Public School, University School, College, University… Who is who, and what am I enrolled in?

May 6, 2019 · 3 min read

One of the issues in international education is the differences between education across borders. Not just internationally, but also across provinces. Why? Because every jurisdiction prefer to call their education system differently.

For example, getting a “diploma” means finishing high school in North America, but it can mean another 2 years of post-secondary education in other countries like Thailand. Also, in many countries, a “secondary school” simply means the 7th — 11th year of education, but not a “second-tier school”.

Understanding who is who, and what are what, can be difficult. To illustrate some of that complexity, let’s look at 2 pairs of terminologies.

College, University

This is perhaps the most well-known pair of education terminology. In the United States, a “college” is an institution that can offer a 4-year bachelor’s degree. They are usually liberal arts institutions, but there is no formal restrictions. Some of them are an institution by themselves, for example Dartmouth College and Haverford College; and some of them are sub-divisions in a university, e.g. Harvard College, the liberal arts college within Harvard University.

However, across the border in Canada, or indeed in many other jurisdiction, a “college” is a post-secondary institution that are often technical schools or applied arts/science schools. Among the exceptions are Royal Military College of Canada, which is a degree-granting institution, or St. Michaels University School in British Columbia, Canada, which is not a university. It is a “college” that offers up to the 12th year of education.

Furthermore, a “college” is a secondary school in countries like the United Kingdom. Eton College is, of course, a school that offers up to sixth form (the 12th year of) education. Trinity College in Oxford University on another hand have programs from a bachelor’s degree to Doctor of Philosophy. Trinity College in the University of Toronto does a similar thing. What about Trinity College in Cambridge University? Well, they don’t offer “degrees”. They have “tripos”, which is the same thing. Because why not?

And what about Trinity College in the University of Melbourne? They offer foundation studies, which are 12th year preparation courses. Here is a very illustrative answer to our wonder: “What is a College?” on Colleges University of Melbourne website:

screenshot from

Get it?

Public School VS State School

Colloquially, a “school” can be a primary school, secondary school, secondary school, or a university in Canada. In Europe, it is usually an institution that offers education to a level up to something just lower than a bachelor’s degree.

But which schools are government operated, and which ones are not? Well, in North America, a public school is one that receives funding from the government, and a private school is one that does not. Simple enough.

In contrast, a public school in England is actually a private school. Yes — both a public school and a private school in England are categorised as independent schools which charge private fees. Government funded schools are called “state schools”.

Other countries are more logical — the Australians call them “non-government schools”, and the Northern Irish term them “controlled schools”. What about the Germans? Oh, there are only 5 types of secondary schools in Germany, namely the Gymnasium, the Realschule, Gesamtschule , Hauptschule, and the Förder- or Sonderschulen. Simple!

Aaaaand that was just 2 pairs of jargons. Still confounded? Well, I did not wish that this post would explain in the slightest. Education systems need effective translation of credentials across borders, and that’s what we at Zept are working towards.

Have fun navigating out there, or, if you are looking for a university in Canada, try using Our mobile apps are now available on Android and iOS.


Zept - for prospective international students and the schools they wish to attend


Written by

Economics junkie learning how to write. Thawing in Edmonton, Canada



Zept - for prospective international students and the schools they wish to attend

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