The university, the school

Before they study at the university, students should spend a year traveling and working.

OK so there’s a difference between university and the university. The same difference applies to school and the school.

University (uncountable)

This is the abstract label given to a type of tertiary education.

Students graduating from university
Students graduating from university (uncountable, abstract)
Photo: Tom Speed
  • Our son has gone to university to read psychology.
  • He met his wife Carol at university.
  • While at university, Daniel began writing his first novel.

In each of these examples, we don’t know which university (Sydney, Universitas Indonesia, etc.). We’re simply referring to the level and type of education.

University (countable)

The university (countable), on the other hand is concrete. It refers to a particular university (or universities) with particular buildings in particular locations.

This university has some very old buildings
This university (countable, concrete) has some very old buildings
  • About 8000 students are enrolled at the city’s three universities.
  • Researchers a university in Australia were first to discover the anomaly.
  • Various modifications were made to the university in 1921.

Conclusion

In our opening example, the writer is talking about the abstract idea of university as tertiary education following school (secondary education), and so it is inappropriate in this case to use the.

  • Before they study at university, students should spend a year traveling and working.
Indonesian flag Go to university, or study at university are both equivalent to the Indonesian kuliah, while go to school translates simply as as sekolah.

Practice

Select words from the drop-down menus to complete the text. When you have finished, click 'Check your answers!' for feedback.

OK I understand

I went to a little later than most people. I was 24. When I left I worked in a factory for a few years. Eventually I decided that wasn’t for me, so I went along to in my city to enquire about courses. Well, the courses at were not suitable, and so I eventually enrolled at in a different part of the country. I really miss being at !

Answer Key

Answers here, but only if you're really stuck!

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