College and University – How Do They Differ?

In the UK and in the US, you can have the access to higher education in a college or a university, but there is no clear boundary between the two, particularly, from a foreigner's point of view. For applicants, it is important to understand the differences, especially as the application packages are almost identical but various factors can affect the fees for study in these two types of institution and it can be hard to compare them in terms of financial accessibility for the future students.

Which one is better in terms of the quality of education and which one is more prestigious – can we give definite answers? In fact, there are some similarities between the two along with important and curious differences. To see the difference between college and university, let us discover the opportunities that their students get during the study years and after the graduation.

High School, Community College, and Other Options

In Russia, there is a misconception that colleges provide compulsory school education. This is not entirely true because American educational institutions of this type can be deemed as an equivalent to Russian technical schools, professional lyceums, or even institutions. They can use the following curriculum in their work:

  • upper grade curriculum that ensures that the students complete compulsory school program and prepare them for applying to higher school institutions (in this case, they are referred to as a high school);
  • professional grade curriculum with issuing of Associate Degrees ("junior specialist") which can help to initiate an autonomous carrier; if the study is deemed as conventional semi-Bachelor's degree, it constitutes a supporting document in further learning for Bachelor's degree (extra two or three years at the uni), and such educational institution is called a community college;
  • Bachelor degree curriculum, often as a part of a university (e. g. Harvard College provides training for BA Humanities).

Some colleges offer master degrees and customary keep their name, but to be precise, it is not a common practice.

American University

Study at a university always means a higher education. Difference between American college and university is defined by several features of the latter, including:

  • availability of the accreditation by CHEA (The Council for Higher Education Accreditation);
  • opportunity to study a wide range of academic disciplines;
  • availability of master and doctor degrees in the curriculum;
  • organisation of research work.

Universities usually occupy significant areas and have various infrastructure facilities (own Research Centres, laboratories, libraries, and etc.) and have several campuses, sometimes even in different cities.

This type of educational institutions is also characterised by high-quality equipment, powerful academic resources, and availability of financial support programs for the students.

Where to Study?


It is believed that American college and university have no academic differences, but generally it is better to choose:

  • College, if the future student has no goals to continue with research work but prefers closer interaction with teachers and learning in a smaller group.

This can ensure you more comfortable studying of specific disciplines, e. g. a degree of Kendall College in Chicago is regarded as highly valued for HoReCa segment, and a degree of Baruch College, NY, is highly valued in the areas of economics and management.

  • University, if the priority is a large range of programs and the goal is to continue learning after completing of bachelor degree.

Generally, university bachelor/master/doctor programs have interrelated curricula and that helps those students who learn for bachelor degree to define the trajectory of their academic efforts and to create a solid foundation to continue education at the same university, particularly, if the goal is academic degree completion.

Essentials for Applying for US Higher Education

Despite the above differences, the typical set of application documents for any American higher education institution requires an applicant's motivation letter, references, and a certificate confirming knowledge of English at the required level.

It should be born in mind that learning takes one year longer (12 years) in the USA, so the graduates of ordinary Russian schools will need to take the US National Exam by themselves or take an extra year for academic preparation.

A unique opportunity to pursue a higher education in an American university or college is offered by the CIS International School — call now and learn more about all aspects of studying and living on the campuses based in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and Tashkent (you can also book a get-to-know tour across the campuses). Accredited by the Cambridge Association of International Education, the School opens the doors for their graduates to the world's most prestigious higher education institutions along with the acknowledged Cambridge Certificate (the teaching is conducted by native English speakers in the School).

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