What is the difference between a school and a college within a university?

I’m trying to understand, what if any, is the difference when a university calls one it’s undergraduate programs a school and the other a college. Take two so called Liberal Art Colleges for example.

University of Richmond has three undergraduate schools; The Jepson School of Leadership, The Robins School of Business and, the School of Arts. Bucknell University also has three undergraduate colleges; College of Management, Engineering and Arts and Science.

The University of Maryland has eleven: six colleges and five schools. Is there a difference or is it just a term?

Just semantics


So then for instance the School of Liberal Arts at Tulane University could also be called the College of Liberal Arts? No difference

It’s not just semantics. I don’t think @Skieurope is familiar with most large universities with several colleges. 1. At most large universities you are admitted to the university and the college. IOW if your admitted to the University of Colorado, school of arts and sciences, you cannot major in engineering or business or any other college’s majors. You would have to apply to switch colleges within the university. 2. This is quite different from the University of Chicago, where there is only one undergraduate college and you can major in any of the majors offered.

The University of Richmond also maintains two undergraduate colleges: Richmond College (for men) and Westhampton College (for women).

You would be incorrect if you think that.

The OP did not ask the difference between a university and a college, which is what you answered, but between a school and a college. An example that would apply to the OP’s question would be UPenn, which has 4 undergraduate schools/colleges. College of Arts & Sciences, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the Wharton School, and the School of Nursing. In the case of Penn, my guess is their naming convention is that schools issue both undergraduate and graduate degrees (or graduate degrees alone) and CAS is purely undergrads. But I do not believe that is a rule set in stone, as Columbia does not follow the same naming convention (e.g. Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and Columbia Business School).

But getting back to Penn, my guess is a common question when first-years meet is “What school are you in?” While someone could be pedantic enough to point out the interlocutor’s error in both terminology and grammar, most people know what was meant. :grin:

Also, since the OP did not ask, I did not discuss the difference between colleges as being a constituent of a university vs stand-alone entities.


I believe in the case of Richmond University both Richmond College and Westhampton are not academic colleges but more like social organizations.

Thanks, after rereading the OP you are correct, but did you attend a large university with many colleges? :face_with_monocle:

As component colleges of the University of Richmond, Richmond College and Westhampton College maintain some of their own deans and confer their own degrees. The overlap of these colleges greatly exceeds their differences, however.

Not a hard rule, but “colleges” tend to be undergraduate. “Schools” tend to offer undergraduate and graduate degrees or graduate degrees only.

The Penn “schools” award both undergraduate and graduate degrees (e.g. A&S, Nursing, Engineering, Wharton) or only graduate degrees (e.g. Law, Medicine). At Harvard, undergraduates get their degrees from “the college,” while Law, Medicine, Business, Education, Public Health, Divinity and Government are graduate degree-awarding “schools.”


As @skieurope said it is semantics that each university applies as they see fit. There is no “standard” definition.

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The Sheffield School of Engineering (Yale), Columbia School of General Studies. Undergraduate only.

Why would you have to “attend a large university with many colleges” to know the difference (or not)?

Sometimes its tough to get the humor accross…

How a university names its subdivisions (“school of …”, “college of …”) is up to the university.

A university may also use the names for other kinds of entities, such as residential colleges.

Yale E&AS awards graduate degrees. Columbia SGS has post-baccalaureate programs for students trying to complete pre-med qualifications, though no masters or doctoral programs.

Thanks. I should have been more specific. There are no academic classes in the colleges. Richmond College was the all men’s college and Westhampton the all women’s college before they went coed. They do have Deans but they take on a different role than the Dean’s in the School of Law, Leadership, Business and Arts and Science.

From the UR website “Dean Mia Reinoso Genoni is responsible for the support, mentorship, advising, and care of Westhampton students, for helping create thriving and inclusive communities, and for the direction and vision of Westhampton College overall.” For lack of a better description the colleges at UR play more of a community role than an academic one.

This does however point out even more subjectivity to the mix that at UR the term college has an additional different reference for what it represents.

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You’re right. Speed reading error on my part.

Not a hard rule, but “colleges” tend to be undergraduate. “Schools” tend to offer undergraduate and graduate degrees or graduate degrees only.

The Penn “schools” award both undergraduate and graduate degrees (e.g. A&S, Nursing, Engineering, Wharton) or only graduate degrees (e.g. Law, Medicine).

Duke is organized along similar lines.

  • Trinity College of Arts & Sciences (undergraduates only)

  • Pratt School of Engineering (undergraduates and grad students)

  • Divinity school, Fuqua school of business, nursing school, medical school, law school, etc. (grad students only)

The undergraduate and graduate programs in environmental science and public policy are housed within the Nicholas School of the Environment and the Sanford School of Public Policy, respectively, but undergraduates majoring in those fields are nonetheless students in Trinity College and fulfill the same curriculum requirements as people majoring in econ, CS, English, etc.

I think of these “schools” or “colleges” simply as super-sized departments within a university. Some of these super-sized departments are named “schools” or “colleges” to honor some large donors, without much substantive difference with a more traditional department. Some other super-sized departments may have been set up to place restrictions on applicants and students because of their different admission standards and/or student bodies.