Colleges 101: Terms & Definitions

The college admissions process can often be confusing, with dates and terms that seem mysterious. Here are some basic terms to keep in mind as you navigate the process:

College and University: What’s the Difference?

  • College: generally focused on undergraduate programs only (does not offer advanced degrees such as Master’s, Ph.D., etc.); frequently smaller than a university
  • University: focused on both undergraduate and graduate programs, offering advanced degrees (Master’s, Ph.D.) in addition to undergrad degrees; may also house professional schools such as law and medical schools

What Degree Will You Get?

  • Bachelor of Arts (BA) Degree: 4-year degree; usually less specialized than a BS degree; normally awarded in such majors as the languages, literature, other humanities, and history
  • Bachelor of Science (BS) Degree: 4-year degree; often involves technical fields; normally awarded in such majors as the physical and biological sciences, engineering, and agriculture
  • Associate’s Degree: 2-year degree awarded for completing the equivalent of the first two years of a degree at a 4-year college; degrees include Associate of Arts, Associate of Sciences and Associate of Applied Sciences (for completing a vocational or technical program)

School Size

  • Small: fewer than 5,000 students, on average; small schools tend to be private liberal-arts schools but there are some smaller public colleges as well
  • Mid-Sized: between 5,000-15,000 students; many colleges (including a number of the Ivies) fit this category
  • Large: more than 15,000 students; the majority of colleges and universities fall into this category, which includes the smaller state universities and largest private schools
  • Huge: more than 30,000 students (ex: Penn State, UT, Texas A&M, Ohio State, U of Florida)