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What is the difference between college and university?

Undecided about whether to attend a college or university? Not sure what the difference is? Most people believe that a university education is far superior to that of a college. We tend to think that university graduates are set for life, and are surprised to see some struggle to find employment while their college counterparts find work almost immediately.

In terms of South African law, private higher education institutions (sometimes called colleges) are not allowed to call themselves universities even though they can offer all of the same qualifications, including degrees and even though the registration and accreditation of the two are the same.

So, what is the difference and how should you decide which is best for you? A major differentiator is that universities get a subsidy from the government while private colleges do not.

"Rosebank College and the rest of The Independent Institute of Education (The IIE), for example, prides itself on the quality of its teaching and individual support, as well as its world of work orientation," says Felicity Coughlan, Director of The IIE. Rosebank College is a brand of The IIE. Quality is an important factor for you to consider, so make sure you do some groundwork to discover which schools make the cut.

It must be noted that some colleges are not legitimate and students should know what to look for. Coughlan says prospective students can do the following checks.

* All private higher education institutions need to be registered with the department. Any credible campus must be able to show you a certificate to that effect, which details the campus, provider and qualifications.* All higher education qualifications need to be accredited by the Higher Education Quality Committee of the Council on Higher Education - if they are not accredited, they will not appear on the certificate referred to above.* All qualifications must be registered on the NQF by SAQA and students should ask for the SAQA NQF identity numbers.

"Once you have established these three things, you can be sure you are dealing with a legitimate institution, and from there you can safely turn your attention to the particular qualification, quality and campus environment issues that meet your aspirations and interests," Coughlan says.

The biggest advantage that colleges have over universities is that they are often considerably more affordable. Colleges aim to make education accessible and affordable to those looking to study further; this also includes allowing you to pay for your course in easy monthly instalments.

Despite preconceived ideas that a university education will give you a big advantage in the workplace, graduates often still need additional specialist training, or an extra vocational qualification if they want to secure certain positions which they may get from a college. According to Coughlan: "The qualifications are equally registered and accredited so the recognition is the same - what matters is how prepared the individual graduate is for work."

All in all, the best way to know which institution is best for you is firstly to consider your needs, your future plans, as well as the time and money you have available.

Rosebank College

Rosebank College is an educational brand of The Independent Institute of Education, which is registered with the Department of Higher Education and Training as a private higher education institution under the Higher Education Act, 1997 (reg. no. 2007/HE07/002). Company registration number: 1987/004754/07