BY PETER VAN BUSKIRK
It’s common for people in the U.S. to refer to all places of higher education as “colleges.” You notice this when you’re asked, “What do you want to study when you go to college?” It’s less common to hear terms such as “university” or “technical institute,” which are common in other parts of the world.
When you hear a reference to a specific institution, it’s often to the official name, such as University of Michigan or Pepperdine University, or to a nickname (Penn or Cal Tech) or popular acronym (NYU, BC).
The identities we give institutions, as well as the generic references we make to “college,” tend to obscure the substantial differences between colleges and universities. Both offer valuable educational experiences and learning opportunities, but colleges and universities differ in the way they are structured and organized.
A university is a complex institution that is typically comprised of different levels of study: undergraduate, graduate and doctoral. Each level includes distinct colleges (College of Arts and Sciences, College of Business, College of Engineering) defined by courses and programs specific to that college. The resources of each college, such as faculty, libraries and labs, are shared by the students at each level of study within it.
Some universities place great emphasis on advanced study and research. Their academic facilities are quite impressive and often include hospitals and grant-supported research facilities. Other universities are defined as such due to the multiple layers of study that extend to the doctoral level.
When you apply for admission to a university, you need to indicate the specific undergraduate college in which you wish to study. A change in academic interests may result in the need to transfer from one college of the university to another.
By contrast, a college (independent of a university) offers a relatively simple institutional structure. It does not have multiple levels of study or divisions within its program of study. All its resources are devoted to undergraduate education.
A liberal-arts college, for example, stands alone as a four-year undergraduate program. Its counterpart in the university, the College of Arts and Sciences, is part of a larger, more complex structure in which its students must compete with other elements of the institution for resources.
When you apply to a college that stands apart, you are less likely to have to commit to a particular academic program. In fact, many liberal-arts colleges will urge you not to declare a major until the end of your second year.
OTHER TERMS TO KNOW
Other types of institutions you may encounter in the U.S. include:
WHICH MAKES SENSE FOR YOU?
Do you have questions about getting into U.S. colleges and universities? Send them to Peter Van Buskirk at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Peter Van Buskirk, former dean of admission at Franklin & Marshall College, is founder of Best College Fit. For more tips,visit his website: www.bestcollegefit.com.)
Excerpted from Prepare, Compete, Win! Copyright Peter Van Buskirk. All rights Reserved.