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Harvard College vs. Harvard University — What's the Difference?

Edited by Tayyaba Rehman — By Fiza Rafique — Published on October 28, 2023
Harvard College is the undergraduate college of Harvard University, focusing on undergraduate education. Harvard University, however, is a comprehensive university comprising various schools that offer both undergraduate and graduate programs.
Harvard College vs. Harvard University — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Harvard College and Harvard University


Key Differences

Harvard College is notable as the initial foundational school, originating in 1636, around which Harvard University eventually developed. Harvard University, as an overarching institution, encompasses all of its undergraduate and graduate programs, including those provided by Harvard College. Despite their intertwined histories, the distinction between Harvard College and Harvard University is important in discussions pertaining to the specifics of educational programs and organizational structures.
Offering a broad liberal arts education, Harvard College dedicates itself primarily to undergraduate education. Harvard University, conversely, encompasses a multitude of graduate and professional schools, such as Harvard Law School and Harvard Medical School, which span a vast array of disciplines and professional fields. The diversity of educational opportunities and academic foci between Harvard College and Harvard University demonstrates a clear institutional hierarchy and academic demarcation.
When considering application and admissions processes, Harvard College manages its own admissions, separate from the other schools within Harvard University. Harvard University, given its larger umbrella of schools, sees each school manage its own admissions process independently, demonstrating administrative autonomy despite being under the wider Harvard University banner. Both entities, while interlinked, operate with significant degrees of autonomy in certain administrative domains, such as admissions and program management.
In discussions of alumni or student life, someone who has graduated from Harvard College will often specify that they attended the college, despite technically also being a graduate of Harvard University. On the other hand, graduates of Harvard University’s various graduate schools might specify their particular school of graduation (e.g., Harvard Business School) instead of generally attributing their degree to Harvard University. The specificity in nomenclature serves to clarify and honor the varied and distinct experiences and trajectories offered by Harvard College and Harvard University’s various schools.
From an external perspective, Harvard College is sometimes used interchangeably with Harvard University by those unfamiliar with the particularities of the institution's structure. Harvard University, in its broadest sense, represents the entirety of the institution’s academic, research, and social entities, showcasing a diversified but interconnected academic ecosystem. Thus, while the two names might be used synonymously in casual conversation, accurately distinguishing between Harvard College and Harvard University ensures clarity and respect for the institution’s rich and varied academic landscape.

Comparison Chart

Academic Focus

Primarily undergraduate education
Comprehensive (Undergraduate + Graduate)


Constitutes one school of the university
Encompasses all schools including Harvard College

Admission Processes

Manages its own admissions
Each school manages its own admissions

Degree Attribution in Discourse

Often specified in discussions of alumni status
Graduates may specify a particular grad school


Sometimes used interchangeably with the university name
The encompassing entity known worldwide

Compare with Definitions

Harvard College

Harvard College is one school within Harvard University.
While exploring Harvard University, he visited Harvard College.

Harvard University

Harvard University includes several graduate schools.
He studied law at one of Harvard University’s graduate schools.

Harvard College

Harvard College was established in 1636.
Harvard College predates all other schools within Harvard University.

Harvard University

Harvard University is an Ivy League research university.
She conducted extensive research at Harvard University.

Harvard College

Harvard College is an undergraduate liberal arts college.
She pursued her bachelor's degree at Harvard College.

Harvard University

Harvard University was established in the 17th century.
Harvard University has a rich history and a longstanding legacy.

Harvard College

Harvard College offers a myriad of undergraduate programs.
She studied Biological Sciences at Harvard College.

Harvard University

Harvard University encompasses Harvard College.
Harvard University provides numerous academic opportunities, including those at Harvard College.

Harvard College

Harvard College has its own admission process.
His application was accepted by Harvard College.

Harvard University

Harvard University is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
He visited Harvard University to explore its historic campus.

Common Curiosities

Is Harvard College older than Harvard University?

Yes, Harvard College was founded in 1636, making it the oldest part of Harvard University.

How many schools are within Harvard University?

Harvard University comprises 13 schools, including Harvard College.

Can a student at Harvard College take courses in other parts of Harvard University?

Yes, Harvard College students can cross-register in courses throughout Harvard University.

What is Harvard College known for?

Harvard College is known for its rigorous undergraduate liberal arts education.

Does Harvard University manage the admissions for all its schools?

No, each school, including Harvard College, within Harvard University manages its own admissions.

Is a degree from Harvard College also a degree from Harvard University?

Yes, Harvard College is part of Harvard University, so the degree is from Harvard University.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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