Colleges Versus Universities: The Pros and Cons of Each & What It’s Like to Go There

You’ve no doubt considered a ton of different factors when thinking about where to visit and apply for colleges. One thing a lot of us miss, however, is to think about the difference between a college and a university. This difference can affect the size of the student body, opportunities both in and out of the classroom, the types of available undergrad and graduate opportunities, and how college and university systems spend time and money on research. Colleges, for example, are often smaller in terms of both physical size and the number of degrees you can earn on campus, as they only offer undergrad programs, while universities can have both undergrad and graduate programs. Universities also tend to be more research-based or emphasize different research practices more than a typical college would. Here are in the ins and outs of colleges versus universities to help you decide where to spend the next four years.

Size matters

At a college:  Colleges are usually smaller institutions than universities are. Oftentimes, you’ll find a smaller student body, smaller class sizes, and fewer academic, extra-curricular and entertainment options outside of class. This can be both good and bad. Obviously, smaller classes mean there’s a greater chance you’ll stand out to your professor for stellar academic performance (a given for all of our readers, obviously!) and get to know your classmates way better than you would just sitting in a lecture hall of 300 people. You could also face limited class offerings or more restrictive academic schedules however, with classes only offered in one semester instead of two, or every other year instead of being offered every year like you might find in a bigger school. It doesn’t hurt to double check and make sure schools you’re interested in have everything you’re looking for when it comes to majors and a variety of class offerings, especially if you’re interested in attending somewhere smaller.

Even with fewer offerings, you’ll still be surrounded by lots of interesting people. “My favorite thing about [my school] is that it's made up of dedicated people with interests in many different areas of study and life,” says Bettina Weiss, a junior at Connecticut College. Roxanna Coldiron, a recent grad from Hiram College agrees. “I just graduated from a college and I like the smallness of it. Smaller classes mean it's easier to have real discussions,” she says. 

At a university: Don’t let movies and TV shows scare you! While universities are often larger, it’s definitely not something that should automatically deter you from attending one. Larger schools usually mean you’ve got TONS of options, from what you want to major or minor in to some crazy cool classes you can take to complete those pesky generals. Obviously though, larger size also means you might have to put up with a few full lecture hall classes or professors that don’t make the effort to get to know you. It just means you need to go that extra step to get to know people, both in class and out! Luckily, larger schools also tend to have more clubs, (and bigger Greek life programs!) activities, games, performances, and more for students to enjoy! Those football tailgating parties you always see in movies and shows? Definitely a staple of bigger universities. “My favorite thing [about my school] is the athletics,” shares Kirsten Ballard, a senior at UNC Chapel Hill. Another bonus? Larger universities also have a bigger bankroll to sponsor big name performers and fun activities year-round – score!