The Difference Between Colleges And Universities

  • The difference between colleges and universities is that colleges offer certificates and diplomas, whereas universities offer undergraduate and postgraduate degrees
  • Traditional universities offer a wide range of degrees where you will obtain in-depth knowledge on a specific field
  • Universities of Technology focus more on practical training and technological innovation
  • Private colleges are independent institutions that are privately funded
  • Distance learning colleges allow students to study from home without any in-person classes
  • TVET colleges offer occupational training that prepares students for the workplace
  • At university, you can obtain a degree which could ensure a high-paying job
  • A college will help you get a qualification that will allow you to gain practical experience, and enable you to work while you study

The main difference between colleges and universities is that colleges mostly offer undergraduate certificates and diplomas, whereas universities offer both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. 

Here is everything you need to know about colleges and universities:

  • Types of universities
  • Types of colleges
  • Pros and cons

Types Of Universities

A university is a higher educational institution where you can study towards degrees and do academic research. There are two main types of universities, namely:

1. The Traditional University

Traditional universities offer a wide variety of courses you can choose from. They offer undergraduate and postgraduate education. There are many universities in South Africa. Some of the reputable universities include:

  • University of Cape Town
  • University of Witwatersrand
  • Stellenbosch University
  • The University of Stellenbosch 
  • University of Pretoria

2. University Of Technology

Universities of Technology, previously known as technikons, focus on technological innovation and offer career-specific programmes. 

Their courses include work-integrated learning that allows students to study a structured programme while doing practical work for an organization. This is a great way to include work experience on your CV.

Types Of Colleges

Colleges offer a wide variety of qualifications, such as certificates and diplomas. You can also complete your Matric Certificate or improve your Matric results at a college. Matric College is an example of a college that is Matric orientated and offers higher education courses.

The three types of colleges are:

Private Colleges

Private colleges are independent institutions that have their own policies and are privately funded.  South Africa has different types of private colleges. Some of these colleges are:

  • Vega
  • Varsity College
  • Rosebank College

Distance Learning Colleges

Distance learning is a study option that allows students to study from anywhere, without any in-person classes. This provides you with the opportunity to work and study at the same time. This way you can earn an income while furthering your education. 

Here is a list of some of the best distance learning colleges in South Africa: 

  • Ember Academy
  • Matric College
  • Skills Academy
  • Bellview Institute Of Distance Learning


Matric College is a Distance Learning specialist that helps you get your Matric. They offer both Adult Matric and Matric Upgrade options. Adult Matric is commonly referred to as Senior Certificate (Amended). Study  Online Matric and further your studies. We believe education should be available for everyone regardless of your background. It is their mission to empower their  students to be able to achieve the qualifications they have always deserved.


FET Colleges

Further Education and Training (FET) colleges, also known as Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges are institutions that offer occupational training. 

TVET colleges are registered with the Department of Higher Education (DHET). This means that their qualifications are highly regarded and standardised.  At a TVET college, you will gain occupational training, which refers to job-specific training. This way you will be prepared for the workplace.

Pros And Cons

Whether you study at a college or university, both will benefit you greatly. It is, however, a good idea to look into the advantages and disadvantages of both types of higher education.

University Pros

Going to university will open many doors for you. Universities hold benefits, such as:

  • Get a degree: You can obtain a degree at a university. A degree could ensure a high-paying job, as well as job security.
  • Do research: Universities allow you to take part in important research projects. You can publish your own research and become a successful academic. 
  • University culture: Attending a university, or being in a university residence will make you a part of a culture-rich environment with many different types of people.

University Cons

Although university can lead you to many new opportunities, there are a few disadvantages.

  • It is expensive: Unfortunately, universities are costly. Therefore, applying for a bursary is a good idea
  • Little practical experience: Although university teaches you a lot of in-depth knowledge about a specific field, they often do not provide you with job-specific training, which can make it difficult to find work
  • It takes time: University degrees typically have a minimum time period of three years. That means that you cannot obtain a qualification in a short amount of time 
differences between colleges and university

College Pros

Studying at a college is a great option, especially if you are career orientated. Some of the benefits include:

  • Get qualified: Colleges give you the opportunity to obtain valuable qualifications that are highly regarded
  • Study without matric: Some colleges offer courses that do not require a matric certificate. At Matric College you can climb the ladder of success by starting without Matric 
  • It is less expensive: Opposed to university, colleges are less expensive
  • Work and study: Distance learning colleges allow you to work and earn an income while studying

College Cons

Although colleges offer valuable qualifications and will help you get a job, there are some disadvantages. 

  • Limited programmes: Not all study paths can be studied through colleges 
  • A lower level of education: You cannot study for a degree at a college. Therefore, if you want to obtain a degree or other postgraduate qualification, you will have to study at a university
  • Less social: If you study a distance learning course, you might not have a lot of social in-person interaction. Therefore, you will have to encourage yourself to meet new people 

Last Updated: 11 January 2022

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