University vs. College

19 January 2024

Hi there! This week on Ask a Teacher, we answer a question from Le about the difference between the words "university" and "college."


Hello Teacher,

Ask a Teacher: University vs. College
Ask a Teacher: University vs. College

I love this program.

Would you mind explaining the difference between "university" and "college?"

I often misunderstand these two nouns.




We are glad you love our programs, Le, and thank you for writing to us.

This is an important question, especially for international students who might want to apply to U.S. colleges and universities.

Both places provide higher education. But their degree offerings, number of students and costs differ.

Let's start with "university."


"Universities" are large schools offering higher education that includes undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

Most faculty at universities are not only teachers but also researchers.

Large universities have tens of thousands of students and have students from all over the U.S. and the world.

Since universities offer both undergraduate and graduate degrees, they may offer many classes in many fields. But the cost of attending a university can be high, especially at private universities in the U.S. which are not supported by state governments.

An example of a public university is West Virginia University.

An example of a private university is Yale University in the state of Connecticut.

Let's move on to "college."


"College" can also mean a school where students receive higher education. Many high school students are asked:

Where do you want to go to college?

The answer to this question could be a university, a community college or even a trade school.

We also refer to students in higher education as "college students."

When Liz was a college student, she took classes during the day and worked in a hotel at night.

"College" is often used as a general word for a school offering education after high school. But "college" can have more specific meanings too.

Colleges are smaller schools that focus on undergraduate programs. They include community colleges, private and liberal arts colleges and even technical colleges and trade schools.

Faculty at community colleges mainly teach and advise students, rather than do research.

A college can also be a division within a university. For example, a university might have a "college of arts and sciences," which gives bachelor's degrees.

Colleges are smaller and have fewer students: hundreds to thousands of students rather than tens of thousands of students.

Because colleges, especially community colleges, serve a smaller population, they have fewer international students.

Classes are also likely to be limited at colleges, especially at some community colleges. They might offer general education classes, career or technical degrees. Community colleges might offer some four-year undergraduate degrees, but many offer two-year programs. The aim might be for students to transfer to a four-year school. Career or technical certificates permit students to immediately enter the workforce upon completing the classes.

She went to a community college to study cooking to get a job working in a restaurant.

The cost of attending a community college is lower. The schools offer a low-cost way to gain college credits. However, private colleges and some technical schools may be just as costly as private universities.

Please let us know if these explanations and examples have helped you, Le.

Do you have a question about American English? Send us an email at

And that's Ask a Teacher.

I'm Faith Pirlo.

Faith Pirlo wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

degree –n. a document that shows a person has complete a series of classes at a college or university

undergraduate –adj. related to a degree for four years of schooling after high school

graduate –adj. related to studies after a person has received a four-year degree

faculty –n. the group of teachers at a school

trade –n. a job that requires special skills and training which is done by using your hands

career –n. the path of a job or jobs, that are usually related, which a person takes over a long period of time

certificate –n. a document showing that a person is has completed training or classes