What the words college and university stand for varies significantly by country. In general, a college is an institution of higher education that may stand alone or make up one part of a university. There may be several colleges that cater to a variety of specialized professions in law, medicine, the liberal arts, etc. on a single university's campus. In some countries, "faculty" or "school" replace college's usual meaning (e.g., faculty of law or school of medicine, instead of "college of"). Sometimes "college" and "university" are used interchangeably.
Usage of the Term
- In the U.S., "college" and "university" are frequently interchangeable and simply refer to a school at the tertiary level. However, universities in the U.S. are often larger and have a wider range of courses than those schools which call themselves colleges. Universities are more likely than colleges to offer undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate degrees; colleges usually only offer undergraduate degrees. There is also the term "community college" — or less commonly, "junior college" — in the U.S., which refers to a two-year school that offers certificates, associate's degrees, and lower-level tertiary education (i.e., half of an undergraduate's degree, which can be transferred and continued at a full, four-year college or university).
- In the UK, colleges may be schools within a university that do not award degrees — rather, the universities they are a part of award degrees. In some cases, colleges within a university are not directly related to learning, but to the accommodation and facilities that students use on campus. Occasionally, "college" refers to secondary education where student study for advanced qualifications, such as A-levels.
- In Canada, "college" usually refers to various vocational, technical, artistic, and scientific tertiary education. In Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario, the term "university college" also exists. This term, which is found in numerous Commonwealth nations, relates to colleges that are not recognized as being fully independent in the way a university is.
- In Australia, college often refers to secondary education. It less commonly refers to particular vocational schools (e.g., TAFE colleges) or schools within a university (e.g., college of medicine). "Faculty" is generally used in place of college at the tertiary level (e.g., faculty of social sciences).
Harvard College vs Harvard University
Harvard College offers four year programs for students seeking their first (Bachelor's) degree. There are about 6,500 undergraduate students at Harvard College. Harvard University comprises Harvard College and 10 other graduate and professional schools. Although part of the same university, each of these schools is run independently i.e., they maintain separate, independent admissions offices and teaching and research faculties. These graduate and professional schools do not offer any programs for undergraduate students; their programs are for students who already hold an undergraduate degree and are pursuing a master's or doctoral program.
History of Terminology
The term university appeared in Middle English between 1250 CE and 1300 CE and is older than the term college, which appeared 50 to 150 years later. Both terms have Latin origins: collegium (club, community, society) and universitas (guild, corporation, society).
The following excerpt from a Duke University lecture discusses the history of "university" in the U.S.
In cases where universities are larger than colleges (or contain them), universities perform more research thanks to better overall funding. This superior funding is also why universities are typically able to offer graduate and postgraduate degrees.