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What’s the difference between a university, college, and community college?

4 Min Read
November 07, 2022

uni The terms 'college' and 'university' are pretty much used interchangeably in the U.S, which might be bemusing for some of us in Indonesia. Adding to the confusion is the word 'community college', which is highly advertised by most education consultants here. So, what are the differences among them? Which one should you attend? College vs University University and college are institutions that offer higher or tertiary education. This usually begins in the thirteenth year of education after high school. Both university and college offer four-year undergraduate programs (or program sarjana) from which will earn students bachelor degrees (or S1). Americans tend to refer to their undergraduate study in university as 'college', but this is just a matter of preference. The phrase 'going to college' basically means continuing into tertiary study. So… no differences? Yes there are. Schools that call themselves 'university' usually also offer graduate and/or post-graduate programs (or program pascasarjana), where students pursue graduate and doctoral degrees (or S2/S3) on top of a bachelor's degree; However, colleges do not. This means that a college may also be part of a university. For example, Harvard College houses all undergraduate programs for Harvard University. Both university and college have faculties or schools based on majors. Colleges offer a rather specific courses, while universities usually are larger and offer a wider options of courses. Community College Community college offers two-year degree program – a lower level of tertiary study. Students will obtain their associate's degree here. Those who plan to pursue a bachelor's degree MUST transfer from a community college to a college or university by the end of the two-year program, i.e. the '2+2' route. The Community College Route One benefit of attending a community college is the cost. Four-year schools cost easily 3-5 times more than community colleges (especially for international students), according to a 2014 study by the College Board. While saving some money, students are able to take time to figure out what they really wanted to study and why. This is possible given the notion of the American education system that allows students to declare their majors only by the end of sophomore year (or year 2). Community colleges also give students a second chance to improve their grades or eligibility for admission to desired universities. Plus, community college students may enjoy smaller class size (~25-35 students); large universities tend to have >100 students for their introductory courses. This route is also best fitted to those who look to learning more technical and practical skills and if the career they want to pursue does not require a bachelor's degree. However, it is important to note that there is a lack of 'campus life' and university experiences due to limited campus facilities, student clubs, and athletic programs in community colleges. Students need to make sure to take the right courses and stay in close contact with their transfer adviser. The Direct College or University Route It is a good place to start for those who already know what they want to study or where they want to go. Applying straight to your dream school could be your best bet to get in. This is because there are not many slots available in that particular university or college unless a lot of students transfer out from them. The number of accepted transfer students also varies from one school to another and year by year. It is unpredictable. Heading straight to a four-year school also provides many social opportunities – housing, on-campus jobs, and wide array of student organizations. Students are able to make connections that can be beneficial post-college. Now, should you attend a college or a university? Both of them are basically equal academically. It all depends on what field you are interested in as some institutions might be more specialized in that particular field than others. For example, if you are more interested in doing research, university tends to have better focus on researches as they are generally larger and thus receive higher overall funding. Go with What's Best for You In the end, nothing is more important than getting into the school where you can maximize your learning potential and pursue your interests. This depends on your characters and personalities, aspirations, learning styles, and expectations of college experience in general. It is best to not only research your options, but also discuss with existing students or alumni from the universities of your choice. Consultation with the right admission advisor would also help you save a lot of time from getting lost in the information, to narrow down your choices, and to find your best-fit school.