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Which one is more correct: “works at a university” or “works in a university”?

Can I say "He is at graduate school."? If so, how does that sentence differ in meaning from "He is in graduate school."?

marked as duplicate by Matt E. Эллен, Kit Z. Fox, Hugo, Marthaª, Mitch Dec 13 '11 at 15:40

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You can, but you wouldn't, because "at" with an educational institution is British English (US English prefers "in"), but "graduate school" is an American institution not a British one.

(Disclaimer: I don't know about either usage or educational institutions in Canada, so it is possible that this would occur in Canadian speech).

  • Americans do use "at" with school. We just use "in" a lot more. But if I said somebody was "away this year at college", I would probably use "at" and not "in", even though they're attending the school. – Peter Shor Dec 13 '11 at 15:19
  • @PeterShor: I didn't know that. Thank you. – Colin Fine Dec 16 '11 at 0:10

At is used to show the place where somebody is: He is at school means this is his current location.

If you want to say that somebody attends graduate school, then the preposition to use is in: He's still in school means his school studies aren't over yet. When you change the preposition as in He's still at school, you mean that right now he's there and not anywhere else.

It all depends on the meaning you want to convey.

  • 1
    And which part of the English-speaking world you are in. – Colin Fine Dec 16 '11 at 0:14

Yes, you can say both, and the two don't differ in meaning, but from a quick and dirty search in the Corpus of Current American English, it appears that in graduate school is about 50 times more common.

  • They definitely differ in meaning if you change the context very slightly. If you say somebody is "in Harvard University", they are a student attending the school. If you say somebody is "at Harvard University", they may just be physically on the campus (although depending on context, it might also mean they are a professor or a student there). – Peter Shor Dec 13 '11 at 14:12
  • I understand your point, but for me the meanings generally don't differ. Consider this quote from an economics textbook, "The costs relate to (1) the income she will lose while she is at graduate school working on a master's degree." Clearly the author's intent is not to say that she will lose income only when she is physically located at the school. It is true, however, that in, in the sentence above, would not typically refer to physical location. – Brett Reynolds Dec 13 '11 at 14:46
  • @PeterShor: oddly enough, in Britain that observation is precisely reversed. "At Leeds University" means they are studying there, but "In Leeds University", being the marked form, would probably be taken to mean physically in the grounds with no particular status there. – Colin Fine Dec 16 '11 at 0:13

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