Difference between Technical College and University

January 19, 2017 by Editorial Team

Technical colleges and universities prepare their students for gainful employment after graduation. While both technical colleges and universities offer instruction in technical subjects, they have significant differences that make them easy to tell apart. This article will describe those differences.


Technical College vs University
Western Technical College in Wisconsin

A technical college or technical school equips its students with skills required for the workforce, such as welding, office management or culinary arts. Technical colleges focus mainly on instructing their students. In the United States, technical colleges are two-year institutions run by states or for-profit companies. Funding for technical colleges comes mostly from paid tuition fees or state subsidies. Most technical colleges are commuter in nature; that is, most students already live close to their locations.

To gain admission to a technical college, a student must submit either a high school diploma or a GED. Technical colleges generally do not require high SAT or ACT scores.

While many technical colleges award either diplomas, certificates or associate degrees to their graduates, only a few alumni continue their studies in a four-year institution. Most graduates choose to join the workforce right away.

The University of California, Los Angeles

A university offers at least four years of instruction in a wide range of subjects, ranging from engineering to philosophy and fine arts. Aside from teaching, many universities also conduct research in various fields. In the United States, most universities are run by the state, religious institutions, non-profit organizations, and for-profit corporations. Many universities also have endowments, donated by wealthy alumni that allow them to offer scholarships and to sponsor research. Most universities offer some sort of on-campus housing, such as residence halls, dormitories, or fraternity residences.

Most universities require a high school diploma along with above-average SAT or ACT scores for admission. Some of the more competitive schools might even require a written essay and recommendations from high school teachers.

Generally, universities award bachelor’s degrees to their students. Most also offer graduate studies leading to a master’s or doctoral degree; others also offer professional studies, such as medicine or law.

Technical College vs University

What are the differences between a technical college and a university? They differ primarily in the courses that they offer, the institutional focus, the institutions that operate them, the presence of endowments, housing options, admissions requirements and the degrees that they award.

Course Offerings

Technical colleges offer focused instruction in vocational fields, such as welding, culinary arts, or office management. In contrast, universities offer a wide variety of courses, ranging from humanities and philosophy to astrophysics and engineering.

Institutional Focus

Technical colleges focus solely on providing instruction. In addition to teaching, most universities also conduct research in a variety of fields.

Ownership and Operation

Most technical colleges are owned and operated either by the state or by for-profit corporations. Meanwhile, universities are owned and operated by the state, religious institutions, non-profit bodies, and for-profit organizations.


Technical colleges run mostly on tuition fees paid by students and subsidies given by the state. Universities, on the other hand, may also have substantial endowments that allow them to award scholarships to students and to fund research studies.

Student Housing

Most technical colleges are commuter schools; that is, most students come from the area. Thus, they rarely offer student housing. Universities tend to be residential in nature; they offer a variety of student housing options, such as residence halls, dormitories or fraternity houses.


Technical colleges require either a high school diploma or a GED for admission; they rarely ask for high SAT or ACT scores. Admission to universities is more competitive; in addition to a high school diploma, they also require good SAT or ACT scores. Some selective universities also require a written essay and a recommendation from a teacher.

Degrees Awarded

As technical colleges are two-year institutions, they award certificates, diplomas and associate degrees. Universities, on the other hand, award bachelor’s degrees to their graduates; most also offer further studies leading to masters, doctoral and professional degrees.

Comparison Chart

Technical CollegeUniversity
Offers instruction in vocational fields, such as welding or culinary artsOffers instruction in a variety of subjects, such as liberal arts or engineering
Focuses solely on teachingConducts research in addition to teaching
Owned by the state or for-profit corporationsOwned either by the state, religious bodies, non-profits or for-profits
Funded by tuition fees and/or state subsidiesFunded by endowments in addition to tuition fees and/or state subsidies
Rarely offers student housingOffers a variety of student housing options
Easy admissionMore selective admission
Awards certificates, diplomas, associate degreesAwards bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral, professional degrees


Play the video below to watch a school counselor compare technical colleges and four-year colleges.