Some universities have a School of Something and some a Department of Something. Are they identical and just two common terms for the same thing, or they are different in the university structure?

My impression is that a School is generally larger than a Department. Probably, school is an academic unit between department and faculty. Maybe, a faculty has a few schools, and each school hosts some departments.


4 Answers 4


The term school and department are going to mean different things at different institutions. Generally speaking, the term school refers to a larger unit within a university than department and many schools will contain multiple departments. For example, Harvard University contains a School of Public Health (and other schools) which contains a Department of Epidemiology (and other departments).

That said, names are often not even used uniformly or consistently within universities. For example, at the same organizational level as the School of Public Health at Harvard is the Faculty of Arts and Sciences which runs both Harvard College and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. My current university uses the concept of an academic "unit". Many units are "schools" (e.g., the School of Public Health or the Information School) but others are not (e.g., the College of Arts of Sciences). There is also an organization within the university called the Graduate School which cuts across and oversees work in different units and schools.

Sometimes, smaller "schools" will not contain separate departments. Sometimes, a large department in a large school might be larger than entire schools elsewhere in the university! Sometimes, the terms might be used interchangeably. In many other cases, they won't. In some cases, one or both terms might not even be used at all!

  • At my institution (US public), I am in the School of Mathematical Sciences. We have no sub-departments, and are on the same organizational level as the Department of Physics and Astronomy, both directly under the College of Natural and Health Sciences. My School is organized just like every other academic department I've ever seen, except that our "department chair" has the exalted title of Director. Commented Apr 24, 2014 at 14:34

In line with Benjamin Mako Hill's answer there may be no uniformity between different institutions. In general the following hierarchical structure is applied to universities in Ireland.

  1. University Name
  2. College Name
  3. School Name
  4. Department Name

So in my case in my university as a History Student it would be the Department of History in the School of Humanities at the College of Arts, Social Science at my university.

In this scenario the School is made up of a number of Departments of specialised study and the college is made up of the schools that would fall under its remit.

  • 2
    Although this is good general advice in the US as well, it's extremely common to be missing at least one of these structures. That said, if organizations with these names exist within an institution, it is likely that they would fall in this order in the hierarchy.
    – mako
    Commented Apr 24, 2014 at 15:00
  • @BenjaminMakoHill Yes I agree, I have found in Ireland that it seems that the older (19th Cent) Universities can have all and newer (20th Cent) Universities have some missing.
    – gman
    Commented Apr 24, 2014 at 15:20

In many universities School is used for units that confer a professional accreditation (e.g. School of Law). In contrast, Departments are units that refer to specific areas of knowledge that do not end up as a professional qualification (e.f. Department of Philosophy).

  • What kind of professional accreditation would a "School of Arts and Sciences" confer in this taxonomy?
    – ff524
    Commented Apr 24, 2014 at 4:21
  • I have no idea. At least several NZ universities use the distinction I presented. I do not claim universal acceptance of this distinction. :-)
    – user14382
    Commented Apr 24, 2014 at 4:27
  • Just trying to understand the distinction :) In these universities, what school would e.g. grant the degree "B.A. in Anthropology"? Does this mean that nonprofessional degrees in this system aren't offered by "schools "?
    – ff524
    Commented Apr 24, 2014 at 4:29
  • In my university the B.A. in Anthropology would be a degree conferred by the College of Humanities, where most credits would come from different departments. No School involved in the process. Schools would be dentistry and law, for example.
    – user14382
    Commented Apr 24, 2014 at 4:44

School is a specialized one, which caters to only the studies beyond UG i.e Graduate and Doctoral one. Schools generally do not have UG studies

Deptt caters to dominatingly UG studies as well ....

  • 4
    You write without any qualifications, suggesting that what you say applies everywhere. However, this certainly doesn't describe the situation in the UK, where the terms "school" and "department" are used essentially at the whim of the university administrators. Commented Feb 5, 2017 at 20:33
  • 2
    -1 for blatantly wrong with regard to many parts of the world.
    – Nij
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 5:26

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