What's the difference between "college" and "university" in English?

The words "college" and "university" are used differently in different parts of the world, so you should pay attention to how people around you are using these words.

Two-year schools

In Canada, for example, "college" is specifically a two-year school that people go to after high school.

In much of the U.S., these are called "community colleges" or "junior colleges". (The difference is that people going to a Junior college intend to transfer to a 4-year school afterward. Some people do this from community colleges too, but others finish short programs there for fields like nursing, business, computers, etc.)

Four-year schools

In the U.S., there's a technical difference between the words "college" and "university". A university is a larger school which is made up of several "colleges". For example, a university might have:

  • The College of Humanities and Social Sciences
  • The College of the Arts
  • The Pratt School of Engineering
  • The Knight School of Business
  • The College of Science

A college is a smaller school, usually with less money, in which all of the departments are managed under one group.

Common use

The description above is the technical difference between "college" and "university". However, people use these words differently.

The word "college" is most often used when you're describing the experience of being in a college or university:

I didn't party a lot in college, but I had a great time anyway.

A: Are you in college?

B: Yeah, I go to Yale.

Gerry is going off to college in a few years. We need to make sure we can afford it.

The word "university" is usually used with "the", "a", or "my" in front of it. You mostly use it when you're talking about the school itself.

The university just decided to raise tuition again.

Of course we all want to send our kids to a great university, but not everyone can.

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