Here are the main differences between four-year colleges and universities:
Colleges offer four-year Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degrees. Some also offer a two-year Associate of Arts (A.A.) degree.
Colleges can be specialized (for example, in nursing) or they can offer a broad curriculum, like the liberal arts which focus on the humanities, social sciences, and sciences.
For more on degrees, visit our Learning About College Degrees section.
Universities can be quite large and usually include a liberal arts college, some professional colleges, and graduate programs. This means they can offer two-year and four-year degrees as well as graduate degrees in advanced studies beyond four years.
Universities offer a huge course selection and may have extensive resources. Class size varies, depending on the size of the school, the subject area, and the course level. University professors are usually involved in research. Graduate students, rather than professors, teach some of the classes. (These graduate students are called teaching assistants or TAs.)
Public vs. private schools
Public colleges and universities are subsidized by the state where the school is located and are generally less expensive than private colleges and universities. The lowest tuition rates go to residents of that state; out-of-state students tend to pay higher tuition and fees.
Private schools provide their own funding and tend to be more expensive than public schools. Because they are not tax-supported, private schools also tend to be more innovative in developing college financing plans, tuition assistance programs, and financial aid award packages.
Don't rule out any schools just because of cost. Expensive schools might offer more financial aid.
Keep in mind, if your financial aid award includes student loans, the money you borrow must be repaid.
Planning for school
Sallie Mae's Education Investment Planner® can help you make educated decisions about education financing.