Is at university more common than in university?

I wish to convey a meaning that I am expecting life in/at university, which one shall I use?

  • possible duplicate of When to use "of", "in" and "at"? – CRABOLO Aug 1 '15 at 9:38
  • 2
    @Dronehinge - I don't think that's even close to a duplicate; it's "related" at best. As a matter of fact, the word university is not even mentioned at that other question. To the O.P.: the issue here isn't really which is more common, but which is more applicable to your context. Sometimes, the less common wording is the one you should use. – J.R. Aug 1 '15 at 9:43
  • What dialect do you want to use? I think American and British English differ here. – Nate Eldredge Aug 1 '15 at 14:41
  • I want to use the British version – Rescy_ Aug 2 '15 at 0:50

Statistically, and cross-linguistically, at university is more commonly-used than in university. Here's some numbers:

  • British corpus:
    • at university/universities: 504
    • in university/universities: 243
  • American corpus:
    • at university/universities: 1,166
    • in university/universities: 730
  • Web corpus:
    • at university/universities: 12,132
    • in university/universities: 5,603

I wouldn't call any of these an overwhelming majority, so what's the difference?

Here's a clear case where you can't use at:

So, for the meaning of in that corresponds roughly to in the course of, you can't use at.

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In USA, for actual location, we use "at the university" or "at {name of university;e.g. "Yale"}.

For the sense of being a student for a period:

"I'm in college." Or "When I was in college" Or "When I was at MSU..."

... NOT ... "When I was in university..." Or "When I was at university..."

xxxxxxxx Before you attend a university:

"Are you planning to go to college?" "Yes." "Which one?" "Michigan State. [University]" (the word "university" is usually left out) "So how do you think you'll like {life at college/college life}?" "Sounds like fun." "Do you think you'll do well at MSU?" "Mostly. I didn't do well in high-school math; but {at/in} college, I won't have to take math."

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