What is a university?

Part 2 of this series will help youth understand the post-secondary education terminology, “university.”

As youth think about post-secondary education, they may hear the terms college, university or trade/technical school. This article is the second of a series that will describe what each of these institutions are and what one may be right for you. The first article was “What is a college?

What is university? According to Study in the USA, a university is a group of schools for studies after secondary school. At least one of these schools is a college where students receive a bachelor's degree. The other schools in a university are graduate (also known as postgraduate) schools where students receive advanced degrees. Therefore, a university offers both the bachelor's degree and graduate degrees such as the master's (MA) and doctorate (PhD).

You can earn a bachelor's degree at either a college or university. However, students in the United States of America prefer to use the word "college" rather than the word "university" when they talk about four-year undergraduate programs and the bachelor's degree. They use phrases like "going to college" and "a college degree" when they talk about undergraduate programs at either a college or a university.

US News states it is a misconception that all schools with university in their name are big. Some are relatively small, such as Marymount California University, which had a total enrollment of 985 students in fall 2016, per U.S. News data. As the pioneer land-grant institution, Michigan State University is a large public university while others are non-public. Private universities include, among many institutions, some of the Ivy League schools like Princeton University.

Before a college can receive a university status, it must meet a few requirements for at least five years:

  • It must have a graduate studies program and associated programs, plus they must be separate from the undergraduate program and the entire organization itself. It must also have staff whose primary responsibility is administering graduate and professional programs.​
  • It must have an undergraduate studies program that leads to a bachelor’s degree in a wide range of academic subjects plus a graduate studies program that leads to advanced degrees in a minimum of three different academic or professional fields.​
  • It must be able to financially support its graduate and professional programs and have the facilities and equipment required to exhibit the level of work needed in both.​
  • It must be accredited and depending on the state, possibly licensed and incorporated within the state.​

Universities have evolved into large, widespread institutions with different academic programs that serve a broad range of students throughout the United States and around the world.​

As a part of our work, Michigan State University Extension provides career education programming. To learn more about the positive impact of MSU Extension and Michigan 4-H career preparation, money management and entrepreneurship programs, read our 2017 Impact Report: “Preparing Youth for Future Employment.”

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