You’ve heard the terms university and college tossed around, and they seem to be completely interchangeable. “I want to find the best online colleges” or “My online university has this program”—for all intents and purposes it would seem that college and university mean the same thing. But the reality is that college and university mean different things, and it’s a good distinction to understand.
Both colleges and universities are part of what’s called “post-secondary education”, which is really just a fancy way to say any education beyond high school. Colleges, universities, trade schools, and more can all be considered post-secondary education. Most studies show that some post-secondary education is largely beneficial in helping someone find success in a career. There are many careers that require further study beyond high school.
A college is a post-secondary school that offers 4-year degrees, or bachelor’s degrees. These are often called undergraduate degrees as well. In most colleges, you are able to pick a specific speciality that you are majoring in, for example, in a business college you may decide you want a major emphasis in accounting or finance. This major is just part of your college degree, and many colleges will give you specific coursework to complete related to your chosen major.
So then, what is a university? A university is a “group” of schools that offer Master’s or Ph.D. degrees. This may seem a little confusing, so let’s dive in further. Western Governors University is an example of a university, because they offer graduate or master’s degree programs. But within WGU, there are colleges. For example, the college of nursing offers bachelor's degrees in nursing, the college of business offers bachelor's degrees in business. Both of these “colleges” are under the umbrella of the broader university. When undergraduate students attend a university, they graduate from the university but also from the “college of business” within that university. Their “college” degree is just that—a degree from their 4-year, bachelor’s degree college, as well from the university itself.
Online universities and colleges work the same way when it comes to this distinction. WGU is an online university that offers graduate degrees, but is also one of the top online colleges for offering bachelor’s degrees. When you’re searching for an online school, it’s important to understand if they are a college or university, depending on what degree you’d eventually like to get.
WGU is consistently ranked as a top online college and online university for both their bachelor’s and master’s programs. We offer the college of teaching, health & nursing, business, and information technology, as well as master’s or graduate degrees in those same fields. As an online university, our responsibility is to help students determine if a bachelor’s or master’s degree is right for them, and then help them learn the skills to take their degree to the real world.