What's the difference?

You don’t have to head to a university to study higher education such as a degree or a foundation degree these days. Many Further Education colleges, like ours, also run undergraduate courses, offering a different kind of learning experience.

To help you to decide if college or university is the best choice for you, see our quick guide to the main differences between the two.

Qualification Type

The qualification type you will receive will be the same whether you study at a college or a university. For example, our foundation and degree programmes are validated by local and national universities, so your final certificate will be from them.


Prices: FE college courses are often cheaper than their university equivalent and tend to offer more flexibility.

Student Funding: Both universities and colleges can offer financial assistance with funding your qualification.  Visit www.thestudentroom.co.uk/studentfinance for more information. 

You’ll find both traditional universities and FE colleges listed in the Which? uni profiles section – which includes key info, pros, cons and insider views from students.

Application Process

  • For most university courses, you need to apply via UCAS against strict application deadlines.
  • For courses at FE colleges, you may need to apply through UCAS or you may be able to apply directly to the college, which could be a simpler and easier process.
  • Our application process is both direct and via UCAS depending on the type of qualification you want to study (add link to application process). However, it’s important to note that we don’t necessarily stick to UCAS deadlines and can take applications after their closing dates. So if you miss them, you still have the chance to get on a course.


Student population

Size: Universities are normally bigger than colleges and are often spread across multiple campuses and sites.  

Studies: FE colleges offer a very diverse mix of courses in addition to the higher education programmes, such as A Levels, vocational qualifications and apprenticeships.  University students are almost always studying undergraduate, postgraduate and doctorate level qualifications.

Age: student populations at universities tend to be predominantly 18 – 25 year olds.  In FE colleges, you’ll find a mix of students of all ages.


Tutors: Most tutors teaching a degree course at FE colleges will lecture and teach across both types of institution.  We employ teachers who have worked in industry to give you real, hands on experience and who know what it takes to succeed. 

Atmosphere:  Some students feel that it’s more relaxed and intimate in an FE setting.  We keep our class sizes small to offer you more one to one support and the best learning experience.

Flexible timetable: Colleges tend to have more flexible timetables with courses offered on a part time and evening basis as well as during the day. This can make studying higher education at a college more appealing to some as it’s easier for those managing work or family commitments alongside their learning.

Long-term prospects

Employment:  The substance and class of your qualification, along with any work or extra-curricular experience you have done to help boost your CV will be the key factor in whether or not you’ll get the job, as opposed to where you studied. Our courses are designed with employers to keep the skills and knowledge taught relevant and up to date.

Careers Advice: When you’re coming to the end of your course, both universities and colleges will offer support and advice to help you decide on your next steps into employment. Our award-winning Careers Advice team offer one to one appointments to make sure you’re able to make a choice that’s right for you.

Access to Higher Education: Unlike universities, many FE colleges will run Access to Higher Education programmes. These are intensive, one year courses specifically designed to help you gain the grades you need to meet the entry requirements of higher education programmes.


Accommodation: If living at home and studying nearby is top of your list, then there’s likely to be an FE college offering university courses nearby. If you want the full live-in, on campus experience or the activity and buzz of living in a big city, then a university might be for you. 

One thing to remember though is that universities do tend to have split sites, so your accommodation could be based away from the action.  FE colleges can also help you find accommodation with private landlords. Our Learner Services team can help you with this.

See our accomodation page for more information.