As you approach Grade 12 and post-secondary application season, you will inevitably come up against the big question: university or college? Unfortunately, there is a widely held belief that university is somehow “better”, but in reality, both pathways are equally valuable and hold their own benefits. The question is not which is better, but which is better for you?
In Canada, colleges tend to offer more specialized technical programs which are fairly hands-on. In contrast, university programs tend to be broader in scope and more theoretical. Your interests, career goals and learning style should all be taken into account when deciding between college and university. There is not one that is universally better, but there is likely one that better suits you!
College programs are designed to teach specific, technical skills and to provide skills that meet the needs of an ever-changing workforce. College programs train you for a specific career, giving you the ability to immediately jump into the labour market. Often, there are embedded apprenticeships or internships, and your professors are experts from the field who are often still practicing their trade as well as teaching.
College programs can be anywhere from one-year certificates to four-year diplomas and are often more affordable than comparable university programs. College also tends to be more flexible, with more access to part-time study programs and other flexible study options.
Finally, an increasing number of colleges are partnering with universities to develop combination diploma/degree programs that blend the advantages of both experiences, and give students the benefits of both worlds!
The drawback to college is the, arguably unfair, perception in contrast to similar university programs. To employers, a student graduating with a business degree from a university will have an advantage over a student graduating from a similar program from a college when both apply for the same job. This perception is slowly changing, but for now, it is a reality that students should keep in mind.
Having said that, if you are sure that graphic design, aesthetics, the trades, performing arts or a thousand other technically skilled careers is the right thing for you, then it will be hard to beat the many wonderful college programs available in colleges across the country!
Whether fair or unfair, the university is widely considered to be the more “prestigious” choice for post-secondary students. University degrees are generally four years in length and are broader in scope. The first year of most programs is a general year, where students are asked to select from a wide array of options, and required to take courses from both the sciences and the arts, giving a university student a more “well rounded” education. University degrees focus on analytical skills and put more focus on theory than practical skills.
A University degree offers a certain amount of certainty, in that many careers require an undergraduate degree as a prerequisite to apply, while others, such as Law and Medicine, require post-graduate degrees as well. Having a four-year degree from any university in Canada gives one an automatic leg up in the job market over those who do not have the same credentials.
While there is a certain sense of certainty that comes with a university degree, they are by no means a guarantee of a rich and fulfilling career. Many students graduate with their four-year degrees and find they struggle to find ways to differentiate themselves from their many peers who have graduated with the same credentials. While they have a degree to add to their resume, they may be lacking the specific training and skills that their peers who chose the college route now have. Most students who choose the university path find that post-graduate studies are needed, whereas those who chose college may already be well into their apprenticeships.
As well as the generally longer time commitment, the university also tends to be more of a financial commitment. University tuition is generally higher than college tuition, especially if one chooses to go on to postgraduate studies. While the university student is working towards their “better” credential, their college companion has already begun working in their field and saving their first paychecks!
So – which is right for you? Between colleges and universities, there is no right or wrong answer. The answer to which better suits you is heavily dependent on your interests, needs and career goals. If you are unsure which path to take, talk to your guidance counselor and ask yourself what you want out of your own postsecondary journey!