The words College, University and School are often used interchangeably in colloquial English and in a way that might confuse those who are not familiar with the exact meanings of the words.

A word about the English Language

Shona is one of the official languages in Zimbabwe. However not all Shona is the same we have the Karanga,Ndau,Manyika,Korekore and Zezuru dialects. It might still be Shona but the way its spoken, words used and even their means might vary from place to place depending on the local dialect.

While English is a major global language it is not immune to the effects of dialects. The result is that there are major differences in the way the language is spoken in certain regions. Major English dialects include American English and British English. For example the word apologise is spelt apologize in American (US English)

Zimbabwe is a former British colony and as a result it inherited the British spellings and a lot of the dialect. However, the rise of Hollywood (American Movies) and TV series has resulted in the increased usage of American English resulting in a confusing fusion of the two languages in Zimbabwe. Most people are not even aware of the distinction.

Popular differences include: Petrol is called gas (short for gasoline in America), Americans measure distance in miles and mass/weight in pounds while in Zimbabwe we use killometres and kilograms respectively. To add to the confusion most military American movies use klick as a unit to measure distance (klicks is a perverted shortening of kilometer).

College vs University

Offer education beyond High/Secondary SchoolOffer education beyond High/Secondary School
The courses are a lot shorter most can be completed in 2 years or less e.g. ComputersMost courses last for years (typically 3-4)
Offer very specialized courses with a narrow focus for example teaching collegesOffer both specialized courses and generalized courses with a broad focus for example Business Studies
Are often smaller in terms of sizeAre often larger than colleges in terms of size
Usually have a smaller number of students (enrollment)Usually have a larger number of students(enrollment)
You can join/enroll for some courses even if you have not completed A LevelMost courses require you to complete and pass Advanced Level
Their main business is to offer a diploma or short course certificateCan offer a diploma or short course certificate but this is not their main business
The highest qualification they can offer is an Undergraduate/Bachelor's degreeCan offer Post Graduate courses including Master's and Doctorate Degrees
Colleges usually cater for young adults below 25 due to the nature of their coursesUniversities cater for both young and more elderly adults as they offer postgraduate courses etc

If you are confused by the terms such as Undergraduate please see our guide of different types of degrees here.

Some private schools often use the word college to refer to themselves adding to the confusion. So below are some of  the meanings of the word college in Zimbabwe based on the British English meaning of the word.

College- a private school

College- an autonomous part of a University that has the power to confer degrees. For example the University of Zimbabwe College of Medicine which is part of the University of Zimbabwe but operates independently in most aspects. Another example is the King’s College which is part the University of Cambridge.

College-A school attended after age 16 resulting in a specialized qualification. It offers some courses which might or might not require an Ordinary Level/Advanced Level pass(es) of some sort. For example vocational courses such as Diesel Mechanics might simply require you to be of a certain age (mature entry)

In US/American English the word college has the following meanings:

Community College-A two year institution that confers Associate degrees.

College-A four year institution that confers Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctorate degrees. In this case the word simply means the same thing as University!

College- a faculty/branch/school within a University for example the University of Zimbabwe’s School of Social Work. Usually the college is geographically separate but still accountable and part of the main University. The School of Social work is found in Harare CBD and the University of Zimbabwe is found in Mount Pleasant suburb Harare for example.

Faculties and Schools

A faculty is a group of University/College departments that are concerned with a certain division of knowledge for example Business, Medicine, Law,Humanities or Arts. So for example the Medicine faculty could be in charge of Dental, Veterinary, Surgery and Medicine and Pharmacy departments. Each one of these departments might offer a certain degree/course. Some courses e.g. Biochemistry could be shared across the faculty.

In very large Universities it is customary to call these faculties schools especially if they have their own administrative functions e.g. collect their own fees etc. So you can have a School of Business or a School of Medicine. Some Universities might even call these Colleges instead!


The words college and university might mean the same thing or totally different things depending with the country involved (US/UK) and the institution involved.

NB Some colleges are called polytechnics.