When I taught English in Korea, many students asked me “what is the difference between ‘college’ and ‘university’?”
This is a good question.
In American English, the words college and university have basically the same meaning. There are some small differences, however.
In British English, college and university have more different meanings.
English Goals of this post:
- You will learn how American and British people use the words university and college.
- You will increase your vocabulary by understanding these two words.
College and University: American English
College and university have basically the same meaning in American English.
A lot of times, we usually use “college” unless we are talking about the specific name of the school.
When I was in college, I used to eat lots of pizza and drink lots of beer.
The college is only five miles away.
A: What college did you go to?
B: I went to Pitt.
The university has a great science program.
He represented the university at the debate event.
A: Where did you go to school?
B: I went to the University of Pittsburgh.
Note: Schools have nicknames, for example, “Pitt” is the nickname for “The University of Pittsburgh.”
Here is another perfectly normal and natural conversation:
John: “Where did you go to college?”
Jen: “I went to Carnegie Mellon University.”
See how we use both words the with the same meaning?
In this case, college is the general term, and university is used since it is the specific name of the school (Carnegie Mellon University).
College and University: British English
In British English, “college” and “university” have different meanings.
- University usually means “higher education”.
- Colleges are usually schools that prepare students for university.
British English Example Sentences:
John: “Where did you go to university?”
Jen: “I went to Cambridge University.”
When I was in university, I used to eat lots of pizza and drink lots of beer.
The university is only five kilometers away.
The Simplest Rules to Remember
- When in doubt, in American English, say college.
- When in doubt, in British English, say university.
There is a little bit more I could say on the differences between college and university, but to keep it simple for you, just remember that if you hear an American talking about college or a Brit talking about university, now you know what they mean!
Are there any other confusing words you have questions about? Please tell me them in the comment section.