Thomas Edison State University By Thomas Edison State University • January 11, 2016

College vs. University: What's the Difference?

Higher education options for adult learners often include both colleges and universities, and differentiating and judging them can be difficult.

In the United States, colleges and universities are often discussed interchangeably with little to no realization of the difference between them. In fact, you'll likely consider yourself a 'college student' no matter which type of institution you attend. Even though this usage is perfectly acceptable, it's important to note that colleges and universities have several differences that could affect which type of school you choose.

So what is the real difference between a college and a university?

What Classifies a College?

Defined by the New Jersey Office of the Secretary of Higher Education, a college is a “postsecondary educational institution that provides instruction beyond the 12th grade level in programs that satisfy the requirements for a degree at the associate, baccalaureate or graduate level.” It offers a selection of undergraduate degree programs, though it may or may not provide any graduate studies at all.

What Classifies a University?

In the state of New Jersey, a university is awarded that title because it offers full undergraduate and graduate programs. However, before a college can apply for university status, there are a minimum of four requirements that must be met for at least five years:


A university provides undergraduate studies leading to a baccalaureate (bachelor’s) degree in a broad range of academic disciplines, as well as graduate studies leading to advanced degrees in at least three academic and/or professional fields. 


A university offers graduate studies and its associated programs distinct from undergraduate studies and the organization itself. A university also has staff whose primary responsibility is the administration of graduate and professional programs.


A university financially supports its graduate and professional programs, and offers the facilities and equipment necessary to reflect the level of work required in both.


A university must be accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Additionally, in New Jersey, it must be licensed by the secretary of Higher Education, incorporated and located within the state. 

Being known as a university more accurately describes the type of institution Thomas Edison is today. It has evolved into a large, comprehensive institution with diverse academic offerings that serve a wide range of students and organizations — in New Jersey, throughout the country and around the world. A university is what Thomas Edison has become.

Thomas Edison State University

Written by Thomas Edison State University

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