Options in Higher Education – Colleges vs. Universities

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Options in Higher Education – Colleges vs. Universities

“Life at postsecondary institutions should be viewed as both a formative life experience and as a tool for developing the social, academic and technical skills to succeed in a career.”

[1]  To help students identify a good match, students need a better understanding of the characteristics of the many postsecondary institutions that exist today. 

There are a number of labels uses to categorize four-year colleges and universities:  college and university; public and independent; national and regional; single-sex and coeducational; for-profit and non-profit; religious and sectarian; residential and nonresidential.  Some institutions are highly specialized including technical colleges, historically black colleges and universities, military academies, distance learning or weekend colleges and co-op colleges. 

Today’s blog will focus on universities vs. colleges.  Future blogs will focus on the other categories of postsecondary institutions.

Colleges vs. Universities

Universities are generally larger than colleges and offer both undergraduate and graduate degrees.  They usually employ graduate assistants to teach some of their undergraduate courses, especially introductory courses, labs and lectures.  Universities usually focus more on faculty research and often generate millions of research dollars from it while creating new knowledge in a particular field. 

At one time many universities had separate colleges, each focusing on a different academic area.  The separate colleges also frequently had different admission standards and requirements.  This structure continues to exist at most large universities.

Colleges tend to be smaller (5000 students or fewer), usually do not offer graduate education and frequently offer only limited specialized career training.  A majority of students attending colleges pursue a liberal arts curriculum, not a specialized career training, and most high school students need to understand the difference.  Most four year institutions require students to complete a core of liberal arts courses, but those pursuing a professional degree will take more courses in a career-oriented discipline, training that can be used for  professional certification or licenses.  A majority of students who pursue a liberal arts degree tend to receive professional training in graduate school. 

The advantage of attending a university is its size and the ability to pursue less common majors.  They also have greater flexibility to combine majors in a way that offers marketability relative to a student’s career goals.  Universities also draw international students which gives its students the ability to interact with and learn from students from all over the world. 

The advantage of attending a college is fewer college classes are taught by graduate students or adjunct professors.  Many schools expect professors to put a higher emphasis on undergraduate teaching.  All college professors are expected to perform research and publish it, however, college professors are not expected to do so as extensively as university professors.  College professors have more time to interact with their students and class size is generally smaller at colleges, especially at the introductory level. 

There is another compelling reason to attend a college.  In general, students who attend a university may start out in their career with higher salaries, but those who start out at colleges and then pursue advanced degrees in their field tend to earn more over the course of their careers.  (Higher Education Research Institute, 2004). 


[1] Fundamentals of College Admission Counseling by National Association for College Admission Counseling , Scott White, Montclair High School (NJ)

By | 2018-06-11T00:39:43-07:00 July 27th, 2011|General College Information, Tips for Parents, Tips for Students|Comments Off on Options in Higher Education – Colleges vs. Universities