Written by: David L. Drysdale
So, you’ve decided to enroll in one of literally thousands of universities and colleges across the United States. At this point it may be a good idea to familiarize yourself with some of the language used by counselors and other enrollment specialists at these institutions of higher learning. Let’s first begin by looking at the difference between a college and a university in the United States.
Generally speaking, a university is made up of several colleges. For example, the University of California, Berkeley, has a College of Chemistry, College of Engineering, and so on. Therefore, when you hear the word “university,” think of the whole, and when you hear the word “college,” think of the parts of the whole. Now, you may have heard an American say, “My son is going to college!” However, you may have also heard that same person say, “My daughter is going to the university!” Both are correct, as Americans often use the two words interchangeably.
Sometimes the difference between a college and university refers to the institutions’ size and the degrees or diplomas they offer. For example, some institutions, frequently smaller, only offer an undergraduate degree, a bachelor’s or an associate degree, and are called “colleges”. Other institutions, generally larger, offer an undergraduate degree, as well as a master’s degree, and are called “universities”.
By the way, in the US when someone says, “I am completing an associate’s degree,” he or she is referring to a two-year degree. When they say, “I am completing a bachelor’s degree,” he or she is referring to a four-year degree. In addition, when you hear an American speak of a master’s degree or say, “I am a graduate student,” we assume he or she has already completed a bachelor’s degree and is now going on to complete, generally over two more years, a master’s degree.
Probably the most common question you will hear on every campus across America is, “What’s your major?” In other words, what exactly are you studying, or what type of diploma are you pursuing? Your major is your main subject, but you will probably be taking other subjects as well.
Associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, and master’s degrees fall into two categories: Associate of Science (AS) or Associate of Art (AA), Bachelor of Science (BS) or Bachelor of Arts (BA), Master of Science (MS) or Master of Arts (MA).
I hope that’s a good start!
David L. Drysdale
US terminologies clarified – college versus university, and different degrees