College vs. University: What is the Difference?

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Week 2: College vs. University: What is the Difference?

Because I work closely with high school students on their college process, I notice most families and students use the terms “college” and “university” interchangeably. However, it is important to clearly understand the distinctions between the two. This knowledge is fundamental in building a “good-fit” college list.

What is a College?

Colleges are institutions that predominantly focus on undergraduate education, providing students with a more intimate and personalized learning environment. They typically offer a limited number of graduate programs compared to universities, allowing them to concentrate their resources on undergraduate students.

In colleges, classes are often taught by professors who are dedicated to providing students with individualized attention. This close-knit setting fosters strong relationships between students and faculty, enabling valuable one-on-one guidance and mentorship opportunities. This environment allows students to explore different areas of interest before declaring a major, promoting interdisciplinary learning and academic exploration.

Some notable US colleges are Amherst College, Swarthmore College, Wellesley College, Pomona College, Carleton College, Claremont McKenna, Occidental College, Lewis & Clark College, Reed College, and Kenyon College.

What is a University?

On the other hand, universities are comprehensive institutions that enroll both undergraduate and graduate students, offering a wide range of academic programs and professional schools. Universities provide a diverse array of majors, minors, and specialized areas of study, including fields such as law, business, medicine, and engineering. With larger campuses and resources, universities offer extensive research opportunities to students across various disciplines.

Some well-known universities in the US with very large student populations include the University of California (UC) campuses, California State University (CSU) campuses, University of Texas at Austin, University of Houston, Texas A&M University, Arizona State University, University of Washington, University of Central Florida, Ohio State University, and University of Michigan.

Making Informed Decisions

With a clear understanding of the distinctions between colleges and universities, students can make informed decisions as they navigate the college application process. Each institution offers unique advantages and opportunities for students to thrive academically and personally. By being well-informed, students can strategically choose where to apply based on their academic goals and preferences.


“Sylvia is a phenomenal college counselor. She is patient, kind, organized, and extremely knowledgeable about the college application process." - Susie

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