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College vs University

What's the difference in the U.S.?

College vs University

College vs University

You’d like to go south of the border for higher education, but you’re not sure whether to choose a college or a university. What’s the difference, anyway? “In the U.S., ‘university’ and ‘college’ are used interchangeably in common conversation, though some institutions are called ‘colleges’ and others ‘universities’ in their official name,” says James Harbeck, a Toronto-based editor and a freelance designer. He spent six years at Tufts University in Boston, where he earned a master’s degree and then a Ph.D. in theatre history. So is there a difference in the U.S. between college vs University? While used interchangeably, there is a difference.


“Colleges focus on undergraduate education and generally award only bachelor’s degrees,” says writer, editor and Internet publisher Shannon Turlington in her recent book, The Unofficial Guide to College Admissions. “These liberal-arts schools don’t prepare you for a specific career path. Instead, students take a broad base of courses in the humanities, sciences, and social sciences.” On the other hand, universities “are often large institutions that include an undergraduate college, some professional schools and several graduate programs,” Turlington says. “Universities run the gamut from those known for their scholarship and research to those known for their football or basketball teams. Most state-funded public schools tend to be large universities.”


According to Turlington, the biggest difference between a typical liberal-arts college vs university is the focus of a professor’s attention. “At liberal-arts colleges, the professor’s primary job is teaching undergraduates, which generally results in smaller classes and more personal interaction with professors. At universities, the professors may be more concerned with research, publishing or teaching graduate-level classes. As a result, undergraduate courses may be larger, or graduate students instead of full-time professors may teach classes.”


Specialized schools, which Turlington places in a separate category, provide a more-specialized education than liberal-arts colleges or comprehensive universities. An example is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which provides training in science, mathematics and advanced computer technology. Art schools, business schools, nursing schools and vocational schools are also part of this category. American schools can also be classified by their funding. Either they are state funded or privately run.

State Schools- College vs University

Some four-year schools are state universities, popularly called “state schools,” that offer lower tuition for residents of that state. Private college vs university settings, on the other hand, raise their money themselves. They have endowments that, in the case of Harvard, Princeton and other top schools, are measured in billions of dollars. Private schools generally charge higher tuition than state schools. And then there are the junior colleges, which have the same kind of status as some colleges in Canada. “In Boston, for instance, you have Boston College, equal in status to, say, Boston University. But you also have Bunker Hill Community College, on the level of (a) Canadian college,” Harbeck says.


Schools are also classified according to their size and location. If you’re a big-city guy or girl, you might feel trapped in a rural school where you won’t be able to satisfy a craving for tandoori chicken. If you’re an introverted person, you might love being just a number in an urban school. And if you want community without compromising privacy, a small-town school might give you that happy balance.


“Begin searching for schools by examining your interests and talents and then looking for strong academic programs in that general area,” Turlington advises. “Ask yourself what you like to study, what your strongest subjects are and what skills you have. What do you do in your free time? Do you have a passion for any particular hobbies? If your idea of a good time is a poetry reading in a coffeehouse, you probably won’t appreciate a ‘party’ school.”


From an academic standpoint, a liberal-arts college might be the best choice if you want a general liberal-arts education. This kind of school will give you the analytical skills useful in any workplace. An undergraduate college within a large university also gives you this kind of education. And if you’ve already chosen a profession, you could go straight to a specialized school. Remember, you can personally design the next few years of your formal education so they end up being the best years of your life.


*** Visit these Web sites for more information about college vs University: Read a discussion on U.S. schools with education journalist Edward B. Fiske here. This is a guide to researching, applying for and financing school. This site has links to Canadian and American universities.


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