Colleges vs. Universities – Are colleges less expensive than universities?

We typically use the words, ‘college’ and ‘university,’ interchangeably, however, while both institutions offer undergraduate education, there are key differences between colleges and universities all students should be aware of when choosing to attend either a college or university. 

Universities are public or private institutions offering undergraduate and graduate degrees. Public universities tend to be much larger than private universities. In contrast, colleges are typically four-year undergraduate schools offering a smaller class size and no graduate degrees. Further, the word, ‘college,’ may refer to community, vocational and technical colleges that mostly offer students associate degrees and certificates. Vocational and technical colleges are also focused and offer professional specifications.

A similarity among universities and colleges including vocational, trade, and community colleges is the availability of federal student aid through FAFSA. According to the College Board, the average published yearly tuition and fees at a community college is $3,440 and, a third of community college students receive federal student aid through FAFSA. 

Students are eligible for the same types of financial aid at a two-year community college and four-year institution. In addition, accredited trade schools are eligible for federal student aid, and, specifically, programs lasting longer than 15 weeks are eligible for all types of student aid including grants and student loans. But students in programs shorter than 15 weeks are only eligible for the Direct Loan program.

Further, a small percentage of community college students have student debt because only 18% of community college students borrow federal student loans compared to the 50% of federal loan borrowers at four-year institutions, per Forbes. On the other hand, tuition fees for two years or less in vocational and trade schools range from, on average,  $3,600 to $14,500 per year. However, the cost of vocational and trade schools is dependent on the program. Some community colleges also offer certification programs for $2,500 or less. It all just depends on the degree you’re seeking and the college experience you hope to receive.