StudyLink logoHome
Students on a university campus

University vs. University of Applied Sciences – What’s the Difference?

Image of a student looking at a computer screen
Deciding between a University and University of Applied Sciences requires you to do plenty of research

For international students looking at studying abroad, it’s really important to know the difference between traditional universities and universities of applied sciences (UAS). These two types of schools are quite different.

Traditional universities focus more on book learning and studying a wide range of subjects. They’re all about learning things in depth and doing research. Universities of applied sciences, however, are more about learning by doing. They teach you the skills you need for specific jobs and get you ready for the working world.

This guide is here to help international students like you decide which type of university is the best fit for what you want to achieve and how you like to learn.

What is the difference between a University and a University of Applied Sciences?

Traditional universities are more focused on studying through research and theoretical processes. Universities of applied sciences are more focused on studying through practical applications and gaining real world experience. Your choice should be based on whether you want to learn through research or if you want to learn skills for a specific career path.

What is a University?

A traditional university is different from a university of applied sciences because it focuses more on exploring a wide variety of subjects through reading, lectures, and research. It’s perfect for students who are curious about understanding complex ideas and theories in depth.

Unlike universities of applied sciences, which prepare students for specific jobs with practical skills, traditional universities generally aim to broaden your knowledge and thinking in fields like science, the arts, and humanities. This makes them a great choice if you’re interested in learning for the sake of knowledge and perhaps becoming an expert in your area of study.

What is a University of Applied Sciences?

A university of applied sciences is different from a traditional university because it’s all about giving you the practical skills you need for specific jobs. Here, you’ll learn by doing, with a focus on hands-on projects, internships, and real-world applications of your studies. This type of university is ideal if you have a clear career path in mind and want to get straight into the workforce with the right skills.

Unlike traditional universities, which dive deep into theories and a broad range of subjects, universities of applied sciences prepare you directly for professional life in areas like engineering, business, or healthcare.

Can I still get a degree at a University of Applied Sciences?

As an international student, you can still earn a full undergraduate or postgraduate degree at a university of applied sciences. However, the subjects available are more focused on specific careers, and you won’t find research degrees here. These universities are great for practical, job-related skills but offer fewer options if you’re interested in a wide range of academic fields or in pursuing research-focused studies.

What countries have Universities of Applied Sciences?

Universities of applied sciences can be found in various countries around the world, often known by different names depending on the region. Here are some examples:

  • Germany: Known as “Fachhochschulen” or “Hochschulen für angewandte Wissenschaften”, these focus on practical and professional education in fields like engineering, business, and social sciences.
  • Finland: Referred to as “Ammattikorkeakoulut”, they offer a practice-oriented approach to higher education, preparing students for specific careers.
  • Netherlands: Called “Hogescholen”, these provide vocational education and training with a strong emphasis on applied knowledge.
  • Switzerland: Known as “Fachhochschulen” (similar to Germany), they offer education that is closely linked to the needs of the professional sector.
  • Austria: Also referred to as “Fachhochschulen”, providing career-focused education similar to their German and Swiss counterparts.
  • Canada: While not always called “universities of applied sciences”, several institutions like polytechnics and institutes of technology offer applied education and research, similar in function to universities of applied sciences.

These universities of applied sciences are characterised by their focus on preparing students for specific careers through practical training and applied research, differing from traditional universities that often focus more on theoretical and academic research.

Which type of university is right for me?

If you’re an international student trying to decide between a university and a university of applied sciences, think about what you want from your studies. If you love diving into theories, exploring various subjects, and maybe even getting involved in research, a traditional university might be right for you. Here, you’ll get a broad education that could lead to many different paths.

On the other hand, if you have a clear job in mind and prefer learning by doing, a university of applied sciences could be a better fit. These places focus on giving you the practical skills and experience you need for specific careers. You’ll likely do internships and work on real-life projects related to your future job.

Consider your career goals, learning style, and what you’re most passionate about. This will help you choose the path that’s best for you.

Take a look at our Subjects and Countries directory to find more information about where you can study and what courses are available.

Search for courses now

International study advice

Read our key advice article to help you make the best decision for your education and start your International study adventure.

Person holding a compass
How to choose the ideal study destination for you

In this article we look at how to approach choosing where in the world you would like to study.

World map on a blackboard
Deciding to study abroad: The first steps

Read StudyLink's suggestions on your first steps when deciding where to study abroad, with helpful tips to make your decision easier.

Students reading a book
English Language Testing for International Students

Find out more about English language tests, your options and what is required as an overseas student.

Lady holding bank notes
How much does it really cost to study abroad in 2024? take a detailed look into the costs of studying abroad and all the aspects that you should budget for when embarking on your studies.

A visa document
10 Common Student Visa Question

We answer 10 common questions about applying for a student visa to help make your visa application quick and easy.

A visa document and a world map
International Study Visas

Find out more about international student visas for studying abroad, as well as how, where and when to apply for yours.

A piggy bank with coins
Funding and Scholarships for International Students

Find out more about funding and scholarships for international students, and what financial assistance might be available to you.

Person selecting a book from a shelf
How to choose the right course for you

How to choose a course that fits you? Check our top tips on choosing which course is best for you to help you make an informed decision.

See more international study advice

Sign up to

Sign up to, the home of quality study abroad advice.

Sign up now
Students with books and test tubes
Search for courses