College vs. University
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College vs. University: Differences, Admission Requirements, Degrees and More

When deciding on the next step in their academic career, many students are faced with the choice between a college and a university. Both educational institutions offer different courses of study and degree options, but also have some differences. In this article, we'll take a closer look at the difference between colleges and universities, explain the admission requirements for both institutions, highlight the various degrees, and provide an overview of the key differences.

What is the difference between a College and a University?

College and university are two different types of educational institutions that differ in their offerings, focus, and approach.

  • A University offers a wide range of departments and courses of study. Here you can find study programs such as medicine, pharmacy, humanities or teaching, which are usually offered exclusively at universities. The approach to study at universities is more theoretical and scientific. You will dive deep into the theory of your field and have the opportunity to take interdisciplinary modules. At universities, there is often greater freedom in course selection, but it also requires good self-organization.
  • Colleges or Universities of applied science are more practice-oriented. Here, the focus is on applied research and practical training. The range of universities mainly includes courses in the natural sciences, economics and technology. Through integrated practical semesters and hands-on projects, universities prepare their students for the demands of the working world. Teaching at universities often takes place in smaller groups, which allows for more intensive supervision.

What constitutes a University?

At a university, you have the opportunity to choose your desired course of study from a wide range of subject areas. Some degree programs, such as pharmacy or medicine, are usually offered exclusively at universities. Humanities and teaching degree programs are also mainly found at universities. The study approach at universities is more theoretical and focuses more on scientific aspects. You dive deep into the theory of your field. The course selection is very flexible, and you can, for example, also try out modules from other departments. However, the high degree of freedom requires good organization in order not to lose the overview.

What constitutes a College or University of Applied Sciences?

Universities are more practice-oriented. They place an emphasis on applied research, which is why they are also called "universities of applied sciences" in English. The range of universities is also diverse, with a focus on natural sciences, economics and technical courses. Through integrated practical semesters and practical projects, studies at a university are more strongly oriented toward the free economy and the working world. At universities, you study in smaller groups and in a more personal atmosphere. The supervision is more intensive. The university system is a little more "school-like," but you have the opportunity to focus on content according to your own interests. Since the introduction of Bachelor's and Master's degrees, a similar modular structure has applied at both universities and colleges.

Admission requirements at Colleges and Universities

Admission requirements for colleges and universities may vary by country and institution. In general, however, the following requirements apply:


  • General university entrance qualification (Abitur) or equivalent university entrance qualification.
  • Depending on the course of study, certain subject combinations or minimum grades may be required.
  • In some cases, aptitude tests or entrance examinations may be required.


  • Advanced technical college entrance qualification or an equivalent university entrance qualification.
  • In some cases, completed vocational training with relevant work experience may serve as an admission requirement.
  • At some colleges, aptitude tests or selection interviews are part of the application procedure.

It is also possible to study without a high school diploma. A master craftsman's certificate, advanced training (e.g. as an IHK Fachwirt/in) or at least two years of vocational training followed by at least 3 years of professional experience (full-time) can count as a university entrance qualification.

College and University Degrees

At both colleges and universities, you can earn various academic degrees. The type of degree depends on your specific choice of study. Here are the most common degrees at colleges and universities:


  • Bachelor's degree: The bachelor's degree is the undergraduate degree at colleges and usually comprises 6 to 8 semesters. With a bachelor's degree, you acquire a first professional qualification.
  • Master: The master's degree is an advanced degree and lasts about 4 to 5 semesters. It builds on a bachelor's degree and enables in-depth specialization in a particular field.


  • Bachelor: You can also earn a bachelor's degree at universities. The duration and structure of studies are similar to those at universities.
  • Master: The master's degree at universities is also in-depth and builds on a bachelor's degree.
  • Doctorate: If you want to pursue an academic career, you can earn a doctorate at a university. As a rule, universities have the exclusive right to award doctorates.

There are also other specialized degrees such as the Staatsexamen degree, which is required for certain professional degree programs such as medicine or law. These are mainly offered at universities.

Differences in the course of study

The course of study at colleges and universities may also vary.


At colleges, the timetable is often more structured. The lectures, exercises and internships are fixed and there is less freedom to choose courses. There is usually also an integrated internship semester, during which you can gain your first work experience. The study groups are usually smaller, which allows for more intensive supervision.


At universities, there is often more freedom in putting together your schedule. You can choose from a wide range of courses and have more flexibility in organizing your studies. However, this also requires good self-organization and initiative. Study groups can be larger, which can lead to less personal attention.

The choice between College and University

A University might be the right choice if you:

  • are looking for a broad selection of disciplines and courses of study.
  • you are enthusiastic about theoretical and scientific issues.
  • are looking for an in-depth specialization in a subject area.
  • you want to pursue an academic career or work in research and development.


What is the basic difference between a College and a University?

The fundamental difference lies in the orientation and focus. Colleges place a stronger focus on practice-oriented training, while universities concentrate on scientific research.

What types of degrees can be earned at a College or University?

  • At a college, various degrees such as the bachelor's and master's degrees can be obtained.
  • At a university, in addition to the bachelor's and master's degrees, doctoral and post-doctoral degrees can also be obtained.

Is there a difference in course content and focus between colleges and universities?

Yes, colleges often place more emphasis on practical content and application, while universities offer a broader range of academic subjects and research areas.

Do colleges and universities offer different teaching methods and study structures?

Yes, colleges often focus on practical teaching methods and often offer modular courses, while universities focus on theoretical foundations and a broader combination of subjects.

Most important differences between College and University:

Criteria College University
Study programs Focus on natural sciences, economics, and engineering Broad range of courses, including humanities, teacher training programs, and specific courses such as medicine and pharmacy
Study orientation Practical, applied and application-oriented focus Theoretical and scientific focus
Theory vs. practice Focus on applied research and practice-oriented projects In-depth theoretical knowledge and scientific research
Group size and supervision Smaller study groups and more personal supervision Larger study groups and less personal supervision
Organization of studies Structured timetable and partly integrated practical semesters More freedom in course selection and independent organization of studies
Degrees Bachelor, Master, Diplom (in certain courses) Bachelor, Master, doctorate (PhD)
Doctoral opportunities Possible in cooperation with universities or special programs Direct doctoral opportunities for obtaining a doctoral degree
Professional orientation Practical orientation for entry into the working world Preparation for an academic career or specific professional fields
Emphasis and specialization Flexibility in determining content emphases Majority of prescribed study content

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