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What is a Research University and how is it Different from Regular College?

What is a Research University and How is it Different from Regular CollegeWhen researching potential schools to apply to and attend, a prospective student may run into two terms they may be unfamiliar with, namely Research Universities and Private Colleges. When you are younger, college and university usually seem synonymous with any kind of higher education. However, it is important to learn the distinction between these two, as they are actually drastically different, and attending one type over the other can have a dramatic impact on your pursuit of education.

Global Differences
One of the most important distinctions between the word “college” and “research university” are the implications the words have abroad. In Europe, for example, what is normally called a “college” is really closer to a two-year learning experience. This is akin to a community college in the United States. Abroad, “university” is usually used across the board to describe a four-year institution of learning.

A small, yet important difference between a college and university in the U.S. is size. Colleges tend to be smaller, with restricted class sizes and larger ratio of student-to-faculty, while Universities tend to be larger. In addition, Universities can be made up of subsections and divisions of colleges that may be titled things such as “The University College of Engineering” or even an online engineering subsection. This means that this specific section is for students who are specializing in engineering and that for the most part, you will associate with just one part of the campus in your educational career.

At a research university, the faculty double as both teachers and researchers. This can have several different impacts on your education. Students are more likely to learn about the newest research in class, as that is what the researchers must be qualified to talk about. In addition, majors at universities are overall more specified. This means that Math majors, for example, are not required to take World History classes. This differs from the traditional U.S. College. At a college, faculty are usually exclusive teachers. While this allows them to dedicate more time to students, it also means that they will likely be less up to date on current research in the respective field. In addition, colleges tend to be more liberal in their curriculum, requiring a broader scope of learning than a research university.

Graduate Students
Another significant different is the impact graduate students can have. At a research university, graduate students interact on many different levels with students. They can be TA’s, teachers, or partners. At colleges, however, graduate students are most likely not even present on campus.


As you decide which college you’d like to attend, keep these differences in mind. Choosing a research university can make for quite a different experience than you might expect at a traditional college.

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Brooke Chaplan is a freelance writer and blogger. She lives and works out of her home in Los Lunas, New Mexico. She loves the outdoors and spends most her time hiking, biking and gardening. For more information contact Brooke via Twitter @BrookeChaplan.


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