Blog - Detail Page

June 30, 2022

Is there a difference between college and university?


The journey is as important as the destination, as the saying goes, and when you're trying to plan a route to your dream career, nothing could be more accurate. Both colleges and universities can play an essential role in helping students climb their chosen career ladder, but which is right for you?

What is the difference between college and university? 

Both a college and a university allow students to build upon their school education. Some students need to further their education at a college to attain the entry requirements of a university undergraduate degree. For others, a college offers the type of vocational course that will prepare them for the job they’d love to do.



There are fundamental differences between colleges and universities, starting with their size. Colleges are generally smaller than universities in terms of their student enrollment, class sizes and the size of the campus itself. Though there are exceptions to this rule, colleges tend to have less accommodation provision in the form of halls of residence on campus than universities. Traditionally, people attending college tend to choose one that is close to where they live, allowing them to commute from home easily. 


Universities are bigger because they have more departments and research facilities, reflecting the broader range of undergraduate and graduate programmes on offer.

Level of education 

The level of study differs between colleges and universities. Colleges offer further education in the form of certificates and diploma courses, and it is increasingly common to find undergraduate courses at colleges too. University provides higher education in the form of undergraduate degrees up to the highest level of academic achievement – the doctorate.


Study duration

The duration of study at a college is generally shorter. Most students initially study for one or two years at college, moving on to a further year if they choose to progress a diploma to an undergraduate degree. At university, a minimum of three or four years of study is standard at undergraduate level.


The cost of tuition is usually lower at a college. The cost of living in a college town also tends to be lower than the equivalent costs in a popular university town. University tuition costs are greater, reflecting the higher education level and the advanced provision of facilities and resources.

What subjects can you study at college vs university?

Studying the most relevant subjects is key to working your way into a career that excites and fulfils you. Both a College and a University offer their prospective students a wide range of subjects to study, with universities providing further opportunities to specialize and carry out research within a subject.

In addition to providing courses relating to science, healthcare, language, music, business, accounting and engineering, colleges also offer a range of vocational subjects. These hands-on courses allow students to develop the knowledge and practical skills that enable them to graduate fully trained, and get ready to start working in that field. Vocational subjects include construction trades like plumbing and carpentry, beauty, social care and healthcare.

At university, vocational subjects aren't generally offered. Instead, you carry out an academic, in-depth broad study of a subject at undergraduate level, followed by research-based study in a specialist field at postgraduate levels.

Which is better, college or university?

When it comes to which institution is better, the answer is determined by what you want to do in life. If you're itching to get into the world of work and feel your passion that lies in a vocational career; the college route is probably best.

If your heart lies in academia or a specialized career in science, medicine or law, an undergraduate degree is your best first step. You can choose college or university for this first step, but the university route is advisable if you know you're likely to want to further your studies.

Abu Dhabi University prides itself on creating a welcoming, inclusive environment for under- and postgraduate students. One of the joys of the Abu Dhabi University experience is the large, multinational student body, the vibrant social scene and the plethora of part-time work opportunities in the locality. When you've made the brave decision to move away from home to pursue your studies, forming a supportive network of fellow students is all-important. And there's plenty of fun to be had and memories to be made with new friends in Abu Dhabi.

Students at ADU benefit from academic opportunities afforded by state-of-the-art facilities, and the university has forged excellent relationships with a range of industries. This offers students "real world" experiences in their chosen field and superb opportunities for career networking. If university is right for you, give yourself the best start by selecting a university that will encourage all aspects of your life to flourish. Take a look at our guide to choosing the right bacherlor’s degree.



Back to top