What’s the Difference between a College and University (and How Online Courses Fit In)

What’s the Difference between a College and University (and How Online Courses Fit In)
Beth Dumbauld

By Marty Chester, M.S.Ed.

If you’re confused about the difference between a ‘college’ and a ‘university’, you may also be wondering if the definition of either makes a difference when considering admission, cost, challenges, and questions, such as whether they both offer online classes or accept online classes as transfer credit. While the distinction between them is sometimes fuzzy, there are a few clear differences.

What is the difference between a college and a university?

Generally speaking, the following is true when defining ‘college’ or ‘university’:

  • Colleges typically have smaller student bodies than universities
  • Universities offer both undergraduate and graduate degrees while colleges offer only undergraduate degrees
  • Universities will house several colleges inside them, i.e., College of Nursing, College of Business, College of Education

When a college transitions and becomes a university, typically they will begin to offer a broader array of programs and classes, thus increasing their enrollment. Both entities should be fully accredited by a regional or national organization, which sets standards for the quality of the education offered.

Is there a difference in cost if I attend a college or a university?

For the 2019-20 school year, annual tuition in America averaged $10,486 for in-state tuition and $15,873 for out-of-state tuition, which includes both colleges and universities. Almost all charge different tuition rates based on where you live in relation to their campus. On average, tuition increased an average of 6% over the previous year. A college degree is one of the highest rising costs in America, costing 1000% more than thirty years ago.

When considering cost, there are a few other, more relevant, points that affect the bottom line more than whether the intuition is classified as a college or a university:

  • Private colleges and universities usually cost more than their public counterparts
  • A 2-year associate degree will cost less than a 4-year bachelor’s degree
  • Transferring lower cost online courses can help defray overall college costs

Can I take online courses while attending a college or a university?

Since Covid-19, online learning is readily available at both colleges and universities, through the institution, usually at the same tuition rate as campus classes. You can also take online college courses outside your school and transfer them in.

At StraighterLine for example, you can take low-cost, self-paced online courses and transfer them to your program at either a college or university while enrolled in your degree program. Our 150 partner colleges offer options to consider if you’re just starting your college search or you can use those same online courses for credit at accredited colleges and universities to knock out prerequisites, make up for lost time, or push ahead. Taking a mix of on-campus and online classes can not only reduce the cost of tuition and fees, it can also scale back travel, allow you to set your own schedule and pace for learning, and often graduate sooner.

If you’re thinking about earning your degree at a college or a university and have questions about online classes, read this article on the Advantages of Online Learning and discover why online learning might be the most flexible and affordable way to get started on your degree today.

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