College and University

I student wrote to me: “I am applying to study in the U.S. but I am confused because some schools use the term “college” but others use the name “university”. What is the difference between “College” and “University”? Please help.

Answer: The word “College” and “University” often create confusion for students who are planning to study in the U.S. Based on what I know, I can summarize as follow:

  1. A “Community College” is a local school that ONLY offers a two-year program and grants an “Associated Degree.”
  2. A “College” is often a small school that ONLY offers a four-year program and grants a “Bachelor degree.”
  3. A “University” is much larger than a college that offers several programs. It can grant Bachelor degree (BS, BA), Master degree (MS, MA), and Doctorate degree (Ph.D.) Many large universities consist of several colleges, each focuses on a specific academic area, such as the college of business, college of engineering, college of science etc.

There are many schools with different programs offerings so you have to be careful when deciding which school to attend. In my opinion, you must have a career plan and know what you want to achieve BEFORE selecting the school. Beside the college and university, you need to identify whether the school is a public or private school, as well as the location, the size of the school, and the cost of the program. It is important that you do some research to find out about each school’s specific offering and the kind of students who study there. Some schools are very selective and some are much easier on their admission and you need to understand the reason why. Do not ONLY look at the admission (Easy or difficult) or the scholarship they offer (How much) BUT also on the reputation of the schools and the outcomes as the number of graduates that get good jobs. AND be very careful with “Non-accredited schools” or “For-profit private schools”. After all, it is your education, your efforts, your money, and you need to be careful about the quality of the school’s programs.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University