College vs. University – What’s the Difference?

More students are choosing to pursue post-secondary education than ever before. Many professions require an advanced degree or licensure for employment, and even a simple bachelor’s degree opens many doors in a broad variety of careers.

Continuing education is not the right choice for everyone, and many people lead very successful lives without ever setting foot in a college or university. Still, the majority of students find post-secondary education a compelling option, despite ever-increasing costs of attendance.

What is the difference between college and university? In everyday use, these terms are used interchangeably. In specific contexts, however, they have different meanings.

What is the Difference Between College and University?

In this post, I will compare the terms college vs. university. I will use each of these words in at least one example sentence, so you can see them in context.

I will also demonstrate the use of a mnemonic device that will help you choose either university or college for your own writing.

When to Choose College

Definition of university definition of college definitionWhat does college mean? College is a noun. In American English, it refers to undergraduate education or an undergraduate education institution.

Colleges offer two- and four-year degrees in various subjects, and some may also offer graduate studies.

Here are some examples,

  • Milo went to college after high school, but dropped out to become a mechanic.
  • The dean was credited with fostering a culture of consent on the college campus.
  • While in college, he had worked on a military base in Albuquerque, and he had showed his superiors how to run certain computer programs a hundred times faster; instead of saving time and money, the bureaucrats ran a hundred times more equations. –The New Yorker

In British English, college is more generally continuing education, including specialized secondary education.

See the examples below,

  • After college, Emma went to university.
  • Marco graduated from college when he was 18.

In British English, college is often a rough equivalent to high school in America, but with a more specialized nature.

In both American and British English, college could also refer to an individual school or program within a university.

When to Use University

Define university and define collegeWhat does university mean? In both American and British English, university is a post-secondary institution that offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in a variety of subjects across several programs.

Universities are often considered conglomerations of smaller, more focused schools. These individual programs within universities are often called colleges.

Here are some examples,

  • President Trump graduated with a Bachelor’s degree from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Ohio State University has a football team, but they are not very good.
  • While traveling extensively with friends and eating countless dinners with family, she also dabbled in university classes at Harvard and in London, and she served brief internships everywhere from Nike to the NBA, where she shadowed Commissioner Adam Silver. –New York Post

Trick to Remember the Difference

college versus universityNow that you know the difference between these two, let’s go over a trick to remember university vs. college.

A university is a collection of specialized schools. A college is one school. Often, universities are comprised of several colleges.

Just like the universe contains many schools, a university will usually also contain many schools. You can use the similarity between universe and university to remember the meaning of this word.


Is it college or university? College refers to a type of post-secondary school, or in British English, some secondary schools as well. A university is a conglomeration of schools that offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees.

Since universe and university are similar words, and each contains several schools, it should be little trouble to remember the differences between these words.

Remember, you can always check back on this article any time you need help picked university or college.