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APA vs MLA — What Does Your College Prefer?

Updated: February 13, 2024 | Published: November 20, 2019

Updated: February 13, 2024

Published: November 20, 2019


When it comes to doing essays, presentations, and other assignments, your college will require you to reference your work — this means giving credit to the sources from which you took the information. It is important, however, that you use the referencing style required by your college, as there are many different referencing styles out there. Let’s do a comparison of APA vs MLA, two of the more commonly used styles, and understand which one you should be using in your classes.

Citation Format Confusion

A female student at the University of the People referencing her work.

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Both the APA and MLA referencing formats are well known and widely popular. Because of this, you may be asking yourself, do colleges use MLA or APA? The short answer is that they use both. The format that you are required to use is determined by the college you go to as well as the courses you take.

While these formats do have differences that set them apart, there are many similarities that they share that can lead to confusion between the two. In the following sections, we will take a look at some of the similarities and differences between MLA vs APA so that you can identify each one.

How are MLA and APA Similar?

The most basic way in which both styles are similar is that they both require all information to be referenced in the reference list at the end of the paper. Each reference is also listed alphabetically.

Secondly, all work that is not your own original work needs to be referenced. This is because by not doing so, you would be guilty of plagiarism. In case you are unsure, plagiarism is the use of someone else’s work without giving them credit where it is due.

In both the APA and MLA styles, parentheses are used for referencing within the body of the paper.

Finally, when using both styles, your paper needs to be double spaced. This includes the reference page. All margins should be 1 inch.

What Does MLA Include?

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The MLA style was created by the Modern Language Association for referencing sources in academic writing. It has since been used in classrooms as well as by scholars, journal publishers, and academics at large.

When referencing with the MLA style, the following details are listed in order:

  1. Author.
  2. Title of source.
  3. Title of container
  4. Other contributors
  5. Version
  6. Number
  7. Publisher
  8. Publication date,
  9. Location

When doing in-text referencing, you should always include the author’s name and the page number. The page number always needs to appear in parenthesis. You have a choice to either include the author’s name in the same parenthesis or to include the author’s name in the sentence being referenced.

What Does APA Include?

The APA style was developed by the American Psychological Association. This happened in 1929, when a group of psychologists, anthropologists, and business-people came together to decide on a style that should be used for scientific writing so that it can be easily read by other people.

The APA referencing method differs depending on the type of source that you are referencing.

When referencing books with the APA style, the following details are listed in order:

  1. Author
  2. Year
  3. Title of source
  4. Edition
  5. Location
  6. Publisher

Keep in mind that the referencing differs for other sources such as websites and academic journals.

Top Differences Between MLA and APA

Other Differences

While the major differences between the two styles are listed above, there are several other differences that also set them apart.

Source: EduBirdie

When to Use Each Format?

The MLA format, having been developed by the Modern Language Association, is typically used in humanities and liberal arts programs. Examples of majors where the MLA format is widely used are literature, visual arts, and theatre.

The APA format, developed by the American Psychological Association, was created specifically for use in behavioral and social sciences. Majors where the APA format is preferred include psychology, sociology, and history. There are other fields where the APA style is also sometimes applied, such as in the field of communications.

1. If You’re A Student

You may be required to learn both referencing styles while you are in school. Do not worry about using the wrong one in assignments, however, as your teacher should tell you which one to use. If they do not, be sure to ask so that you don’t make a mistake.

2. If You’re A Teacher

Students in humanities normally follow the MLA format, while those in science and research field usually follow the APA format.

Often, the MLA format is focused on in schools.

It is important that students are required to use one standardized referencing format throughout a course. This is so that it becomes easy to find the writer’s sources and ensure that referencing is done thoroughly.

It is recommended that students are taught a referencing style in high school so that they are prepared for referencing in college.

Does the Subject of the Paper Matter?

First of all, many online universities such as University of the People require the use of APA referencing.

If you are someone who attends an online university with diverse program options such as University of the People (which has programs in education, business administration, computer science, and health science), check your course materials or ask your lecturer what they require you to use.