Should the Words “University” and “College” Be Capitalized?
  • 3-minute read
  • 19th June 2022

Should the Words “University” and “College” Be Capitalized?

There are many tricky rules to remember when writing in English. For example, where to correctly place punctuation, how to spell words that look different than they sound, and when words need to be capitalized.

As a student, you likely write about university or college quite often, so we’ve put together this guide to help you determine when those words need to be capitalized. Read on to learn more!

Common and Proper Nouns

First, it’s helpful to review the differences between common and proper nouns.

1. A common noun, also called a generic noun, refers to an item in a class or group that has not been identified as a specific person, place, or thing:

The dog swam in the river.

Because neither the dog’s nor the river’s identities are specified in this example, they are common nouns. We could be referring to any dog and any river.

2. A proper noun refers to a specific named person, place, or thing:

Charlie swam in the Mississippi River.

In this example, we’ve identified the dog as Charlie and the river as the Mississippi River; they are proper nouns.

Common nouns are only capitalized when they begin a sentence or appear in a title, while proper nouns are always capitalized. You can learn more about the distinction between these types of nouns here.

University and College

Now we’re ready to look specifically at when the nouns “university” and “college” need to be capitalized.

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She wants to go to university next year, but she hasn’t been accepted anywhere yet.

He wants to study medicine at college.

In these examples, university and college are used without specifying a particular place, so they are common nouns and don’t need to be capitalized. Again, we could be referring to any university or college.

She wants to go to Harvard University next year, but she hasn’t been accepted yet.

He wants to study medicine at Dartmouth College.

Here, university and college refer to specific named places, so they are proper nouns and need to be capitalized.

When you’re writing, it’s helpful to consider how specific is the message you’re trying to communicate. As you can see, we didn’t need to capitalize dog, river, university, or college until we specifically named them.

Proofreading and Editing Services

If you’d like to make sure you’re properly capitalizing words – or following any other tricky spelling and grammar rules – in your academic writing, we have expert editors who can help! You can learn more by submitting a free trial document.

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