College Terminology

AA degree

Associate of Arts degree, Degree given after completion of a 2-year college (i.e., community college)

academic advisor

a person who helps students make decisions about their academic programs

Academic probation

When student fall below the requirements by the school to be in good academic standing. Usually this is when a student falls below a 2.0.

Academic Suspension

a temporary removal of student, usually after academic probation.

adjunct professor

A professor who is usually part-time.


When you take a college class just for the experience, but choose to not earn credit towards a degree.

BA degree

Bachelor of Arts degree;

Bachelor's degree

A four-year degree

BS degree

Bachelor of Science degree


The Office of the Bursar is responsible for billing of student tuition accounts.


The graduation ceremony where students receive their diplomas.

Common Application

A standardized undergraduate application used by more than 400 colleges (mostly selective, independent) for admission.


A student who does not live in campus housing and commutes to and from campus from home.

conditional admission

An acceptance to a college or university that is dependent on the student first completing coursework or meeting specific criteria before enrollment. For an international student, this can include a requirement to attain a certain level of English-language proficiency if the student's TOEFL score doesn't meet the minimum required.

Cost of Attendance

How much it costs to attend the university, including tuition, fees, and room and board.

Course catalog

The list of what classes are offered for an upcoming term

course load

The credit hours for which a student is registered.

Course Numbering

Courses in the 100 series are generally for first year students, course in the 200 series are for second year students, etc. English 101, for example, is a freshman course. Courses with numbers below 100 are developmental courses; developmental course credits generally cannot be used to fulfill graduation requirements.

Credit Hour

The number of credit hours assigned to a course also indicates the number of ours the class meets per week. A three-hour course, for example, usually meets for three hours a week. The class could meet 1:00 - 2:00 MWF, 8:00 - (9:30 TTH, etc. Lab classes are the exception; they usually meet for longer periods.


The head of a division of a college or university.

double major

When a student has 2 main fields of study


Students who want to drop or add a course must complete the required form(s) before the drop/add deadline(s).

Early Action

A college gives a student their admission decision at an earlier than the regular decision date, but the student does not have to accept the offer until the standard May 1 date.

Early Decision

Students who apply under early decision make a commitment to enroll at the college if admitted and offered a satisfactory financial aid package.


College students must take a certain number of required courses. They also have courses that they are able to choose, or 'elect', to take; these courses are called electives.

Expected Family Contribution (EFC)

How much money your family is expected to contribute to your college expenses (tuition, fees, etc.).


Free Application for Federal Student AidApplication used by U.S. citizens and permanent residents to apply for financial aid from U.S. federal and state governments.

Federal work study

a type of financial aid in which part-time jobs for students are arranged to help them pay for school


An amount of money charged by colleges and universities, in addition to their tuition, to cover costs of services such as libraries and computer technology.


An examination at the end of a term, academic year, or class.

Financial aid package

All types of money offered to a student to help pay tuition, fees, and other educational expenses. This can include loans, grants, scholarships, assistantships, fellowships, and work-study jobs.


Fraternities (for men) and sororities (for women) are social organizations that are active in various activities.

full-time student

A student enrolled for 12 or more credit per semester.

Grade point average (GPA)

A student's overall academic performance, which is calculated as a numerical average of grades earned in all courses. The GPA is determined after each term, typically on a 4.0 scale.


A type of financial aid that consists of an amount of free money given to a student, often by the federal or a state government, a company, a school, or a charity. A grant does not have to be repaid.

Independent Study

An academic course that allows students to earn credit for work done outside of the normal classroom setting.

Liberal Arts College

A postsecondary institution that emphasizes an undergraduate education in liberal arts. Liberal arts focuses on subjects in the humanities, social sciences, and the sciences, with a focus on general knowledge, in contrast to a professional or technical emphasis.


The academic subject area that a student chooses to focus on during his or her undergraduate studies.

Master's degree

A graduate degree awarded by a college or university upon successful completion of an advanced program of study, typically requiring one or two years of full-time study beyond the bachelor's degree.


To enroll in a program of study at a college or university, with the intention of earning a degree.

meal plan

Plans selected to provide food and meals for students living in residence halls.

Merit-based Financial Aid

Financial aid based on high academic, athletic, artistic, or community service achievement.

Mid-Term Exams (Midterms)

During the middle of each semester, instructors may give mid-term exams that test students on the materialcovered during the first half of the semester. Some classes have only two tests, a midterm and a final.


An academic subject area that a student chooses to have a secondary focus on during their undergraduate studies.

Need-Based Financial Aid

Financial aid that is awarded to students due to their financial inability to pay the full cost of attending a specific college or university, rather than specifically because of their grades or other merit.

Open admissions

A college or university's policy of accepting all students who have completed high school or an equivalency exam, regardless of their grades or test scores, until all spaces are filled.


A college or university's official process of welcoming new, accepted students to campus and providing them with information and policies before classes begin.

Out-of-state student

A student who does not legally reside in the state in which the college or university is located.

Part-time student

A student who attends college or university half-time, taking fewer than 12 credit hours per term.

Pass/fail course

A course in which you will not get a standard letter grade, but will either be marked by passing or failing (not receiving credit).

Pell Grant

A grant awarded based on financial need by the U.S. federal government to help students pay for higher education.

Placement tests

A test usually given to a student entering an educational institution to determine specific knowledge or proficiency in various subjects for assignment to appropriate courses or classes.

PLUS loan

A student loan offered to parents of students enrolled at least half time, or graduate and professional students, at participating and eligible post-secondary institutions. The original, now obsolete, meaning of the acronym was "Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students.


When students must take one course before they can take another, the first course is considered a prerequisite. For example, Math 101 might be a prerequisite for Math 102.

Priority Date

This is the date by which an application, whether for admission, housing or financial aid, must be received in order to be given the strongest possible consideration. After this date, applicants are considered on a first-come, first-served basis.

Private institution

A postsecondary institution controlled by a private individual(s) or a nongovernmental agency. A private institution is usually not supported primarily by public funds.


A teacher of the highest rank in a college or university.


a high-ranking university administrator

Public institution

A postsecondary institution that is supported mainly by public funds.

RA (Resident Assistant)

A student leader who works in campus dormitories and supervises issues and activities related to dorm life. RAs often receive free housing in the dorm in return for their services.

Reach School

A college or university that you have a chance of getting into, but your test scores, GPA and/or class rank are a bit on the low side when you look at the school's profile. The top U.S. colleges and top universities should always be considered reach schools.


Letters written by teachers, counselors, and others who can vouch for a student's skills, personality, and abilities. Most schools require one or two letters of recommendation.


The college or university official who is responsible for registering students and keeping their academic records, such as transcripts.


Before the beginning of each term, students must sign up (register) for classes, and they must pay fees.