career-focused university in connecticut

College vs. University: Which is Right for You?

Close to 20 million Americans set out for a postsecondary degree each year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Some enroll in a college. Some attend a university.

If you are considering going to school for your degree, you may have a list of prospective colleges and universities to explore. Each school may differ in their program offerings, their class sizes, their locations and campuses. However, you may be wondering about the real difference between a college and a university.

College and university are two terms often used interchangeably. In the United States, “college” is often used to describe any degree-granting, postsecondary institution – while “university” is more commonly used  in other countries, such as the UK. For example, in the U.S., you are more likely to hear phrases like, “I am a college student” and “I go to college,” no matter which type of institution a person attends. This begs the question, are colleges and universities the same?

While there is no standard or strict definition of a college or a university, there are some key distinctions between the two types of schools. As a general rule of thumb, university is used to describe institutions that offer both undergraduate and graduate degrees, while colleges offer only undergrad programs. Often, universities are bigger in size and scale than colleges. Of course, there are exceptions to both rules. Some colleges offer master’s degrees, and some universities offer small and intimate classes.

Let’s dive into these both a bit more below.

What is a College?

The term “college” is generally used to describe a degree-granting, postsecondary institution. Most colleges emphasize undergraduate education, such as associate and bachelor’s degree programs. Colleges tend to offer small class sizes, close-knit campuses, and small teacher-to-student ratios.

Of course, every college is unique. There are also many types of colleges out there today, including:

  • Career colleges, which focus on teaching students job-specific skills
  • Community colleges, which mostly offer short-term programs (two years or less)
  • Liberal arts colleges, which offer degrees in a broad range of subjects

What is a University?

A university is a degree-granting, higher education institution. Typically, universities offer both undergraduate and graduate degrees, from associate to master’s and doctorate level programs. For aspiring students, this allows significant opportunity for growth and continued education.

Universities are often larger in scale than colleges. This means they can have larger student bodies and larger class sizes. Or, it can simply mean that the university offers a larger scope of program offerings than you’d find at a college institution.

One key differentiator of colleges and universities is that universities can be comprised of several schools. For example, Harvard University has several “sub-schools” under their umbrella, like Harvard School of Law and Harvard Business School. Goodwin University, as another example, is comprised of three distinct schools under which our programs fall:

  • The School of Nursing and Health Professions
  • The School of Business, Technology, and Advanced Manufacturing
  • The School of Applied Liberal Arts and Social Sciences

A common misconception is that a university is a big school, when in reality, universities (and colleges) can vary exponentially in size. The largest universities in the United States have upward of 50,000 students. The smallest colleges have just hundreds of students. That leaves, of course, a lot of middle ground. Goodwin University, for example, has a current enrollment of about 3,300 students. While this is bigger than some colleges, Goodwin also ensures small class sizes for a more individualized learning experience. The average class size is 15 students, and 98 percent of our courses are under 30 students. We have a 10:1 student-to-faculty ratio, versus the national average of about 18:1.

Which is the Best Fit for You?

To determine whether a college or university is right for you, consider your personal preferences and your career goals. Rather than deciding between a college or university, think about the different components that a specific institution offers, and ask these questions:

  • Does my future career require a graduate degree, and does the school offer it?
  • Do I want the option to pursue a graduate degree down the road, and can I at this school?
  • What type of environment do I learn best in, and will the school accommodate my needs?
  • Do I feel more comfortable with a small or large class size, or somewhere in between?
  • Do I want to be on a large campus, small campus, or somewhere in between?
  • Does the college or university offer a program that aligns with my career goals?
  • Is the college or university accredited?

By determining what you need out of a college or university – and what you want out of the college experience – you will better understand which (and which type of) institution is right for you.

Goodwin College to Goodwin University

In January 2020, Goodwin College became Goodwin University. During the 20 years prior, Goodwin was highly regarded as a career-focused college in Connecticut, where aspiring and hard-working students would come to pursue specialized degrees in their future professions – such as nursing, manufacturing, healthcare, business administration, and criminal justice. As of the new year, Goodwin’s name now reflects the expanded program offerings (specifically, graduate programs) that have developed. Today, we now offer master’s degrees in Public Health, Nursing, and Organizational Leadership.

As Goodwin President Mark Steinberg explains, “Over the past two decades, Goodwin has evolved from a technology training center into a leading nonprofit institution of higher learning that offers certificate programs as well as associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees. Not only does ‘University’ better reflect our range of offerings, it advances our mission to make a quality, career-focused education more accessible to a greater number of students.”

Goodwin University is a nonprofit institution of higher education located in Greater Hartford, Connecticut and is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE). We offer on-campus courses as well as online programs, for added convenience. Because most of our student body is working while going to school, our degree programs are offered in part-time and full-time formats, with day, night, and weekend options available.

To learn about the various career-focused programs at Goodwin University, please call 800-889-3282 or visit us online at