The Difference Between College and University: Part One


In grades 11 and 12, many students find themselves at a complex crossroads, trying to decide between college and university programs. In most cases, the educational requirements of one’s desired career will strongly influence which of the two pathways will be more suitable, but factors such as class size, geography and cost will also be part of the decision.  

Before applying to a college or university, it is important to chat with one of our Educational Consultants to review requirements, both academic and non-academic, and to discuss which option will be the best fit. To assist high school students in the exciting, intricate process of post-secondary planning, we have outlined the key characteristics that distinguish Canadian colleges and universities from one another. 

Duration of study

University: The standard undergraduate degree obtained at a university is a Bachelor’s, which usually takes four to five years to complete. Toward the end of their studies, students can elect to pursue an Honours degree, which enriches their Bachelor’s through additional, research-based courses that may culminate in a major project or thesis. The Honours distinction is advantageous for those wishing to pursue graduate studies (eg: a Master’s Degree), or those wanting to engage in research work upon graduation. 

College: Colleges offer a variety of degree options, which vary in length. Depending on the program and institution, students may pursue a two-year Associate’s Degree, a one- or two-year Certificate or a two-year Diploma. Some Ontario colleges also offer an Advanced Diploma option, which usually takes three years to earn. Colleges, just like universities, can also offer Bachelor’s degrees in applied areas of study, which take three to five years to complete. Upon graduation from college or university, students can pursue further studies in the form of a post-graduate diploma or certificate, which specializes and enriches one’s skills. 

Action: Students should think about how many years they will want to dedicate to their studies. 

Campus size

University: University campuses come in all shapes and sizes. Generally, universities are categorized as small (fewer than 10,000 students), medium (up to 25,000 students), and large (over 25,000 students). Canada’s largest university by student population is the University of Toronto, which has nearly 90,000 students enrolled across its undergraduate and graduate programs. Typically, the larger the student body, the more expansive the university’s campus. Universities normally have multiple buildings spread out across campus, each of which represents the different faculties, departments, and areas of study. 

College: Like universities, colleges differ in size and student population. However, colleges are usually smaller than universities. In fact, the college with the highest student enrolment is Humber College, located in downtown Toronto, with just over 27,000 students registered. Generally, college campuses are contained, with one large building, or a few central buildings located in proximity to one another. 

Action: Students should consider multiple factors, like campus walkability, privacy, and busyness. 

Don’t forget to check in with your educational consultant to learn more about which type of program is the right fit for you, and stay tuned for Part Two later this week.

We help you navigate the complex post-secondary selection process in Canada, the United States, the UK and abroad.

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