Difference between colleges & universities

Summer is the time that many families visit colleges. This article begins a multiple-part series about visiting colleges. Check back every few days to read about another topic. Today, we begin with the basics.

Colleges and Universities.

A university consists of a group of colleges, like Liberal Arts and Sciences, Engineering, Journalism, Health Sciences, and Business Administration, to name a few. These various colleges offer different majors – or areas of specialized study. For example, an Engineering college may offer specializations in Chemical, Mechanical, Electrical or Biomedical Engineering.

When you apply to a university, you have to state the particular college that interests you, as well as a specific major within that college, if you have chosen one — for example, chemical engineering within the engineering college. Students undecided about a major or a particular degree usually enroll in the university’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. This college offers majors (areas of study) in three areas:
  • Humanities, like English, Foreign Language, History, and Philosophy
  • Social Sciences, like Economics, Political Science, Psychology
  • Sciences, like Mathematics, Chemistry, Biology

Universities have large enrollments — thousands of students.

Four-year college degrees are called undergraduate or baccalaureate degrees. Besides undergraduate degrees, universities have graduate and professional schools that offer advanced degrees, like master’s degrees, PhDs, MBAs, and Law or Medical degrees.Colleges, on the other hand, are smaller schools with small enrollments. Colleges commonly offer only undergraduate degrees and usually emphasize the Liberal Arts, meaning they are made up of a large range of departments (majors) such as History, English, Biology, and Mathematics.A few colleges are dedicated to a single special area of study, like art or music or even engineering.

Besides four-year colleges, there are many very good two-year colleges — sometimes called community colleges or technical colleges — that offer a very wide range of professional and technical studies. They also offer a major in the Liberal Arts. Many have special arrangements, advancement programs, that can pave the way if students want to continue at a four-year college. Don’t overlook these schools.

So these are terms you should get to know. Knowing the difference is important when you’re shopping for schools to visit and ultimately apply to.

Other things to think about

Large universities have many different kinds of degree programs and majors to choose from. But because universities are commonly research institutions with graduate programs, undergraduate teaching is less of a priority.

Universities are big places with thousands of students, and some students can feel very anonymous while others like this kind of learning situation. They find it exciting. If that’s not for you, there are a lot of smaller colleges that emphasize undergraduate learning and give individual students special guidance.

So when you start to seriously think about your college education, keep in mind that you have lots of choices. Take the time to find what’s right for you.

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