“At University” Or “In University” – Easy Preposition Guide

When working with prepositions you always want to make sure that you use them appropriately so that you do not confuse your audience. Here you will learn how to appropriately use each of the phrases “at university,” and “in university.”

Is It “At University” Or “In University”?

In some cases, you can use the phrases “at university” and “in university” interchangeably and both formations are grammatically correct. Most often you use “at” when you want to describe that a person is physically at the university and use “in” to make a statement about their enrollment status.

at university or in university

The phrase “at university” is not often heard in conversational American English. Most Americans refer to all places of higher education (whether they are a college, university, or even a trade school) as “college.”

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When Should I Use “At University”?

Since “at university” and “in university” can be used interchangeably with each other, you can use the phrase “at university,” to either highlight that a person is physically present at the university at that time or to indicate that he or she is currently enrolled as a student there.

Choose the expression that you prefer to use based on your context, audience, or style.

Some examples that show both types of context include:

  • While Laura was at university, her parents turned her bedroom into a craft room.
  • My brother is at university right now but is planning to come home for Christmas.
  • My grandmother asked if I was going to enroll at university after graduating high school.

See how in the first two examples, “at university,” means that the person is currently physically present at the university. The third example shows a case where “at university” represents the individual’s future enrollment status.

When Should I Use “In University”?

When you use the phrase “in university,” you are saying to the audience that the person currently attends the university (according to enrollment status) or has attended the university at some point in their life. The word “university” represents a broader geographic location in cases like these.

See the examples shown here:

  • Back when I was in university, I had a job at a bookstore and that is when I discovered my love for classical literature.
  • I’m going to enroll in university immediately after high school because I know exactly the career path that I want to take.
  • My years in university were some of the best ones of my life so far. I really enjoyed my time there.
  • Luke is currently in university but will graduate this spring and plans to travel abroad.

In all of these examples, one can easily see the enrollment status of the individual. In the first and third examples, the individual attended university in the past. In the second example, the individual will attend the university in the future, and in the last example, the individual is currently attending the university at the present time.

None of the examples specify that the individual is currently at the physical location of the university. To specify that situation you would use the phrase “at university.”

Is “At University” Or “In University” Used The Most?

In modern times, you will find that “at university” is used more often than “in university.” This trend, however, is a change from most of history, as up until about the year 2002 “in university” appeared as the phrase that was used more often.

This Google Ngram Viewer reveals that up until about the mid-1800s, the two phrases were used at about the same rate. Around 1860, the expression “in university” started to overtake “at university” in usage.

at university or in university historical development

Strangely enough, the popularity of the two phrases switched again, and in 2002, “at university” overtook “in university” with a strong lead and continues to hold this lead until this day.

Is “At University” And “In University” Used Differently In The US And The UK?

In the United States, “in university” was used more often than “at university” from the 1800s up until about the year 2010 when “at university” surpassed it. In the United Kingdom, “at university” became the more popular phrase around the mid-1970s up until current times.

See for yourself by looking at this Google Ngram Viewer which shows the popularity of the two phrases for British English speakers. Although “in university” appeared to be the more popular of the two phrases for a brief amount of time, around 1980 “at university” surged in popularity and continued this trend up until today.

at university or in university British English

When you look at the Google Ngram Viewer for American English you can see that “in university” was always the most commonly used expression throughout history up until 2012 when suddenly “at university” became a bit more popular.

at university or in university American English

When Should I Use “On University”?

Use “on university” if you want to specify that something took place on the specific property or grounds of the university. In these two instances, the word “university” seems to act more like an adjective, describing the word “property” or “grounds.”

Note that the word “university” does not stop being a noun in these cases, but rather, the structure of the sentence leads it to be placed in a location where you might normally find an adjective, and in turn, it becomes descriptive of the noun following it.

There are rarely any other instances when you will see the phrase “on university” being used.

Look at this explanation in the context of these examples:

  • We must stay on university grounds during midterm week.
  • It’s often difficult to park on university property during a big event.
  • Skateboarding is not allowed on university property.

In all of these examples “university” enhances the noun “grounds” or “property.”

Quiz: Have You Mastered Prepositions For “University”?

Check now to see if you properly understand the differences between “at university,” “in university,” and “on university” by taking a short quiz. You can find the answers to the questions underneath the next heading.

  1.  I really miss my daughter when she is (A. at/ B. on/ C. in) university, and always look forward to breaks when she can come home.
  2.  I take classes (A. at/ B. on/ C. in) university on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays and work a part-time job the other days.
  3.  When you are (A. at/ B. on/ C. in) university grounds, you must show respect for the others around you.
  4.  My cousin is (A. at/ B. on/ C. in) university in London right now, but next semester she will be moving somewhere closer to home.
  5.  Things were different years ago when I was (A. at/ B. on/ C. in) university, we didn’t have computers to take notes and had to write them out manually.

Quiz Answers

  1. A
  2. A
  3. B
  4. A
  5. A or C

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