Understanding universities and colleges

In this post, I share with you useful information on types of universities and colleges. By reading this post, you will have a better understanding of what universities and colleges are all about. I will expose also information on academic program offerings you can expect from these academic institutions.


A university is a large academic institution and often state-supported. Think of a university as a large college or containing several colleges such as College of Sciences, Liberal Arts College, etc. What academic programs can a university offer you? In general universities offer:

  • Four-Year Degree (or Bachelor of Science [B.S.] or baccalaureate degree) – this type of degree requires 120 to 136 credits or semester hours. A student pursuing a bachelor degree is referred to as "undergraduate".
  • Master's Degree – this requires one or two years of study beyond the bachelor study. A student pursing a graduate study (or master degree) is referred to as a graduate student. A thesis may also be required for this degree. There are number of variations on a master degree:
    • Master of Arts (M.A.)
    • Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.)
    • Master of Science (M.S.)
    • Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.)
  • Doctoral Degree – this is the highest academic achievement that a student can earn for studying three or more years beyond the graduate work. This degree requires a successful complete of a dissertation approved by faculty committee. After completing the degree program, the student earns a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.).
  • Professional degree – this type of degree is specific to a particular profession such as law, medicine, and pharmacy. It can take six or more academic years to complete such a program study.


Colleges often are specialized and tend to be smaller than universities. Colleges, when compared to universities, have a more restricted range of offerings. Among other offerings, colleges offer following degrees:

  • Associate of Arts (A.A.)
  • Associate of Science (A.S.)

Both of these degrees consist of a two-year study. After earning the degree, the student can attend a four-year college or university to pursue a bachelor degree. Anytime you take courses that you want to transfer to another college, it important to make certain that this is possible at the destination college. Be sure of this before you take a class or complete a study.

Types of colleges

  • Community colleges – these colleges are supported by a combination of state funds and local taxes.
  • Vocational colleges – these colleges are often private and for profit making. They train students in specific career field such as real estate, film making, accounting, and marketing (or advertising). A vocational study can often last two year or less.
  • Liberal arts colleges – these colleges offer degrees with concentrations of study in fields such as fine art, foreign languages, philosophy, and so on.
  • Technical or scientific colleges - these colleges offer degrees with concentrations of study in fields such as physics, mathematics, computing, engineering, and so on.

What is a community college? A community college is a two-year institution and they serve their communities. Community colleges do not offer student housing such as dorms. In general community colleges offer these types of programs of study:

  1. college preparatory programs
  2. college transfer programs
  3. college vocational programs

College preparatory programs

When you start at a community college, you are given an exam to test your writing, reading and math skills. If your test results show you need a review on a particular subject, the college offers you classes to improve your skills. By the way, not all students who enter a community college can write, read or do math at college level.

College transfer programs

Many students decide to go to community colleges to get the first two years of their college education. After completion of your study, you can expect to receive an Associate in Science (A.S.), or Associate in Arts (A.A) degree. It is great for putting on your resume or job application. But you can also use it for your future education.

If you attend a community college because you want to transfer your work (or two year degree) to a four-year college or university, make sure you:

  1. enroll in transferable classes
  2. find out of any additional admission requirements from the institution where you want to transfer your work

College vocational programs

Many community colleges now offer two-year vocational programs that lead directly into the job market. For instance, some of the types of such vocational programs include the following subjects: computer technology, arts, automotive, and so on. A completion of such a program offers Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree. Please note an A.A.S. cannot be used to transfer to a four-year university or college.

Community colleges are also a place where you can learn a foreign language (or improve your or English), learn to dance, learn to swim and more. Community colleges offer classes that are not specific to an academic field or job.

Why should anyone consider a community college?

Here is list of quick pluses of a community college:

  • class sizes are smaller (than a four-year college)
  • tuition is lower than tuition at a four-year college
  • easier (and almost immediate) admission, no admission tests (such as SATs)
  • you can attend part-time or register for online classes
  • less stressful environment
  • a smaller class size means you and other students have more opportunities to ask questions
  • chance to learn about other cultures as community colleges have a diverse student bodies
  • your work can be transferred to a four year institution
  • teachers at a community college want to teach rather than instruct, in general
Posted on 11/24/2006
by Raj Singh