A college (Latin collegium) can be the name of any group of colleagues; originally it meant a group of people living together under a common set of rules (con-, "together" + leg-, "law"). As a consequence members of colleges were originally styled "fellow" and still are in some places. However, it is most often used today to denote an educational institution. The precise usage of the term varies among English-speaking countries.
British usage of the word "college" remains the loosest, encompassing a range of institutions:
- certain public schools for children (Eton and Winchester, e.g.)
- certain secondary schools, particularly "sixth form colleges", where students (ages 16-18) wrap up their secondary education
- the constituent parts of some universities (see below)
- other assorted educational institutions outside the traditional degree-granting structure (ranging from the old and distinguished, such as the Royal College of Organists, to the newest attempts at adult education). This includes university colleges — independent higher education institutions that have been granted degree-awarding powers but not university status.
Universities and colleges
Oxford and Cambridge
The two ancient universities of England (Cambridge and Oxford), are really federations of autonomous colleges. While many of the student affairs functions are housed in the colleges, each college is more than a residence hall: not only does it provide accommodation, meals, common rooms, libraries, sporting and social facilities for its students, it also admits them in the first place and, through tutorials or supervisions, does much of the work of instructing them. (Each university as a whole, by contrast, offers lectures, examines for degrees, and awards them.) Both the university itself and the individual colleges employ a range of academic staff; nearly all colleges cater to students carrying out a range of studies.
Since the colleges are all fully independent legal entities owning their own buildings, employing their own staff, and managing their own endowments, it is entirely possible for some colleges to be in better financial health than the universities of which they are a part.
Typically a student or fellow of an Oxbridge college is said to be "living in college" if their accommodation is inside the College buildings. Most Colleges also accommodate students in houses or other buildings away from the College site.
Other British universities
The University of Durham is also collegiate in nature, and its colleges enjoy the same legal status as 'listed bodies' as the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge. However, its colleges (for the most part) are not financially independent and do not have any teaching duties as part of the University. The New Universities of Kent, Lancaster and York have a similar system, although their colleges lack the legal status of those at Durham and Oxbridge. Officially, the University of London consists of a number of colleges. However, the federation has always been even looser there than at Oxford or Cambridge, to the extent that each of these "colleges" is 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 called colleges. There are not currently any colleges in the University of Wales, but this is likely to change in the future.
United States of America
By contrast to British usage, in American English the term "college" is generally reserved for institutions of higher education, which are often (furthermore) totally independent and fully empowered to grant degrees. The usual practice in America today is to call an institution made up of several faculties and granting a range of higher degrees a "university"; a smaller institution only granting bachelor's or associate's degrees is called a "college". (See liberal arts colleges, community college).
Usage of the terms varies among 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 — an agricultural and mechanical school), and ended up as a full-fledged state university.
It should be noted, too, that "University" and "College" do not exhaust all possible titles for an American institution of higher education; others include "institute", "academy", and "school" as in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology  (http://www.mit.edu), United States Military Academy at West Point, New York  (http://www.usma.edu), or the Juilliard School.
The term college is also, as in Britain, used for a constituent semi-autonomous part of a larger university; but generally organized on academic rather than residential lines. At many institutions, for example, the undergraduate portion of the university can be briefly referred to as the college; while at others each of the faculties may be called a "college" (the "college of engineering", the "college of nursing", and so forth). (Some American universities, such as Rice and Yale, do have residential colleges along the lines of Oxford or Cambridge; but the name was clearly adopted in homage to the British system. Unlike the Oxbridge colleges, moreover, these residential colleges are not autonomous legal entities nor are they much involved in education itself, being primarily concerned with room, board, and social life.)
The origin of America's usage
The founders of the first institutions of higher education in the United States were graduates of Oxford and Cambridge. The small institutions they founded would not have seemed to them like universities — they were tiny and did not offer the higher degrees in medicine and theology. Furthermore, they were not composed of several small colleges! Instead, the new institutions felt like the Oxbridge colleges they were used to — small communities, housing and feeding their students who were instructed by residential tutors (see United Kingdom/Universities and Colleges above). When the first students came to be graduated, however, these "colleges" proceeded to assume (without any recognized authority) the right to confer degrees upon them. In Europe only universities could grant degrees. Presumably the leaders of Harvard College (which granted America's first degrees in 1642) thought of their college as the first of many residential colleges which would grow up into a New Cambridge university. Over time, however, no new colleges were founded; and Harvard grew and added higher faculties. Eventually it changed its title to university; but the term "college" had stuck and "colleges" had sprung up all over America.
British and American usage contrasted
The most confusing aspect of the conflict between the British and American terminology arises from the colloquial use of the word "college" by Americans. Where a British person (or indeed, most people around the world) would say "attend university", the American instead says, "go to college" — even if he is referring to a something formally called a university; the student at the enormous University of Michigan still calls it his "college". Thus to the American the word "college" refers not only to an institution but to a phase in one's life; anywhere else in the world that phase is called "university".
However, this phase itself varies somewhat around the world, which can lead to confusion even when the terminology is understood. Two outstanding features of the American version are universality and breadth: (1) quite a high proportion of Americans attend "college", so the word is more natural, less remarkable, than "university" might sound abroad. At the less-academic end of the scale, American universities award a great many degrees for professional training which might be accomplished on-the-job elsewhere. (2) At the more-academic end of the scale, on the other hand, many American college students (especially at the most elite institutions) see "college" as a time of intellectual exploration, free from any need to prepare for the future. (That's what graduate school is for.) The American system, by permitting students to spend the majority of their time in classes entirely removed from their major field of study, forces much less specialization and focus than is common in the rest of the world. Hence "college" is less dryly academic than "university" might sound abroad.
For both of these reasons, "college" as a phase-in-life has become very important culturally in America, perhaps more so than in the rest of the world (to whom American college students can seem very naïve and young, for these and a variety of other reasons).
The rest of the English-speaking world
Influenced by their origins in the British Empire, and by modern American pop culture, the rest of the English-speaking world seems to have adopted a mix of their practices.
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).
Additionally, in Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory "college" refers to the final two years of high school (years eleven and twelve), and/or the institutions which provide this. In this context, "college" is a system independent of the other years of high school. (Here, the expression is a shorter version of matriculation college.) All college courses in the ACT are sanctioned by the Board of Senior Secondary Studies, or BSSS.
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 Ontario there are three colleges that offer applied degrees. In Quebec, it can refer in particular to CEGEP (Collège d'enseignement général et professionnel, "college of general and professional education"), a form of post-secondary education specific to the Quebec education system. See also the Royal Military College of Canada.
The term "college" also applies to separate entities within a university (usually referred to as "affiliated colleges" and "federated colleges"), akin to the residential colleges in the UK. These colleges act independently, but in affiliation or federation with the university (who actually grants the degrees). For examples of this, see St. Jerome's University (federated with the University of Waterloo), along with King's University College, Brescia University College, and Huron University College, which are affiliated with the University of Western Ontario
In the Republic of Ireland the term "college" is usually limited to an institution of tertiary education, but the term is quite generic within this field; university students often say they attend "college" rather than "university", with the term college being more popular in wider society. This is possibly due to the fact that until 1989 no university provided teaching or research, instead been offered by an associated college, as in the case of the National University of Ireland and University of Dublin — or at least in legal terms. A limited number of secondary education institutions use the word college to describe or name themselves.
The state's only ancient university, the University of Dublin, is really English in its origins, and until recently its outlook. Set up during the reign of Elizabeth I, it is modeled on the universities of Cambridge and Oxford. However, only one constituent college was ever founded, hence the curious position of Trinity College, Dublin today. For a time degrees in Dublin Institute of Technology were also conferred by the university; however that institution now has its own degree awarding powers and is considering applying for full university status.
Among more modern foundations, the National University of Ireland institutions, until 1997, consisted only of constituent colleges (called: university colleges) back to 1854 in which University College Dublin was established and recognised colleges, all of the individual institutions were eligible to offer academic degrees. The former are now constituent universities, institutions been essentially universities in their own right. The National University of Ireland constituent colleges date from the 19th century, been former Queen's University of Ireland and Royal University of Ireland associated institutions, see also Queen's University, Belfast.
The state's two new universities Dublin City University and University of Limerick were initially National Institute for Higher Education institutions. These institutions offered university level academic degrees and research from the start of their existence and were awarded university status in 1989 in recognition of this. These two universities are now followed the general trend of universities having associated colleges offering their degrees.
Technical education in the state was carried out in Regional Technical College network since 1970, these institutions were also tertiary level institutions, now referred to as Institutes of Technology. Initially these institutions offered only National Certificate and National Diploma courses, now they offer academic degrees at undergraduate and postgraduate level in addition.
Other types of college include Colleges of Education, these are specialist institutions, often linked to a university, which provide academic degrees, both undergraduate and postgraduate, for people who want to train as a teacher.
See also: Hong Kong, the term "college" is mostly used to refer to secondary schools. It is also used for some tertiary institutions (e.g. Shue Yan College, or United College of Britain, e.g. St. John's College of The University of Hong Kong).
See also: Education in Hong Kong
The term university is more common than college in India. Generally colleges are located in different parts of a state and all of them are affiliated to a regional university. The colleges offer programmes under that university. Examinations are conducted by the university at the same time in all colleges under its affiliation. There are several hundred universities, each university will have affiliated colleges.
Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) are specialized institutions that award their programmes on their own. They are premier institutes in India; there are only about eight such insitutions in India.
The term "college" in Singapore is only used for the educational institutions called "Junior Colleges" which provide the final two years of secondary education (equivalent to sixth form in English terms or grades 11-12 in the American system). "University" is used to describe higher-education institutions.
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. This is mainly due to an attempt by early settlers to imitate the English public school system. However there are a few exceptions. Christ's College, Canterbury is still in theory organised as a body of fellows, and was a college of the Universities of New Zealand and Canterbury. Wellington College also enjoys its right to be named a College by virtue of affiliation to the former University of New Zealand. Nonetheless many secondary schools call themselves "Someplace College" without a collegiate structure or university links.
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 — although official tutoring does not figure largely in their activities, save for Selwyn and Knox Colleges. The institutions formerly known as "Teacher-training colleges" now style themselves "College of education".
Essentially the pattern of usage found in the United Kingdom is followed in New Zealand (refer: Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, R.A.C. of Physicians etc)
The non-English-speaking world
Some languages beyond English use words similar to "college". (French, for example, has the Collège de France.) But in other languages, confusion is most likely to arise when an American is reading something translated by someone using British conventions, or vice versa.
- In 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 German an Oberschule, with its specific forms Hauptschule, Realschule, Gymnasium, and in some states also Gesamtschule, together with vocational secondary education in Berufsschule. The term Kolleg (literally: college) is used in some states for institutions of adult education where graduates of a Berufsschule can graduate with an Abitur. A Graduierten-Kolleg is a German Graduate school.
- In Sweden the term "university college" is used as an official English translation for högskola, a term used for independent educational institutions providing tertiary, but not quaternary education. Similarly to the situation in Germany, the Swedish term högskola literally means "high school". The same 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 (such as Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan, the Royal Institute of Technology).
- In China, Japan, Korea and other East Asian nations, colleges and universities are collectively named 大學 or in simplified writing 大学, which is a word originally introduced by Confucius with his influential book of the same name. The original word and subsequently the book's title is most frequently translated to "The Great Learning". Today's pronunciation of this word is country specific and includes daxue or daigaku.
- In Belgium, the term college is used for institutes of secondary education, more in particular for Catholic schools (official secondary schools are called atheneum). For tertiary education, the difference is made between hogeschool (which literally means high school) and university. With the current reform of higher education under the Bologna process, the hogeschool institutions now offer professional bachelor's degrees (three years study in one cycle) as well as master's degrees (four years study in two cycles). Universities offer academic master's degrees (four to five years study in two cycles). Recent government measures have brought the hogeschool institutions to associate with an university in order to academize their curriculum and to get involved in applied research projects.
- In France, collège generally refers to a middle school or junior high school. However, it can also be used in a manner more similar to that of English, such as in the term electoral college or the Collège de France (Although the latter use is not as common.)