College vs. University: 5 Myths Debunked

By Katie Marti
  4 Min Read
College vs. University: 5 Myths Debunked

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 the university is sometimes the obvious choice, depending on your career path, college and trade schools have a lot 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 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 offers 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 at College

Truth: I took a course at 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.

Myth #4: You Must Choose A Career To Get Into A College

Truth: Though as I said before, college is a place to specialize, it’s not necessary for you to have your career path all figured out before you step into a college of your choice. Just having your major sorted out is enough. As long as you’re sure this is the course you want to dedicate your precious time and effort to, a successful career will follow. Of course, provided you get good grades. 

Myth #5: You Won’t Get The Full Student Experience If You Don’t Attend University

Truth: I can tell you from personal experience that this is entirely untrue. College is just as much as happening as a university. You get ample opportunity to network, join clubs, participate in extracurricular activities, and of course, have fun while doing all of these things. In fact, there are many benefits to studying in college too such as the development of essential vocational and interpersonal skills among others. 

Consider All The Possibilities

Universities can be large, impersonal, and disorganized. While your professor may have a Ph.D., 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.

As 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.

27 responses to “College vs. University: 5 Myths Debunked”

  1. 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:

    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 :)

    • 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.

    • 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.

  5. 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.

    • 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. :)

      • 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?

  6. Kris says:

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

  7. 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.

  8. 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 .

  9. NeaL SeN says:

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

    • miley says:

      as i know,yes!

    • 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

    • 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.

  12. 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.

  13. Lynn says:

    I say “why not both?” There is a definite need for college diplomas if one were to have a generic undergrad degree. There are many retail clerks out there with degrees in Humanities and yes, even Teaching and Engineering. There is no such thing as a guaranteed job waiting for anyone anymore.

    The biggest hurdle to overcome is the misconception that college is for those too dumb to get into university. Perhaps a change in the Ontario high school curriculum streaming is in order. The students are forced to choose in grade 9 if they are headed to university or not. That forces choices that they shouldn’t have to make, such as taking an extra science instead of Shop etc…does anyone really know what they want to do when they grow up at age 14?

  14. Joey says:

    How i look at it… People who are in Universities think really high but reality, you start low and then climb up the ladder. My girlfriend which goes to University, thinks the same thing. And apparently the University prof actually was bashing College students so hard saying “they can’t write, speak or do anything properly so that is why they are in College”. Firstly, I’m going to College and i can talk and speak perfectly fine, the prof’s are just butt hurt that he isn’t receiving any money from those attending College.
    Secondly, 90% of University students do not have a set goal on what they want, so they spend lots of money on University to try and find their degree and the worst part, they do not end up in that career they were looking into.
    Thirdly, you should decide what school you want to go based on your work ethics, skills, and ect. Not going to a school thinking it is better than others.

    I’m not saying College is amazingly perfect either. What i am trying to get into your minds is in some cases University can be a better choice, but in other cases, College will bring you a lot of success too. Do what you want, just go for what you enjoy. Do NOT go to school without 2 ideas of what kind of person you want to be.

  15. Cool Bear says:

    I disagree with how Myth #2 was laid out. I find that the author “tippy toed” around the figure that really mattered – AVERAGE salary difference. I understand that it is generally understood that lower ratios of students get hired from university (vs college), cost of education is higher, and that there is an opportunity cost associated with 2 more years spent in school, but if you DO score a job you generally make more money. Quoting another article “Stats Canada also says that the average income per year for someone with a university degree is $48,648 whereas with a college diploma you’ll be earning about $32,736”. This shows that university graduates enjoy about 50% higher salary if they do score a job.

    But lets look at it from a conservative perspective, lets say you earn 20% more as a university grad (at $6500 more a year) and factor in how much more expensive the degree is than the diploma ($25,000) and also the opportunity cost for 2 extra years you spend in school (65,000 assuming that you make the average diploma salary). This would bring the cost of the degree over the diploma to roughly $90,000 and assuming that you make $6,500 more per year (with a degree vs diploma) it would take roughly 14 years to get your money back. Even if you factor in the potential of investing your $90,000 over the next 14 years, compounded annually at 2% per year, that would increase the figure by $28,000 and take you an addition 4 years to pay it off – making it a total of 18 years. Assuming that your career is 35 years after your graduate, you would be earning more money for the next 17 years of your life. But lets look at it realistically, the AVERAGE university graduate will earn closer to 50% more than the AVERAGE college grad (based on statistics), so the 17 years that I have estimated should be much lower (closer to 7.5 years). What I am trying to say is even if it is a 20% increase in salary it is worth it economically.

    I understand that college offers many advantages versus university but I don’t want the average highschool student to be reading this article and get misinformed on the earning potential of a university degree. I understand that students have an easier time finding a job after college vs university, but we aren’t looking at figures like 90% hire rate for college versus 70% hire rate for university grads. I strongly believe that these figures should be relatively close, like 85% versus 90%. But I wouldn’t know. If you want to talk about this point you SHOULD post the figures.

    I do agree that you should pick your education to align it with your career goals and that in the end of the day money is not everything. However, I strongly agree with Molikas’ point that university is safer if you don’t know what you want to do. The college programs are less broad and are designed for people who generally know what they want to do (like plumbing, electrician, web design, etc.), so it may be difficult to switch careers without pursuing another diploma if you find out you don’t like it. University grads can general obtain jobs throughout different sectors and have more flexibility when it comes to their career.

    In addition, I want to add that although college programs are very industry based and prepare you extremely well, there are university programs that also do this. The University of Waterloo is the largest coop school in the world and the students enjoy four to six coop terms (4-month duration per term) that align you very well with the industry. Schools such as University of Guelph, University of Toronto, Queens University, and McMaster University also offers co-op education.

    My main point is: money is not everything but if money is what you are pursuing then university might be a safer bet. I understand that there is a lot of potential for a skilled trades person (such as plumber) to make a lot of money, but the AVERAGE college grad does not. Do not look at the difference in cost of education or the opportunity cost of losing 2 years of time as the main deciding factor, because the AVERAGE university grad would gain all of that back over their 35 years career and more (assuming that they do score a job). If you search up the top paid careers it always includes at least an undergraduate degree in the university level, such as: Physicians, Pharmacist, Petroleum Engineer, Aerospace Engineer, Lawyer, Surgeons, Programmer, etc.

    katakwi mentioned that several top visionaries of our time had no undergraduate degree. I just wanted to point out that there are exceptions to every single case, just because they can do it does not mean the average person can. In life it is important to take small educated risks, however, I wouldn’t encourage anyone to drop out of school and try to be the next bill gates.

    The last note that I would like to point out is that not all university degrees are equal, some undergraduate programs have higher earning potentials than others. For example, if you pursue a philosophy degree, unless you go to law school it would be difficult to find a high paying job (or sometimes even any job). Other programs such as Accounting, Finance, Business, Engineering, Computer Science, etc. have higher earning potentials.

  16. E says:

    If only someone told me that BEFORE I went to University!!!

    I am finishing up my final semester then I am going to college. Like many people I went to University because I thought that’s what you were supposed to do if you were smart enough (because you would get a better job faster and it was socially expected of me). $25, 000 later I will be attending college because I want to be a Veterinary Technician (and you can’t do that with a degree). Although the money and time loss sucks I don’t completely regret going. Now I will have a degree to fall back on if the animal-heath industry somehow collapses, I’ve learned how to do research and think critically, (if I wanted to get experience as a Tech and then go to Vet School I could), I grew as a person and made life-long friends. My experience has been great however the loss of all that money and time is infuriating.

  17. estella says:

    Hi, I am wondering where do you find the link about the employment rate of Statistic Canada 2010 showed that “college graduates are more likely become employed than university students”?

  18. Zee says:

    I am in grade 12. I applied both in college and university 4 yr undergrad programmes in IT Network and Security, Business Tech management and geomatics only university). Now I’m caught between the two. I do work best in a small classroom. Can anyone suggest or advise me on this?

  19. upputuri sweety says:

    I am an MPC student securing 98 percent at + 2 level. Now I want to pursue BA because i like soical studies. I dont have interest in studying engineering. It is dull and drab for me.
    Now I want to take philosophy. Do I have some opportunities? Is it career-WISE to opt for it? If so, suggest me some best colleges in Delhi. Will it be taken lightly when I want to pursue PG at some university outside my home county?
    Upputuri Sweety

  20. Bran says:

    Zee if you work best in a smaller class I would probably suggest going to college, unless you really want to take the programs you stated were only university. You will get a bit more hands on experience in college as opposed to university and it will be less costly. You may also learn more and learn easier as it is a smaller class meaning you will be able to interact with the instructor more. I am also in Grade 12 and will be going to college, preferably Cambrian. I’m not 100% sure on what I am going to do though. I was thinking of becoming a power engineer as it is a good, easy job that pays well (according to my dad as it is his profession, however he does make around $180k a year so it does pay very well depending where you get a job). I’m about 90% sure I’m going to try and become a power engineer, but I’m likely staying an extra year to work and earn more money as well as take a co-op or dual credit course before going off. Most of my friends in my grade are also staying which is great as I will be able to participate in sports and other activities one last year. This decision for what we want to do with our lives is very hard as it’s what we want our career to be for the rest of our lives. Think hard about it because it’s a big decision! Growing up kinda sucks in some ways when you get to this point!

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