University: Explained- The Differences Between College and University

Hello everyone and welcome to this segment of University Explained. My name is Faryal Aqa and I am a new intern at the University of Manchester. I am part of the Access and Success team, working on the Manchester Access Program. I studied law at the University of Manchester and recently graduated with First-Class Honours. I was part of the University of Manchester’s Gateways Program in high school and I was part of MAP and Pathways to Law at college, so I know from my own experience that it can be a little confusing and scary looking at university. But do not fear, I am here to give you some information about university and provide you with some useful links and resources that you can use to do your own further research.

You may be in college or soon going into college and you may be thinking, what are the differences between colleges and university? What are the similarities? This blog post will answer these questions and provide you with some useful websites for more information. Terms used in university will be highlighted in bold and if you are a little confused on what they mean, feel free to have a look at the glossary at the bottom of this page.



When you finish college and university, you will get a qualification for each one. These qualifications will help you get a job in the future. However, many jobs require a university qualification as well as a college qualification, so having one may open the doors to more opportunities for you. For example, to be a doctor, you need a medicine degree, or to be a lawyer you need a law degree (or any degree and then a law conversion course)

With both types of education, you get some choice and must make some decisions based on what you like studying. In college you get to choose what type of qualification you get, such as A- Levels, BTEC courses or T-Levels amongst many others. At university, you are more in charge of what you study, where depending on the course you study you may get to pick which modules you study and get to pick what time your seminars (more on this later) will be.

However, college and universities are also very different. Let’s look at the differences!


In college, there is usually a fixed timetable which is scheduled by the college. In university, timetables change every semester and you get to pick what day and time your semester is as long as there are multiple seminars for the module you are doing. Lectures are more like college timetables where they are predetermined by the university. So, you can choose your modules, but you do not pick specific times for your lectures.


There is usually one type of lesson for each subject at college. For example, if you study history, you will have a few lessons a week of history, usually in the same classroom with all students. There is usually a maximum for around 30 students. However, at university, you will have lectures, seminars and workshops.

Lectures are large halls, filled with all the students who study that subject. For example, at the University of Manchester, there is a lecture theatre that fits 600 students! This may be filled with students if you study a subject like law or depending on the course you study, there may be much fewer students. There will be a teacher at the front who at university will be called the lecturer and they will teach the module. Unlike college, you will have a different lecturer for each module who specialises in that area of the subject. Depending on the course you study, lectures are usually one or two hours, as with colleges. During lectures, there is very little opportunity to ask questions and engage in discussions with lecturers, but this is something you will get a chance to do in seminars.

Seminars are much smaller classes, with around 15-30 students. There may be some work set beforehand which may be some research, a practice question or to think about an area of debate. Seminars may occur every week or even every two weeks and you may have a seminar for each module that you do. During your seminar, you will go through the work set, discuss what you have learned in the previous lectures and you can ask any questions you may have. These questions can be because you are a little unsure about something you have learned or because you would like to discuss your point of view.

You may have workshops or ‘clinicals’ which are more practical lessons and you may be in a lab doing experiments. Whilst in college these will be done during lesson, there is a whole separate type of lesson for it in university.

Extracurricular Activities

Your college may offer some extracurricular activities, such as various sports clubs, debate clubs or dance clubs. At university, you will also be able to join extracurricular clubs. These are called societies and there is a larger range of different extracurricular activities than at college. At the University of Manchester, there are over 400 societies that you could join, and they are run by students and for students. If you decide there is a society that would be interesting, but it does not exist, you could make your own! Societies can be for anything, there are societies for specific cultures or religion, there may many sports societies, there are societies relating to your subject like Law Society or Medicine Society and there are many more for various hobbies such as sewing, movie watching and even food! There are many volunteering societies, such as the Free Legal Advice Centre at the University of Manchester, where you can be a student advisor and support people with real legal issues and write advice letters which are checked by legal professionals.


For 16-18-year olds, college is generally free. For other ages, there may be a cost. This can vary a lot so it would be best to check on the course webpage on the college website. The cost of university may seem scary, but it is not as bad as it seems. The cost of university is capped at £9250 a year for attending university and if you move out, you will pay for rent and various bills. The cap means that no university can charge more than £9250 a year. The best university in the UK can only charge up to £9250 and the worst university can only charge £9250 a year. The great thing about university is in most cases you can get a loan from the government. This means during university you do not need to pay a penny for tuition costs and you only begin to repay the tuition fees when you earn a certain amount and you pay 9% back on what you earn that is over the threshold (see this link for more information). You may also be able to get maintenance loan to support you with the cost of rent, bills, books and more. This is based on where you go to university (such as a higher amount of maintenance loan available for you if you study in London) and your parent’s income (it is different for students who are already independent (please see this link for more guidance). Please be aware all information in this section  can change in the future so it is best to confirm this still applies for you by going on the government website on

If you would like some more information about student finance and see the financial aspect of university through the perspective of current or previous students, please see our blog series ‘Student Finance in Real Life’.

Course duration

College courses are usually one or two years long. You can find this information on college websites. University is a little longer. Courses are usually three years long but there are some exceptions:

  • Accelerated degrees- there are some degrees that are two years long. For example, the University of Law offers an accelerated law degree that costs less as it is 2 years long, however you do not have much choice on the modules you will study
  • Degree with a year in industry- a degree with a year in industry is where you have an extra year (so usually 4 years in total at university) where you will have work experience in a field relating to your degree
  • Degree with a year abroad- this is also a year extra but you study in a different country such as America, China or Australia
  • Medicine and dentistry- these courses are longer than most university courses as they take 5 or 6 years to complete

Where to find extra information

If you are interested to find out more, you may wish to join a webinar which is held by a university. The University of Manchester has dates scheduled for live webinars and past webinars are also available here

Find the University of Manchester’s details of the course you are interested in here

For more information on the societies run by the University of Manchester, have a look on the Students Union website which is the group that oversee the societies

Would you like to speak to a student about their experiences or have any more questions? Click on this link to have a chat with University of Manchester students.


Clinical– Hands on and practical application of the skills you had learned in lessons and in labs.

Degree– The qualification you will receive after you have completed university. There are different classifications of a degree; First-Class Honours (1st), Second- Class Honours Upper Division, Second-Class Honours Lower Division (2:2) and Third-Class Honours (3rd)

Lecture– a talk given to a large group of students at university, usually the main form of teaching for academic subjects

Maintenance Loan– Money that you can get for you day to day expenses that you will have to pay back once you earn a certain amount of wages

Module– is a unit of a subject. For example, Law is the subject I studied and a module I had done was Property Law.

Semester– The term of teaching. For example, you may have two semesters in an academic year. 1st semester will be term time and then you will have your holiday. Once you come back, you will begin second semester.

Seminar– a small group of students meeting regularly with a seminar taker to discuss what they have learned in the past week or so.

Societies– groups and organisations which are based on hobbies and interests such as sports societies like football society or hobbies such as movie societies

Students Union– A building that is specifically for students’ activities and support.

Tuition Loan– Money given by the government to pay for university fees directly from Student Finance England to the university. You then repay this once you finish studying and earn a certain amount of money