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In common parlance, we often use the words ‘university’ or ‘college’ interchangeably, not really realising the difference between the two. While in India, the UGC confers the term ‘university’ to an educational body that meets certain requirements, in the US, there is no such centralized educational regulatory body.

The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education provides a classifying framework for educational and research purposes, but by and large, the usage of terms ‘university’ and ‘college’ still depends on the institutions themselves. This can be confusing to international students. Let us try to differentiate between these two terms and see how you can make the most out of your study abroad experience.

Difference between a University & College in the US

University is a generic term used for educational institutions that offer full-time graduate programs. These institutions usually grant masters and PhD degrees. Universities are large institutions with student enrolment typically running into thousands. They may be private or state-funded. Most large universities are research intensive and offer state-of-the-art labs and well-stocked libraries.

Colleges, on the other hand, are generally smaller institutions and may offer full-time undergraduate, vocational or associate degrees and diplomas. Also, there are career colleges, liberal arts colleges and community colleges in the US.

 So here comes the ambiguity. For functional and administrative purposes, universities may be organized into colleges (or schools, departments, institutes, faculties, etc.). Also, there are many universities that offer undergraduate concentrations, short-term and certificate programs. Further, colleges like Dartmouth College, Boston College and College of William and Mary are actually research universities that offer a wide spectrum of UG and PG courses—they deliberately choose to retain the term ‘college’ only because of their historical prominence.

Confused? You need not to worry about terminology so long as you decide the right college/university for yourself. Here are some pointers:

  1. Career goals: What do you want out of your study-abroad experience?

  2. Career goals

    Most folks jump into study-abroad prep with some goals on their mind. Some may have a thirst for knowledge in a specific field, others may be in pursuit of international exposure. Still, others may harbour long-term goals like working and settling abroad. Whatever your goals, be sure to list them out and consider them against each college/program option available to you.

  3. Type of program: What is your field of interest?

    Type of program

    The best thing about higher education in US is its flexibility with respect to courses and credits. You can choose to study music with computer science; you can finish a four-year 120-credit UG degree in 3 to 3 and a half years. You may also choose to pursue a minor or major in an upcoming field like big data, sustainable engineering or aquaponics. The possibilities are enormous, so take your time to explore various programs as per your interests.

  4. Student Profile: Where do you stand?

    Student Profile

    Admissions officers at US universities evaluate your overall profile based on scores in entrance and qualifying exams, extracurricular activities, internships, writing skills, recommendation letters, etc. Certain universities/programs fit your profile better than others. Do a self-assessment of your profile. Get a free profile evaluation here! 

  5. Expert help: Who to approach?

    Expert help

    Seek help from experienced study-abroad counsellors. They know the right time to apply and keep tabs on university deadlines. They can help you with profile improvement, application essays and direct you to apply to universities where you stand a good chance of getting an offer. This can save you a lot of stress so that you can focus on solely on exam preparation. Talk to an admissions counsellor here!

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