A college is an educational institution. However, the exact meaning of the term varies among English-speaking countries.

Table of contents
1 United States of America
2 United Kingdom
3 Canada
4 New Zealand
5 Australia
6 The non-English-speaking world

United States of America

In American English all universities are colleges, but not all colleges are universities. Examples of colleges which do not qualify as universities include many liberal arts colleges (which provide tertiary education), and most community colleges (which also provide post-secondary education). The distinction from universities is often based on colleges' providing tertiary education with associate and bachelor's degrees, but not quaternary education (awarding masters degrees or doctorates).

The definitions of different names vary between the states, each of which operates its own institutions, and licenses private ones. In 1996 for example, Georgia changed all of its four-year colleges to universities, and all of its vocational technology schools to technical colleges. (Previously, only the four research institutions were called universities.) Other states have changed names of individual colleges, many having started as a teachers college or vocational school (such as an A&M agricultural and mechanical school), and ended up as a full-fledged state university.

A college or (school) may also be a semi-autonomous part of a university, such as the College of Engineering at Anywhere State University, as an example. These are not fully autonomous however, as in the U.K. Other names used for full college institutions include "academy" and "institute", as in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology [1], or United States Military Academy at West Point [1].

United Kingdom

British usage of the word "college" is somewhat generic, referring to university colleges, further education colleges (for any age student, and usually for any level), divided into technical colleges and community colleges and sixth form (ages 16-18) colleges. Some public schools also have the ancient right to the title of college, such as Eton and Winchester.

In certain universities in the United Kingdom (Cambridge, Oxford, and Durham), a college comprises both a hall of residence and an independent part of a university. Colleges admit their own students, provide accommodation, meals, common rooms, libraries, sports and social facilities. Through the tutorial system they also teach students. The New Universities of Kent, Lancaster and York have also adopted this "collegiate" system, although their colleges do not enjoy financial independence from their universities.

Officially, the University of London consists of a number of colleges. However, each of these "colleges" is now essentially an independent university-level institution. In the University of Wales, colleges are the lower tier of institutional membership, below constituent institutions, following the reorganisation of the University in 1996. Prior to this, the member institutions were all colleges. There are not currently any colleges in the University of Wales (although some of the constituent institutions have 'college' in their name), but this is likely to change in the future.


In Canada, the term "college" usually refers to a technical, applied arts or applied science school - a post-secondary diploma-granting institution that is not a university, but exceptions to this exist. In Quebec, it can refer in particulary to CEGEP, a form of post-secondary education in the Quebec education system.

New Zealand

In the North Island of New Zealand the word "college" normally refers to a secondary school for ages 13 to 17 -- what South Islanders generally call a high school. Wellington College enjoys its right to be named a College by virtue of affiliation to the former University of New Zealand.

The constituent colleges of the former University of New Zealand (such as Canterbury University College) have become independent universities.

Some halls of residence associated with New Zealand universities retain the name of "college" - particularly at the University of Otago. Official tutoring does not figure largely in their activities.

The institutions formerly known as "Teacher-training colleges" now style themselves "College of education".


In Australia, the term "college" can refer to an institution of tertiary education that is smaller than a university, run independently or as part of a university. Following a reform in the 1980s many of the formerly independent colleges now belong to a larger university. Many private high schools that provide secondary education are called "colleges" in Australia. The term can also be used to refer to residence halls, as in the United Kingdom, but compared to the UK their tutorial programs are relatively small-scale and they do no actual teaching towards academic degrees (with the exception of one or two that host theological colleges).

The non-English-speaking world

Germany a Hochschule is an institute of tertiary education. "College" is a more proper term to use than a direct translation: Hochschule literally means "high school". German secondary education often takes place in an institition called in German a gymnasium.

In Sweden the term "university college" is used for independent educational institutions providing tertiary, but not quaternary education. Similarly to the situation in Germany, the Swedish term högskola means "high school". That term is also used for a number of institutions which function as specialized universities rather than as university colleges, providing quaternary education and conducting research.

In Japan, colleges and universities are collectively called daigaku, from an old Chinese word.

See also: University, List of colleges and universities