What is the Difference Between University and College?

Baylor campus

In the United States students often use these three words to describe their educational institution - university, college, school. What are the differences between them and can they be used interchangeably?


A university is typically a higher education institution that offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees. Universities tend to be large institutions with multiple buildings on campus. They usually have multiple schools within their systems, such as the School of Arts, the School of Sciences, and others. Universities usually offer a broad scope of majors and programs. For example, Baylor University offers more than 125 different undergraduate degree majors and minors, along with Master’s and doctoral programs. These programs are housed in 12 different colleges and schools, including the Hankamer School of Business, which offers the #74 best undergraduate business program in the USA (U.S. News & World Report, 2022). 


Colleges are usually smaller in size and they tend not to offer as many majors and programs as universities. Typically colleges do not grant graduate degrees, however there are many exceptions to that rule. Many colleges that offer Master programs choose to leave the word 'college' in their names out of respect to their traditions and history.


You may be surprised when American students refer to their universities and colleges as schools, but it is pretty common in the US. This is just a simple way of talking about colleges and universities. So next time you hear anyone mention 'school', remember that they are probably not talking about high school.

Now that it is clear that all colleges and universities can be referred to as schools, and that some colleges are technically universities, you can be a little more familiar with a terminology used in the American education system. Other countries of the world have different definitions for colleges and universities, so you should keep that in mind when researching your study abroad options.