although they are similar, both have their own set of distinct purposes that separate one from the other. From learning styles, degree values, courses, and much more, there are some major differences between college and university. Evaluating the characteristics of each can help you find the best option to advance your education – so as you begin to explore the available opportunities for your postsecondary education, there are some things to consider.

What is College?

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There’s a common misconception that colleges are less valuable than universities, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Colleges are simply different from university programs, and depending on the educational and career path you’re pursuing, college could very well be the better option for you. In fact, college is more career-oriented than other options, and as such, they typically offer more hands-on training – and that’s only naming a few reasons why people choose college over university. Here are a few of the major distinctions:


  • Education and training in trades, apprenticeship, language, skill upgrading, entry-level and vocational positions, etc.
  • Hands-on learning
  • Full and part-time study opportunities
  • Smaller class sizes
  • Three levels of certification
    • Certificates
      • Takes 1 year to complete
      • Sometimes required for employment
      • Typically taken to advance in their field
    • Diplomas
      • Takes 2-3 years to complete
      • More general than certificates
    • Bachelor (Associate) degrees
      • Takes 3-4 years to complete
      • Training for entry-level positions and vocational fields
      • Some courses can be considered (and transferred) at par for a 4-year university education

What is University?

difference between college and university

There’s no denying that universities are different from colleges, with one of the main distinctions being that universities offer more academic and professional programs. For example, you can attend college for nursing, but in order to be a doctor, you would have to go to university. The education and training tends to be broader than college, and focuses more on critical thinking and independent learning. You also have the option to major, minor, and specialize in different fields, depending on the courses you take. For example, you can major in Psychology but specialize in Social Work. There are also many other programmatic differences that set university apart from college:

  • Specialization in different programs with a major and minor
  • Education and training are less hands-on
  • More diverse classes and programs
  • Larger class sizes and enrollment
  • Three levels of certification
    • Undergraduate (Bachelor’s) Degree
      • Takes 3 years to complete
      • Involves a major field of study
      • Qualification for entry-level and management positions in their field
    • Master’s (Graduate) Degree
      • Takes 1-2 years to complete
      • Qualification for those with high level of expertise in respective field
      • Study is completed with a thesis
    • PhD (Doctoral) Degree
      • Takes 4-6 years to complete
      • Master’s degree must be completed prior to obtaining PhD degree
      • Most advanced level of degree
      • Qualification for being an expert in respective field

Neither college nor university is better than the other. It ultimately comes down to the actual career path you’re pursuing. Additionally, the education and training is provided differently in each setting. It’s important to evaluate and understand the differences between college and university, and research the different programs available. Doing so can help you decide which option is best for you to pursue. Both are reputable, prestigious ways to advance your education, and can land you that dream job.