With a heritage that goes back to more than a hundred years, Cotton College, the premier seat of higher learning in Northeast India, unequivocally occupies the pride of place among the institutions of its kind in the North-Eastern part of the country. Having contributed significantly to the academic and cultural life of the region the institution has not only withstood the test of time but has also carved a niche for itself in the sphere of higher education in the country. Contemporaneous with Murarichand College of Sylhet (now in Bangladesh) of the undivided India under the British rule, Cotton College came into existence on 27th May, 1901 through the untiring efforts of such magnanimous and illustrious sons of the soil like Late Manik Chandra Barooah and Rai Bahadur Bhuban Ram Das, backed by the unstinted support of the intelligentsia of the region of that time. However, had it not been for the unreserved support and concern of the then Chief Commissioner of the then Assam Province from 1896 to 1902, Sir Henry John Stedman Cotton, K.C.S.I., the institution would not have perhaps seen the light of day. While the time came, therefore, to express their sense of gratitude to the foremost popular ruler of the province, the people of ‘Gauhati’ decided to name the institution itself after him.
UGC has also identified the college as a "Special Heritage College" under the scheme " Special Heritage Status to Colleges" in 2015.