Friday, November 26th, 2010

College vs. University: 3 myths debunked

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College vs University

Consider all the possibilities before choosing a college or university.

It’s exhausting trying to navigate the onslaught of brochures and recruiters making their pitch at high schools around the country this time of year. While university is sometimes the obvious choice, depending on your career path, college and trade schools have lots to offer. They sometimes get left out of the equation due to some common misconceptions. Let us clear those up for you…

Myth #1: People only go to college because they can’t get into university

Truth: Most of my friends from university changed their majors and degree programs more often than their socks. While that may not be saying much, the point is that many university students have no idea what they want to do with themselves and are paying thousands of dollars a year to figure it out.

Colleges, on the other hand, are far more goal-oriented. They tend to be full of people who mean business, often times after having finished a generic university degree program and realizing that what they really want to do requires more specific training. Therefore, I would suggest to you that while people may go to university because they can, they go to college because they should.

Myth #2: I’ll get a better job and make more money if I go to university

Truth: Stats Canada’s latest survey results show that students from a college or trade school are more likely to become employed following graduation than those graduating with a bachelor’s degree from a university (Statistics Canada, 2010).

Add to the mix the cost of living during the average 4-year university degree program compared to that of a college or trade school, which usually offer program diplomas in half the time. All this to say that, while salaries may be generally higher for jobs requiring a university degree, colleges have the potential to get you out of school and into the workforce sooner and with a higher percentage of employment than your average university program. You do the math.

Myth #3: The quality of education at a university is better than college

Truth: I took a course in university called “Leadership and Group Dynamics”. For whatever reason, our professor was from the Nursing faculty despite the fact that it was a Recreation Management class. We spent 4 weeks watching the movie “Alive” and analyzing each character’s leadership style as the group tried to survive a plane crash in the Andes Mountains. I came home from class every week and wrote a letter of complaint to the Dean.

I could also tell you about my first-year Sociology class that had 350 students in it, over 40% of whom failed the course. Or about my roommate who did an exchange in France for a year and was told, upon her return, that she didn’t have enough credits to graduate and would have to spend another entire year at school in order to qualify for her BA with a major in French.

Consider all the possibilities

Universities can be large, impersonal and disorganized. While your prof may have a PhD, it is often a grad student TA marking your work and leading tutorials. Colleges, on the other hand, tend to have much smaller class sizes and a wide variety of instructors who have proven to be experts in their particular field. The work is specific and applicable. It’s quality over quantity in most cases.

Like I said, sometimes university is the obvious choice. You can’t become a cardiac surgeon or district attorney at your local community college. But if you truly are weighing the options and trying to consider all possibilities before making the big decision regarding post-secondary education, it’s important to know the facts and be informed about the pros and cons of each type of program at your disposal.

Besides, university and college misconceptions make for pretty lame myths. Those should really just be reserved for cool stuff like dragons and sea monsters.

Katie Marti
Author: Katie Marti
Katie Marti has been a teacher for 10 years and is currently teaching high school french in Vancouver.
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  1. Cassandra Jowett Says:

    Great article! I totally agree. Many of us (Gen Y) were brainwashed into thinking that if you were “smart” (i.e., good grades) you had to go to university. Students with lower grades went to college, and students who were not academic in any way went for trades, etc.

    I don’t regret attending university — I went to Ryerson and it’s become hugely popular because of its college-like approach to education — but I don’t always think it’s the best option for everyone. There’s no denying that colleges better prepare you to enter the workforce, whether through hands-on experience in class or through co-op/internship programs. College business students often outperform university business students in case competitions because their strategies can actually be applied outside of the classroom.

    Earlier this year, my younger brother had to decide what he would do in terms of post-secondary education. He’s smart, good grades, but university just didn’t appeal to him. Members of our family tried to push him, but I tried to help him figure out what he really likes to do and what he sees himself doing in the future. He ended up choosing a woodworking technician program at Conestoga College and he LOVES it.

    Trades are going to be hugely in demand as the Baby Boomers retire, and students who realize this and take advantage of the training and apprenticeship opportunities currently available will likely find it to be a very lucrative field to be in.

  2. Clinton Says:

    Great comment Cassandra!

    My brother-in-law chose the same career path despite being a good student. Now he’s a licensed plumber and has lots of work because of the high demand for trades people. Everyone should put a lot of thought in choosing a college or university.

    Following a career path in a trade is a great choice for some people.

  3. Ronnie Rosen Says:

    I graduated with a Business degree from York University in the 80′s because that was what was expected of me. It was the same for all of my friends. Slowly but surely I came to realize that these degrees were not the answer. I was the first in my group to seek an “alternate” career. All I knew was that I wanted to work with my hands and I had always been interested in how things work. My dad was a violin maker and my mom was a teacher. I became a mechanic and I still love it 12 years later. My friends all found their way eventually; but most will tell you that their years in university had nothing to do with it. I am not against universities. I just wish we had been allowed to consider other options.

  4. Molikas Says:

    Hi,
    just wanted to say that I’ve studied a BS and MS, degrees in a University, and planning to get another MS. And have to tell you that practical application of skills right after graduating actually gives you a straight forward advancement into the middle tear. In my field (Computer Science, programming etc.) all the pro’s have a University education. I’ve noticed that people from universities have better skills in problem solving when it comes to complex algorithms, software design and etc. On the other hand, they truly lack the skills necessary for the practical realization of the proposed solution, making them more of a philosophic “thinkers” not the “makers”.

    I’m currently in China working with a large team of Chineese programmers, and I see a huge difference in between skills of people with a College and a University degree. For those guys from College you have to show everything, you cannot just tell them how  things should be done. With the University guys, you can get very abstract with your brief explanations and they understand what you are talking about.

    Knowing HOW and WHY things work, and being able of figuring a way to make them work differently is far more valued in my field rather than practical/manual application of specific skills. But “thinkers” would be useless if there wouldn’t be any “makers”.

    I don’t want to be bias, but for things I’ve seen (at least in Europe
    and China) I would suggest that people who really know what career they want,
    should aim for a university degree. The high level of abstraction in universities is truly a great thing (I used to think the other way when I was studying).

    Stay smart and keep on learning, whatever you choose is much better rather than not studying at all :)

  5. deturcotte Says:

    For your field, university is definitely the better choice.  I think what the article is saying (and what I believe is the case out there), is that students blindly pursue university.  In my own experience delivering hundreds of career presentations, I found that there is a huge misconception out there that university opens doors to all careers.  Where I can’t speak for every jurisdiction, in Ontario, only 26% of careers require university education (you can check stats with the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities).  Computer engineering/software development is one of them, which is why you see the differences that you do.  But for students wanting to pursue animation, graphic design, web design, or careers as computer technicians, college and apprenticeship are more appropriate choices.

  6. Kris Says:

    I decided to split up my education by completing a diploma
    then perusing a two-year-after degree. I’m graduating with my diploma in April
    and I currently have a job in my chosen field. I plan on working full time and
    taking night classes to avoid student loans. Many of friends who are in
    university are still working in retail and other jobs that are great for
    flexibility but will provide no experience in our field.  They don’t have the same level of skills I do
    because they spent their first year taking filler classes. So I have less debt,
    a higher paying job and more industry experience than my friends taking the
    same program at University. Colleges and Universities are both great, the key
    is deciding what you want to do in life and finding the best option for you
    especially if you have to take out student loans.
     

  7. Kris Says:

    Sorry my formatting is off, I have a new phone and I’m still working out the kinks

  8. Victor Says:

    College or University education ?

     The question should rather be : what do you enjoy doing that pays the standard of living you eagerly seek ?
    Each of us has a different answer and rightfully so . Just make sure that whatever you pick will provide a regular income at the level you want.

  9. D Says:

    I just graduated high school and decided to take this year off because I wasn’t sure of what I really wanted to do in life. Even now I’m still not sure, but I’m considering going to college first and then possibly pursue university if my circumstances allow me to, and if I still have a need or desire to. Although it ultimately depends on many factors whether one chooses one educational/vocational path over the other, during my high school years it was ingrained in my head that I needed to go to university to have a “stable” future. That’s what everyone around me was heading towards. That’s where I thought I was going.

    But I put too much stress on myself to go to university (even though I still didn’t know for what) and in the end I didn’t apply. It was hard for me to make the decision not to go because of everyone around me going. In the end, I had to make the best decision for me. I was not going to pursue university/college at the same time as everyone else just because I had to keep up. I didn’t have the luxury of taking the risk in spending a few grand (I didn’t have) on a random course I would have chosen, just so I could attend university and get that “paper”.

    I don’t know if my decision is the right one, but at this point in time, it’s right to me. I want to be practical (because I come from a low-income family) and pursue something I can currently afford, that is more vocational and job-specific to hopefully be in the workforce sooner. I feel that students are pressured to go to university, and that it is the be-all and end-all. College and trades seem to be less regarded and thought of as a “last resort”, when in fact, it should be regarded as another equally worthwhile path to a form of education/training. All these options should be considered equally. Whatever path one chooses to follow would neither be right or wrong, but what fits all that encompasses them: interests, skills, aptitudes, qualities, career and life goals, and etc.

    Just my few cents. :) Like Molikas said, whatever you end up choosing is better than not studying at all. The only way to keep balance is to keep moving… In other words, do something. :)

  10. katakwi Says:

    Some of the top leaders who revolutionized industries did not have university education. Steve Jobs, Bill gates come to mind. I think thinking outside the box,, life experiences and drive to succeed and learn are more important. Most of all passion to make a change.

  11. SgBG Says:

    Actually ~ There has been a great thing happening these days. Now Colleges are offering 4 Year Bachelor degrees as well!! I have taken Arts for two years and after completion realized that I really wanted to get a bachelors degree in Development Studies … While University was way too expensive a local college offered the same degree for way less… Even though there is a difference, University lets you pick a Major and a Minor a long with a broad variety of courses … and college kind of has a set curriculum with only being able to choose one elective class each semester…I still feel college degrees are better in some feilds because they narrow down the courses to what you will really need in the work place .

  12. Yanko Says:

    Hi, I’m not sure where you’re from … Maybe U.S or Canada?
    I’m from Canada by the way … and also from a low income family… so it was quite hard to decide which move to make … however, I realized that alot of colleges were also offering 4 Year Applied Bachelor degree programs… with co-op ! This option costs a lot less and gives you the theory and hands on experience ~
    So i f it is possible I would encourage you to maybe look for a college Bachelor degree program?

  13. NeaL SeN Says:

    Can you apply to a university engineering program if you are currently studying in a college engineering program?

  14. Kim Says:

    I think the debate between college and university is largely dependent on future career prospects, as has been clearly stated here. Another thing often overlooked is the student’s work ethics, potential and initiative. For example, I took gifted programming (above average) in high school and was in all regards university bound. I chose to attend college after a two-year break, not wanting to return to university and acquire a mountain of debt. As a college journalism graduate I plan to return to school using one of the many post-secondary pathways available to me to enhance my journalism diploma and earn a degree (potentially saving me money as well). Whether a student chooses to pursue a diploma, degree or both, I think it’s up to the graduate to make it worth it.

  15. Skeptic Says:

    I make a better wage with better benefits with a three year community college diploma in chemistry than all (5) of my university educated siblings who spent a minimum of 4 years at university. I tried the university route and found after a year and a half that I wasn’t going to get the kind of job I wanted had I graduated. It didn’t help that most of the pushing and prodding to go to university was from my parents who were both high school teachers. My kids on their own chose to go to community college and learn a trade and both are doing extremely well in their chosen careers. University isn’t for everyone.

  16. miley Says:

    as i know,yes!

  17. Charlotte Says:

    Thank you for sharing your honest insight. I was particularly struck by your comment because I’ve just dropped out of University to go to College instead after realizing I needed a more direct/goals-oriented path to my career.

  18. Tomi Fodor Says:

    It’s called transferring your college credits, and it would depend on your school. If your college is well recognized then there should be plenty of pathway opportunities into university, that is, once you have obtained your diploma. I didn’t understand how this worked, and sent a few hundred dollars to apply in my first year, only to be “rejected”, when all I wanted was a foot in the door for when I was done.

  19. Wayne Says:

    After spending 3 semesters in university and not learning anything, as well as having extreme difficulties getting into courses because they would always fill up instantaneously (clearly more people get accepted than the university can support), I dropped out and ended up going to college instead. College is a million times better. I learned more in my first two weeks than I did in my 3 semesters in university. Being able to interact with your prof, and also having smaller classes where you can interact with other students, it improves the learning experience. A few tips to any high school graduates who want to continue into post-secondary : Even if you do go to university, let the first year dictate whether or not you think the program/school is right for you. I’m glad I dropped out as early as I did, and not waste more time and money than I needed to. Feel free to take time off and work to figure out what you want to do career wise, and don’t let university douche’s who say that college is for idiots intimidate you. I’ve met so many smart and successful individuals in college, whereas the majority of students I see in university care less about learning and more about parties and socializing.

    TL;DR = University is NOT for everyone. Dropping out is not failure, it’s a means to figure out what you really want to do. College is a lot better than most people think.



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