Understanding the Difference between College and University

College and University are taken to be synonyms nowadays. The difference between them is very compact and is not recognized by all. The word, however, like all English words, differ in meaning when the context it’s being used in is changed or the location and situations they are used in are changed. To stand in a better light, we’ll check out the difference between a college and a university and compare the two. Let’s trace out the two words right from the beginning, from their origin to how they’ve come to be used in various countries.

College has a Latin origin, and comes from the word ‘collegium’ meaning a group of people living together for a common purpose.  With time, this word has come to denote educational institutes offering degree level courses. College describes an educational institution offering diplomas and 2 year or four year degree level courses. It is known to be something between schools and universities. In other words, they focus on undergraduate programs. They are smaller than universities and students receive more personal attention.

University, coming from Latin ‘universitas magistrorum et scholarium’ that stands for a group of teachers and students living together in pursuit of knowledge, nowadays stands for higher educational institutions offering a platform to pursue higher educational qualifications and research. Universities offer a broad spectrum of courses belonging to various field and career streams. They offer both undergraduate and graduate degrees. Right from bachelor’s degree to Ph.D.s are covered by some universities. Some universities have divisions like the ‘College of Engineering’ etc. that means some colleges are under larger universities.

This was the basic perception. But all over the globe, various regions refer to colleges and universities in different contexts. Let’s have a look at that.


In the United States of America, colleges and universities are used almost synonymously. There are a few colleges here that offer a wide range of subjects including doctorates. Here the colleges aim to prepare a person for his or her career. Universities here are quite famous all over the world like the Harvard University.


In Canada, the difference is quiet clear between the two units of education. Colleges, being focused on teaching short vocational courses in particular trades, offer basic degrees in science and arts whereas universities, having a wide range of varieties of subjects, offer the higher education degrees. Colleges are not research directed as opposed to universities. All in all, both are well defined in different words in Canada.

UK and associate commonwealth countries

In United Kingdom and the nations included in the commonwealth league, the difference between the two is very well defined and to the mark. Colleges are affiliated and subsidiary to universities. The courses are provided by the colleges, but the degrees are issued by the university that particular college comes under. University is the commanding body and colleges are the small fishes. So a university would have divisions under it by the name of ‘College of Liberal Arts’ who would teach the course but the degree would be granted by the university. The researches would be, however, directed by universities themselves, which will have its departments on different subjects.

Do comment your views! What about the place you belong to?

Feel free to suggest topics you’d like to see disscussed in future!

All in all, colleges are the centers of learning whereas the universities are more research oriented. If we talk about the stage, universities definitely offer a much more esteemed stage as compared to colleges, but one may argue successfully that a student gets more personal attention in a college rather than a university.

But it all depends on the institution and your power of grasping. Both are the abodes of knowledge after all, right?