Google Answers Logo
View Question
Q: School vs. College vs. University ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   3 Comments )
Subject: School vs. College vs. University
Category: Reference, Education and News > Education
Asked by: gatvol-ga
List Price: $35.00
Posted: 02 Sep 2006 15:49 PDT
Expires: 02 Oct 2006 15:49 PDT
Question ID: 761724
What is the difference between a School, a College, and a University -
example, a Medical School vs. a Medical College vs. Medical
University. Some high school graduates claim they are starting school,
others college. I am only interested in these phrases in the USA
context and will appreciate information on the above example.
Subject: Re: School vs. College vs. University
Answered By: crabcakes-ga on 02 Sep 2006 22:12 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello Gatvol,

     The terms ?college?, ?school? and ?university? have developed,
from common usage into interchangeable words. As you read through the
answer, you?ll see that a university is typically a larger
institution, made up of smaller specialty schools, such as a School of
Medicine or a Business College.

  A medical school is the same as a medical college - it's all in
common usage. Medical schools/colleges are under a university, but are
not usually called Medical Universities, although some do. You can see
on this list of medical schools, both in the US and Canada, that  most
schools in the US are not called Medical Universities.

   I?m sure the following examples will enlighten you about the differences!

   The US government defines college: ?College: An institution of
higher learning that offers undergraduate programs, usually of a
four-year duration, that lead to the bachelor's degree in the arts or
sciences (B.A. or B.S.). The term "college" is also used in a general
sense to refer to a postsecondary institution. A college may also be a
part of the organizational structure of a university.?

University is defined as: ?University: An educational institution that
usually maintains one or more four-year undergraduate colleges (or
schools) with programs leading to a bachelor's degree, a graduate
school of arts and sciences awarding master's degrees and doctorates
(Ph.D.s), and graduate professional schools.?

   On another page, from the same government web site ?Colleges,
Universities, and Institutes: The Distinction Degree-granting
institutions in the United States can be called by any of these terms,
and colleges and institutes are in no way inferior to universities. As
a general rule, colleges tend to be smaller than universities and
usually do not offer doctoral degrees, while a university offers a
wide range of graduate programs, including doctoral degrees.
Universities emphasize research as well as teaching (traditionally a
strength of colleges), and universities that offer doctoral programs
are usually referred to as research universities. The words "school,"
"college," and "university" are used interchangeably throughout this

   An institute usually specializes in degree programs in a group of
closely related subject areas, so you will also come across degree
programs offered at institutes of technology, institutes of fashion,
institutes of art and design, and so on. Research centers offer
graduate degrees or research and training opportunities, and they may
or may not be affiliated with universities.
Within each institution you may find schools such as the school of
arts and sciences or school of business. Each school is responsible
for the degree programs offered by the college or university in that
area of study.?

   Harvard University compares the words ?college? to ?university?,
using their own institutions as an example.

?Harvard College is a part of Harvard University focusing on educating
undergradutes. It is part of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and
offers programs in the liberal arts.

Harvard University refers to the entire educational institution,
including the undergraduate college, the graduate and professional
schools, research centers, administration, and affiliates.?

   This site has some additional history of the use of the words
?college? and ?university?. Please visit the link below for additional
information. ?Colleges generally do not support research or offer
graduate degrees. Universities usually are much larger than colleges.
Universities carry out research. And they offer several kinds of
degrees in many areas of study.

They offer bachelor?s degrees after four years of study. Universities
also offer graduate degrees that require additional years of study,
such as master?s degrees and doctoral degrees. Modern universities
developed from those of the Middle Ages. They took their name from the
Latin word ?universitas.? It meant a group of people organized for one

   Please see the link below for complete information, but here are
some explanatory snippets:

?Be aware that there is a very distinct difference in terminology
between the USA and the rest of the world. In the US, there is very
little difference academically between a "college" and a "university".
Universities are usually larger and often contain multiple "colleges"
within them. However, some of the top-ranked schools in the US have a
name including "college" (ex. Dartmouth College). In other parts of
the English-speaking world, the term "university" equates to the US
use of "college" and the term "college" refers more to a trade or
vocational school.?

   ?The main difference between a college and a university is that the
university maintains research requirements for its instructors and
that the university is, in essence, a more research focused
A college can offer many majors with which to direct your studies,
however, doctorate programs are more prone to be offered at
universities where they have the money to support such programs.

This is probably related to the fact that Universities conduct
research, which in turn allows them a certain degree of recognition,
attracts a larger student body and affords them the capacity to offer
higher learning options than a college can offer.?

   ?Many universities in the United States are made up of smaller
colleges within that university. I go to Arizona State University, and
we have smaller colleges such as the College of Fine Arts, College of
Liberal Arts & Sciences, College of Architecture and Design, and so
forth, that are all part of the larger university. Colleges can also
be stand-alone institutions, which are generally quite smaller than
Universities, and tend to only grant Bachelor's or Associate degrees,
while Universities generally offer at least Master's degrees.?

   ?In a global context, the words "college" and "university" can
inspire confusion. Different countries use the same words to name
different things. What is usually called a "college" in Europe is
really more like the two-year institution called a "Community College"
in the U.S.

In the United States, when you ask someone what differentiates the
two, the first response is likely to be "not much."

How they're basically the same:
?	While many factors affect the quality of an institution, the same
type of Baccalaureate or Bachelor's degrees can be conferred by both
colleges and universities.
?	Admission requirements differ according only to selectivity-Highly
ranked colleges are often more selective than universities.
?	Both colleges and universities can be either privately or publicly operated.
?	The phrase "going to college" is used to mean attending any
university or college in the U.S.

How they generally differ:
?	Colleges tend to be smaller, with smaller class sizes and students
receiving more personal attention from faculty.
?	Universities offer Masters and Doctorate degrees-requiring
completion of the Bachelors degree first.
?	Universities tend to be larger, with faculty time and attention
divided between research and teaching.
?	Some large Universities will have divisions named "The College of
Liberal Arts" or the "College of Engineering."

?Colloquial usage - Colloquially, the term university may be used to
describe a phase in one's life: "when I was at university?"; in the
United States, college is often used: "when I was in college?".

?The usual practice in the United States today is to call an
institution made up of several faculties and granting a range of
higher degrees (even if it does not have doctoral programs) a
"university", while a smaller institution only granting bachelor's or
associate's degrees is called a "college".?

?Nevertheless, a few of America's older universities, such as Boston
College, Dartmouth College, and the College of William and Mary, have
retained the term "college" in their names for historical reasons,
even though they offer a wide range of higher degrees. On the other
hand, many smaller state colleges now call themselves "universities",
regardless of their limited programs and degree offerings.

   ?College -Institution that offers postsecondary education. The term
has various meanings. In Roman law a collegium was a body of persons
associated for a common function. The name was used by many medieval
institutions, including guilds. In most universities of the later
Middle Ages, collegium meant an endowed residence hall for university
students. The colleges kept libraries and scientific instruments and
offered salaries to tutors who could prepare students to be examined
for degrees. Eventually few students lived outside colleges, and
college teaching eclipsed university teaching?

?In the U.S., college may refer to a four-year institution of higher
education offering a bachelor's degree, or to a two-year junior or
community college with a program leading to the associate's degree. A
four-year college usually emphasizes a liberal arts or general
education rather than specialized technical or vocational preparation.
The four-year college may be an independent private institution or an
undergraduate division of a university.?

   Definition of college from The Free Dictionary:
?a. An institution of higher learning that grants the bachelor's
degree in liberal arts or science or both.
b. An undergraduate division or school of a university offering
courses and granting degrees in a particular field.
c. A school, sometimes but not always a university, offering special
instruction in professional or technical subjects.
d. The students, faculty, and administration of such a school or institution.
e. The building or buildings occupied by such a school or institution.

   ?Many people think of a college as "an institution that grants only
bachelors' degrees," but the technical definition is "an institution
that bestows degrees in one particular field of study." So a
undergraduate liberal-arts institution like Swarthmore is a
college--but so is a medical school or a law school or a divinity
school. (The latter are usually called "schools," "institutes," or
occasionally "faculties," so people will often look at you oddly if
you say you're in "graduate college.") Along the same lines, people
sometimes think that any institution that grants graduate degrees is a
university, but that isn't true either. Thus, some colleges (such as
Middlebury) offer MA degrees as well as BAs, and others (such as the
Medical College of Wisconsin) offer no undergraduate degrees at all.

In the US, a university is almost always a collection of two or more
colleges, one of which is usually a graduate institution. Thus a
university may actually contain several colleges.

Exceptions include Dartmouth College, which has medical and business
schools, and Rockefeller University, which only offers PhD degrees.?

?The School of Law: Though nationally known as the College of William
and Mary School of Law, the law school was named the Marshall-Wythe
School of Law to honor both George Wythe, occupant of the School's
first chair of law, and John Marshall, who served as Chief Justice of
the Supreme Court from 1801 to 1835.?

   Here are one ?school?s? reasons for changing names, from college to university:
?It would reflect the reorganization of the institution to the
comprehensive university model.
The belief that "university" better describes the future of the
institution with an increasing diversity of programs, and an expanding
A belief that it will benefit the institution?s marketing efforts.
Prospective students generally regard a university more favorably than
a college. This belief is supported by SCC survey data that
overwhelmingly supported university status, as well as anecdotal data
from the market.

The evolving definition of a university that has motivated most of
SCC?s competitors to adopt university status. The committee believed
that the name change was necessary to maintain the institution?s
perceived position in the market with Azusa Pacific University, Biola
University, California Baptist University, Concordia University,
Evangel University, Fresno Pacific University, Point Loma Nazarene
University, and others.?

   ?While students can enter Duke University through both Departments
and Programs, only it is generally only Departments that grant
degrees. Schools are the major academic divisions of the University;
each School consists of several Departments. For example, the Trinity
College of Arts and Sciences includes Departments of Anthropology,
Biology, Chemistry, Math, Physics. The School of Medicine includes
Departments of Biochemistry, Cell Biology, Genetics, ImmunologDuke has
been extraordinarily successful in creating and funding training

 Currently, NIH funded programs exist in Structural Biochemistry and
Biophysics (SBB, formerly Molecular Biophysics), Pharmacological
Sciences, Genetics, Medical Scientist Training Program, Integrated
Toxicology, Molecular Cancer Biology, Developmental Biology Cellular
and Biosurface Engineering, Cellular and Molecular Biology,
Biologically Inspired Materials and Material Systems, Bioinformatics
and Computational Biology? ?

   On FAQ Farm, no one has been able to answer the question ?What is
the difference between medical school and medical university??

   You can learn a bit more on the topic on these sites:

   In addition, universities typically hire only PhDs as professors,
while colleges and smaller schools may hire teachers with master?s
degrees as instructors.

   ?Four-year colleges and universities usually consider doctoral
degree holders for full-time, tenure-track positions, but may hire
master?s degree holders or doctoral candidates for certain
disciplines, such as the arts, or for part-time and temporary jobs.
Most college and university faculty are in four academic
ranks?professor, associate professor, assistant professor, and
instructor. These positions usually are considered to be tenure-track
positions. Most faculty members are hired as instructors or assistant
professors. A smaller number of additional faculty members, called
lecturers, are usually employed on contracts for a single academic
term and are not on the tenure track.

In 2-year colleges, master?s degree holders fill most full-time
positions. However, in certain fields where there may be more
applicants than available jobs, institutions can be more selective in
their hiring practices. In these fields, Master?s degree holders may
be passed over in favor of candidates holding Ph.Ds. Many 2-year
institutions increasingly prefer job applicants to have some teaching
experience or experience with distance learning. Preference also may
be given to those holding dual master?s degrees, especially at smaller
institutions, because they can teach more subjects.

Schools and programs that provide education and training for working
adults generally hire people who are experienced in the field to teach
part time. A master?s degree is also usually required.?

   ?A professor holds a professorship, and his or her title is
professor of history or professor of physics. Using the title
Professor in direct address is usually reserved for formal situations,
such as introducing a speaker or the like. Fred is a professor at the
university can be pretentious; the generic term is teacher: He?s a
teacher at the university; his rank is professor, but his profession
is teaching. The usual academic ranks in American colleges and
universities begin at the bottom with instructor (which is also a
generic term like teacher) and then move upward to assistant
professor, associate professor, and professor?or within academe ?full
professor,? to distinguish it from the two other professorial ranks
when the rank itself is under discussion.?

   I certainly hope this has clarified the terms for you. If not, or
if anything is unclear, please request an Answer Clarification, and
allow me to respond, before you rate.

Regards, Crabcakes

Search Terms
College + university + school + hierarchy
Nomenclature + school + college + university
Difference + college + university
Difference + school + college + university
word usage + college + school + university
gatvol-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $10.00
Absolutely perfect - much more than I was hoping for! Thank you!!

Subject: Re: School vs. College vs. University
From: myoarin-ga on 03 Sep 2006 02:37 PDT
Darn!  Here was a question that I thought I might be able to add
something to, maybe a bit of European viewpoint.  But then Crabcakes
locked it and with her typical thoroughness left absolutely nothing to
add.    :-/  :-|  :-)

And I learned some things I didn't know before.
Subject: Re: School vs. College vs. University
From: crabcakes-ga on 03 Sep 2006 06:20 PDT
Thanks Myoarin! American English CAN be so confusing!
Subject: Re: School vs. College vs. University
From: crabcakes-ga on 04 Sep 2006 11:32 PDT
Thank you Gatvol, for the stars and the nice tip! Both ar emuch appreciated!
Sincerely, Crabcakes

Important Disclaimer: Answers and comments provided on Google Answers are general information, and are not intended to substitute for informed professional medical, psychiatric, psychological, tax, legal, investment, accounting, or other professional advice. Google does not endorse, and expressly disclaims liability for any product, manufacturer, distributor, service or service provider mentioned or any opinion expressed in answers or comments. Please read carefully the Google Answers Terms of Service.

If you feel that you have found inappropriate content, please let us know by emailing us at with the question ID listed above. Thank you.
Search Google Answers for
Google Answers  

Google Home - Answers FAQ - Terms of Service - Privacy Policy