The difference between a university and a college in the United States may not be apparent for individuals who grew up in or come from other parts of the world. The term college has different meanings depending on the country of origin and may confuse international students interested in studying in the United States. However, selecting a school for higher learning entail more than picking a university or college to attend. Other factors also play, including financial implications, duration, and flexibility. This essay compares and contrasts a community college and a large university based on programs and degrees offered, cost, and admission requirements.
The significant difference between a university and a community college is the types of programs and degrees offered. Most community colleges offer associate’s degree programs that last for only two years or less depending on one’s enrolment status and carries 60 credit, whether full or part-time. Associates degrees prepare one for a university degree and can also be used to apply for jobs requiring a two-year degree as the qualification. One can do the first two years of general education at a community college and then transition to a traditional university for the remaining two years for a bachelor’s degree award. After completing their first two years at a community college, students can transition to a university, starting at junior level for a bachelor’s degree. They earn their bachelor’s degree after completing a two-year study at the university. Most community colleges only offer associate degrees and certificates in specific careers, but not bachelor’s degree programs.
On the other hand, universities offer programs that lead to bachelor’s degrees, doctorate and master’s awards, and take longer to complete. A bachelor’s degree takes four years or more subject to the course. Most universities have colleges within them, such as the college of engineering. However, both universities and community colleges offer varieties of programs of study. A community college provides a variety of associate degrees and certificates, while a university has many bachelor’s degree programs, masters, and PhDs. Besides, both community colleges and universities offer general education requirements also termed as “gen-eds.” Students spend the first two years on “gen-eds,” including math or history, regardless of their specialization at a four-year university program. This implies that whether one is pursuing biology or engineering, they will have to take some standard units or general education requirements similar to community colleges.
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Alongside the programs and degrees offered, the cost is another significant difference between universities and community colleges and an important determinant when selecting a school. Community colleges are way cheaper than traditional universities. The average cost per year of fees and tuition for a two-year college program is about US$3,440 for local students, according to data by CollegeBoard (2021). However, the same source also quoted annual cost for a four-year bachelor’s degree program in a public university at US$9,410 for in-state learners and US$23,890 for international or out-of-state learners. A private four-year university program costs up to $32,410 in fees and tuition annually (CollegeBoard 2021). The cost difference between the two programs is enormous. Because of the significant cost differences, many students prefer to start with a two-year associate degree in their local community colleges and go to universities for a bachelor’s degree. However, it is vital always to check if your credits and the degree program will transfer when transitioning. Maybe the only similarity between community colleges and universities concerning cost is that students pay tuition and fees in both cases.
Another significant difference between a community college and a university lies in the admission requirements. Community colleges have less strict admission requirements compared to a university. Many community colleges have open admission policies, implying that students who graduate from high school can apply and get admission. However, some community colleges offering engineering technology, law enforcement, nursing, and health course may have strict admission policies. On the one hand, most universities have pickier admission requirements and procedures, and students have to do more than just submitting an application letter. Some universities’ admission requirements demand that students take particular courses and get specific high school grades to be accepted. Some also require students to complete essay questions and get a minimum score on the SAT or ACT to receive admission. Because of the extensive requirements for college admission, one can begin with an associate degree at a community college and score good grades then proceed to apply for university admission.
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Overall, major differences exist between a community college and a university than similarities, with the most notable ones being the type of programs offered, costs and admission requirements. Most community colleges offer associate degrees and other certificates that take two years or less to complete, while most university programs lead to bachelor’s degree, masters or doctorate degree. Community colleges are also more affordable than universities, with cost in the latter going three times or more annually than the former. Universities also have most strict admission requirements than community colleges. Because of the differences, one can begin at a community college level and proceed for a bachelor’s degree at a university later after securing a job. However, it is vital to check if your credits and the degree program will transfer when transitioning.
CollegeBoard (2021). College Costs: FAQs. BigFuture. https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/pay-for-college/college-costs/college-costs-faqs