The words “university” and “universal” have the same root. They are usually large, regionally accredited schools with a great diversity of offerings. Some universities contain several colleges, such as the College of Law or the College of Education. Universities offer four-year degrees (baccalaureate or bachelor's degrees.) Universities also offer master's degrees (one or two years of academic credit past the bachelor's.) Some universities offer a doctorate (Ph.D.) in various fields of study. Universities are often state-supported, and if so, are referred to as public (versus private) institutions. Examples of public universities are the University of New Hampshire and the University of California, the latter of which has nine campuses. Examples of private universities are Stanford University, the University of Chicago, and Harvard University.
The word “college” usually refers to four-year institutions which grant bachelor’s degrees. Graduate degrees (master’s and doctorate) may or may not be offered. Colleges are usually smaller than universities and frequently have fewer majors and course offerings. Many colleges are public (government-supported). However, many are private institutions supported by endowments, alumni contributions and higher tuition charges. Colleges in this category are regionally accredited. Some universities are made up of a number of colleges. Examples of public colleges are Brooklyn College, Charter Oak State College, Trinity College at Oxford University, and Earl Warren College at the University of California, San Diego. Examples of private colleges are Morehouse College, Bryn Mawr College, and Spelman College.
Community colleges (sometimes referred to as “junior colleges”) are regionally accredited two-year institutions supported by state funds and local taxes. They offer associate degrees designed to transfer into a four-year institution. They also offer many associate and vocational certificate programs to be completed in two years or less -- practical courses that lead directly to jobs, i.e., dental hygienist, air conditioning and refrigeration, criminal justice, automotive technology, and real estate. The tuition is generally lower than four-year universities/colleges and private vocational schools. Virtually all community colleges are public institutions.
Vocational institutions (referred to by some as “trade” schools) usually train students in a specific career field, such as accounting, welding, cosmetology, legal assistant, computer technology, and culinary arts. Many (not all) are private (for profit) and charge relatively high tuition. The entire course of study is often two years or less. Graduates earn a diploma, certificate, or (in some cases) an associate's or bachelor's degree. The accreditation of a vocational institute is crucial, especially if you ever want to transfer credit to another institution. Quality vocational institutions are accredited by one of several national accrediting bodies, such as (but not limited to) the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology, Accrediting Council of Independent Colleges and Schools, Council on Occupational Education or the Distance Education and Training Council. Many, if not most, vocational institutions are private. Examples are ITT Technical Institute and DeVry University.