Are colleges and universities essentially the same, or are there real differences between them? We asked Laura Braswell, senior editor of The Princeton Review’s Top 368 Colleges.
According to Braswell, although the words “college” and “university” tend to be used interchangeably, there are significant differences between them. As a general rule, colleges are smaller than universities. Colleges focus primarily on teaching, whereas universities also emphasize research. And most colleges offer only undergraduate programs, while universities offer both graduate and undergraduate programs and degrees.
“There is also a distinction where a college is part of a university,” Braswell says. “One particular instance of that is Harvard College, which is part of Harvard University. Harvard University refers to the entire educational institution—the research centers, the graduate and professional schools, and the undergraduate school. Harvard College focuses only on the undergraduate program, offering mainly liberal arts courses.”
Of course, there are many exceptions. Braswell cites Dartmouth College as a prominent example. She says, “That is a very prestigious institution that [is referred to as a] college . . . but Dartmouth offers graduate programs, and it is also a research institution.” Citing the historical background, Braswell says, “When post-high school education began in the United States, colleges offered only two years of schooling. Additional education had to be done overseas at universities like Oxford or Cambridge. When American colleges began expanding, offering more degrees and programs, many changed their names to ‘university.’”
Because colleges and universities have distinct differences, Braswell says it’s imperative that students research all schools they’re interested in, and not get caught up in the name game. “It’s really hard to paint a broad brush on that sort of terminology,” she says. “That’s why we press upon students the importance of doing their research and knowing exactly what they want out of a school. Students should always look for the school that fits best, not necessarily one that’s a university just because they think it’s more prestigious than a college.”
Check out the 2009 Edition of The Princeton Review’s Top 368 Colleges online at www.princetonreview.com.