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Terms in Higher Education

Terms in Higher Education

Throughout your application, registration, and orientation process, you will hear many unfamiliar and possibly confusing terms that are important to understanding your college experience. Here are a list of those terms.

Academic Advisor: A member of faculty who helps and advises students purely on academic

Academic Year: Usually extends from late August/early September through late May/early June. Depending on the institution, it may be divided into terms of varying lengths: semesters, trimesters, or quarters.

Accreditation: National recognition and approval of colleges and universities by regional accrediting bodies and nationally recognized professional associations.

Add/Drop: A process at the beginning of the term when students can change their course schedules by adding or dropping classes with the instructor’s permission.

Associate Degree: The degree awarded after a two-year period of study, which can be either terminal (vocational) or transfer (the first two years of a bachelor’s degree).

Audit: To take a class without receiving a grade or credit towards the degree.

Bachelor’s Degree: The degree awarded upon completion of approximately four years of full-time study in the liberal arts and sciences or professional subjects.

College: An institution of higher education that offers undergraduate programs and, less frequently, also graduate programs. The term “college” is also used in a general sense to refer to a post-secondary institution. A college may also be a part of the organizational structure of a university.

Core Requirements: Compulsory courses required for completion of the degree.

Course: Regularly scheduled class sessions of one to five hours (or more) per week during the term. The courses offered by an institution are usually assigned a name and a number for identification purposes.

Credits: The units that institutions use to record the completion of courses of instruction (with passing grades) that are required to complete an academic degree.

Dean: Director or highest authority within a certain professional school or college of a university.

Degree: Diploma or title conferred by a college, university, or professional school upon completion of a prescribed program of studies.

Electives: Courses that students may choose to take for credit toward their intended degree to enhance the degree program, as distinguished from courses that they are required to take.

Faculty: The members of the teaching staff of an educational institution.

Fees: An amount charged by schools, in addition to tuition, to cover costs of institutional services.

Financial Aid: A general term that includes all types of money, loans and work-study programs offered to a student to help pay tuition costs and living expenses.

Grade Point Average (GPA): A system of recording academic achievement based on an average, calculated by multiplying the numerical grade received in each course by the number of credit hours studied.

Grading System: The type of scale—that is, letter grade, pass/fail, percentage—used by colleges and universities. Most institutions commonly use letter grades to indicate the quality of student’s academic performance: “A” (excellent), “B” (good), “C” (average), “D” (below average), and “F” (failing). Work rated “B” or higher is usually required of a graduate student to continue. Grades of “P” (pass), “S” (satisfactory) or “N” (no credit) are also used. In percentage scales, 65 to 70 percent is usually the lowest passing mark.

Graduate: A student who has completed a course of study, either at high school or university level. A graduate program is generally open only to students who have completed an undergraduate program. A graduate program leads towards a master’s or doctorate.

GMAT: Graduate Management Admissions Test, required for applicants to graduate programs in business/management.

GRE: Graduate Record Examination, required of applicants to graduate schools in fields other than business and law.

High School: The U.S. term for secondary school.

Honors Program: A challenging program for students with high grades.

International Students Adviser: The person associated with a college or university who is in charge of providing information and guidance to international students in such areas as U.S. government regulations, student visas, academic regulations, social customs, language, financial or housing problems, travel arrangements, insurance and legal matters.

Lecture: Common method of instruction in college and university courses. A professor lectures in classes of 20 to several hundred students. Lectures may be supplemented with regular small group discussions led by teaching assistants.

LSAT: Law School Admissions Test, required to applicants to JD (professional law) programs.

Liberal Arts: A term referring to academic studies of subjects in the humanities, the social sciences and the sciences. Also called “liberal arts and sciences” or “arts and sciences”.

Major: The subject in which a student wishes to concentrate for an undergraduate degree.

Master’s Degree: Degree that follows the Bachelor’s degree. It usually is a two-year program, although in some areas programs may be shorter (only one year) or longer (up to three years). It may require the completion of a thesis or presentation of a final work (in studio arts’ programs, for instance) or directed practical training.

MCAT: Medical College Admission Test, required when applying to American medical schools.

Midterm Exam: An exam administered after half the academic term has passed, which covers all course material up until that point.

Minor: A subject in which the student takes the second greatest concentration of courses.

Prerequisite: Program or course that a student is required to complete before being permitted to enroll in a more advanced program or course.

Registration: Process through which students select courses to be taken during a quarter, semester or trimester.

SAT: Scholastic Assessment Test, a test of mathematics and English that is required by most colleges and universities for admission into an undergraduate program.

Scholarship: A study grant of financial assistance, usually given at the undergraduate level, that may be supplied in the form of a waiver of tuition and/or fees.

School: Usually elementary, middle or high schools. Also an overall designation for any place of education, such as law school, graduate school, etc.

Semester: Period of study of approximately 15 to 16 weeks’ duration, usually half of an academic year.

Seminar: A form of small group instruction, combining independent research and class discussions under the guidance of a professor.

Social Security Number (SSN): A number issued by the U.S. government. Many institutions use this number as the student ID number.

Syllabus: An outline of topics to be covered in an academic course.

TOEFL: Test of English as a Foreign Language, an English language proficiency examination, required to all applicants whose native language is not English.

Transcript: A certified copy of a student’s educational record containing titles of courses, the number of credits, and the final grades in each course. An official transcript also states the date a degree has been conferred.

Transfer: The process of moving from one university to another to complete a degree.

Tuition: The money an institution charges for instruction and training (does not include the cost of books).

Tuition Waiver: An exemption from the payment of the tuition usually awarded to students as part of an assistantship or fellowship.

Undergraduate: A student enrolled in a bachelor’s or associate’s degree program.

University: An educational institution that usually maintains one or more four-year undergraduate colleges (or schools) with programs leading to a bachelor’s degree, a graduate school of arts and sciences awarding master’s degrees and doctorates (Ph.D.s), and graduate professional schools.

Withdrawal: The administrative procedure of dropping a course or leaving an institution.