When I was growing up, my parents didn’t always emphasize the importance of a college education. My goal now, as a higher education professional, is to let students and families know that a college education is attainable, and to help them figure out which school will best fit their needs.
Understanding college vs university
What’s the difference between a college and a university?
Many students and families assume “college” and “university” are the same and use the terms interchangeably. However, there are key differences between them—mainly the size of the school and their academic offerings.
Four-year colleges typically offer bachelor’s degrees and sometimes graduate degree programs in selected subjects. Two-year community or junior colleges often offer short-term programs, certificate programs, and associate degrees.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education defines a university as a group of schools that typically offers many academic programs for undergraduate students, along with programs for those seeking master’s and doctorate degrees. In some cases, they also offer advanced degrees in areas like medicine and law.
Finding the cost: college vs university
Higher education costs vary across states and schools. It’s important to research all financial and educational options before deciding on a school.
An easy way to compare the cost of a college vs a university is to create a simple spreadsheet. Include the total cost of attendance for each school, which can include tuition, fees, room and board, books and supplies, and other living expenses. You can often find this figure on a school’s website or in your financial aid offer letter.
There are also free online comparison tools and college planning calculators available. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offers a free tool that can assist students and families in comparing college costs and financial aid. Make sure to compare all of your financial aid award letters.