In the United States, there are over 4,400 colleges and universities. In popular usage, the word "college" is the generic term for any post-secondary undergraduate education. Americans go to "college" after high school, regardless of whether the specific institution is formally a college or a university. Some students choose to dual-enroll, by taking college classes while still in high school. The word and its derivatives are the standard terms used to describe the institutions and experiences associated with American post-secondary undergraduate education.
Colleges vary in terms of size, degree, and length of stay. Two-year colleges, also known as junior or community colleges, usually offer an associate's degree, and four-year colleges usually offer a bachelor's degree. Often, these are entirely undergraduate institutions, although some have graduate school programs.
Four-year institutions in the U.S. that emphasize a liberal arts curriculum are known as liberal arts colleges. These schools have traditionally emphasized instruction at the undergraduate level, although advanced research may still occur at these institutions.
While there is no national standard in the United States, the term "university" primarily designates institutions that provide undergraduate and graduate education. A university typically has as its core and its largest internal division an undergraduate college teaching a liberal arts curriculum, also culminating in a bachelor's degree. What often distinguishes a university is having, in addition, one or more graduate schools engaged in both teaching graduate classes and engaged in research. Often these would be called a School of Law or School of Medicine, (but may also be called a college of law, or a faculty of law). An exception is Vincennes University, Indiana, which is styled and chartered as a "university" even though almost all of its academic programs lead only to two-year associate degrees. Some institutions, such as Dartmouth College and The College of William & Mary, have retained the term "college" in their names for historical reasons. In one unique case, Boston College and Boston University, both located in Boston, Massachusetts, are completely separate institutions.
Usage of the terms varies among the states. In 1996 for example, Georgia changed all of its four-year institutions previously designated as colleges to universities, and all of its vocational technology schools to technical colleges.
"University" and "college" do not exhaust all possible titles for an American institution of higher education. Other options include "institute" (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), "academy" (United States Military Academy), "union" (Cooper Union), "conservatory" (New England Conservatory), and "school" (Juilliard School). In colloquial use, they are still referred to as "college" when referring to their undergraduate studies.
The term college is also, as in the United Kingdom, used for a constituent semi-autonomous part of a larger university but generally organized on academic rather than residential lines. For example, at many institutions, the undergraduate portion of the university can be briefly referred to as the college (such as The College of the University of Chicago, Harvard College at Harvard, or Columbia College at Columbia) while at others, such as the University of California, Berkeley, each of the faculties may be called a "college" (the "college of engineering", the "college of nursing", and so forth). There exist other variants for historical reasons; for example, Duke University, which was called Trinity College until the 1920s, still calls its main undergraduate subdivision Trinity College of Arts and Sciences. Some American universities, such as Princeton, 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, these residential colleges are not autonomous legal entities nor are they typically much involved in education itself, being primarily concerned with room, board, and social life. At the University of Michigan, University of California, San Diego and the University of California, Santa Cruz, however, each of the residential colleges does teach its own core writing courses and has its own distinctive set of graduation requirements.
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