An English speaker’s perspective

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Colegio / Escuela

Colegio does not mean college necessarily. It can be if applied to a group of people, but typically it is used to mean school, and usually school up to the American English understanding of college. An American English college would be universidad in Spanish.

However, there are times when colegio can be applied to mean college when you are talking about a group, or body, of people. For example: electoral college. Or it can be a professional association such as a college of surgeons. In these cases the Spanish colegio and the English college are interchangeable.

Escuela, however, can be applied to any type of educational institution. It is most commonly used to refer to schools that are pre-college level, but can be used for a college as well. In any way we use school in English, escuela can be used in Spanish.

These are words that will be in greater or lesser use depending on which country you are in. I remember in Peru we used colegio almost exclusively and escuela was almost never used. Here in Mexico we use escuela. While colegio is certainly understood, it is not the preferred word to use when talking about your school.

The usage and description of the word college in English varies greatly as well. It depends on the country you are in. A quick look at the Wikipedia article for college will tell you that even though many countries speak English, we don’t always mean the same thing by the words we use.


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