Glossary of College Terms

A

Academic Record: Transcript of grades, courses, credits, and related academic information kept on file by the school. The transcript often includes grade point average (GPA) and/or rank in class. Standardized test scores may or may not be recorded on the transcript.

Accreditation: Approval of colleges and universities by nationally-recognized professional associations or regional accrediting bodies.

Add/Drop: A process at the beginning of a term whereby students can delete and add classes with an instructor's permission.

Adult Learner: An adult learner is an individual who is not a traditional student (a student who begins college immediately following high school).

Articulation/Transfer Agreements: A formal agreement between institutions (usually community colleges/2-year colleges and 4-year institutions) that maps a program of study from a two-year to a four year-degree.

Associate Degree: A degree awarded after approximately a two-year period of study.

Attestation: An official affirmation that a degree or transcript is genuine. Usually signed by a recognized expert or witness. 

B

Bachelor's degree: A degree awarded upon completion of approximately four years (or five years in certain programs) of full-time study.

Billable Costs: College costs that are paid directly to the college or university, including tuition, student activity fees, laboratory fees, and other charges. For students who live on campus, the cost of room and board will also be a billable cost.

C

College Catalog: An official publication giving information about a university's academic programs, facilities, entrance requirements, and student life.

Common and Universal Applications: Many independent colleges accept The Common Application while others use the Universal Application. The colleges and universities that accept these standardized forms give them equal weight with their own application forms. If accepted by the college, check to see if the supplemental sections are required as well.

Community/Junior College: A postsecondary institution that offers associate degree programs, as well as technical and vocational programs. Some also offer bachelor’s degrees.

Core Course: Courses that provide the foundation of the degree program and are required of all students seeking that degree.

Cost of Attendance: Expenses, including tuition and fees, books and supplies, and living expenses while the student attends college. The cost of attendance is compared with the student’s expected family contribution to determine the student’s financial need.

Credit: A unit that most colleges and universities use to record the completion of courses (with passing grades) that are required for an academic degree.

Credit Evaluation: An assessment of a student’s transfer credit, generally performed at the time of admission, in which course equivalencies are established (if possible) for individual transfer courses.

D

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

Degree Audit: A report that aligns prior course work and learning with the current institution’s program of student requirements. This checklist also shows what courses are remaining and what courses were not transferred because they are not comparable or equivalent to the ones required by the institution a student transferred to. Many colleges require a student to run or prepare a degree audit after each semester.

Department: Administrative subdivision of a school, college, or university through which instruction in a certain field of study is given (such as English department or history department).

E

Electives: Within a degree program, these are courses that may be chosen from any field of study. Electives give students an opportunity to explore other topics or subjects of interest.

Expected Family Contribution (EFC): The amount students and their families are expected to pay toward college costs derived from a financial needs analysis, usually based on income and assets.

F

FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid): A free form that must be completed by all those who wish to be considered for federal and many forms of state financial aid.

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

Financial Aid: Any grant, scholarship, loan or paid employment offered to help a student meet his or her college expenses. The amount a student receives is determined through federal, state and institutional guidelines.

Full-time Student: One who is enrolled in an institution taking a full load of courses; the institution specifies the number of courses and hours. Enrollment status is important for financial aid eligibility and award levels. 

G

Grade/Grading System: The evaluation of a student's academic work. 

Grade Point Average (GPA): The combined average of a student's grades for all academic coursework completed. In the United States, grades are usually assigned in letters and are often based on a 4.0 GPA scale. 

For example,

Grade        GPA

A               4.0 (excellent)

B               3.0 (good)

C               2.0 (satisfactory)

D               1.0 (needs improvement)

F                0.0 (fail)

Grant: A type of financial aid that doesn’t have to be repaid. Grants are often based on financial need. 

I

Indirect Costs: College costs that do not show up on the college bill and include books and supplies, travel, and personal expenses (laundry, entertainment, clothing, etc.). The amount spent on these items will vary according to need and preference.

International English Language Testing System (IELTS): An English language proficiency examination for students whose first language is not English.

L

Liberal Arts and Sciences: Academic studies of subjects in the humanities, the social sciences, and the physical sciences with the goal of developing students' verbal, written, and reasoning skills.

Living Expenses: Expenses such as housing and meals, books and supplies, transportation, personal expenses, health insurance, etc.

Loan: Money borrowed by the student and/or parent or guardian to pay for college expenses; loans must be repaid, usually with interest.

M

Major: The student's field of concentration. Major courses represent 25-50% of the total number of courses required to complete a degree. Most students pursue one major, but some pursue double majors.

Major Professor/Thesis Advisor: For research degrees, the professor who works closely with a student in planning and choosing a research plan, in conducting the research, and in presenting the results. The major professor serves as the head of a committee of faculty members who review a student’s progress and results.

Master's Degree: Degree awarded upon completion of academic requirements that usually include a minimum of one year's study beyond the bachelor's degree.

Matriculation: The process whereby a student is accepted, pays fees and enrolls in class, officially becoming a student at the college.

Minor: The student's secondary field of concentration. Students who decide to pursue a minor will usually complete about five courses in this second field of study.

O

Online/Distance Learning: a general term describing academic programs and courses taught using web technologies. Online/Distance learning can come in many forms. Some courses are self-paced while others have a fixed schedule. Online learning often involves self-study and research segmented into chapters or modules. Classes online can be very flexible and offer a student the means to complete their studies without meeting instructors or fellow students.  

P

Placement Test: An examination used to test a student's academic ability in a certain field so that he or she may be placed in the appropriate courses in that field. In some cases, a student may be given academic credit based on the results of a placement test.

Plan of Study: A detailed description of the course of study for which a candidate applies. The plan should incorporate the objectives given in the student's “statement of purpose.”

Prerequisites: Programs or courses that a student is required to complete before being permitted to enroll in a more advanced program or course.

Prior Learning Assessment (PLA): A process and set of steps institutions perform when students apply or consider enrolling. This evaluation can include reviewing transcripts from other institutions, academic providers, military training or work experience. PLA often involves developing a portfolio of evidence of past work or achievements. 

R

Residency (relating to transfer): The number of courses, credits or percentage of a program a student must complete at an institution to graduate from that institution.

Rolling Deadline: Institutions accept applications and admit students at any time during a specific time period until all available spots are filled.

S

Scholarship: A type of financial aid that doesn’t have to be repaid. Scholarships may be based on need, on need combined with other criteria, or solely on other criteria such as academic achievement, artistic ability or athletics.

Semester: A period of study lasting approximately 14 to 16 weeks or one-half the academic year.

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

Subsidized Loan: A loan based on financial need in which the federal government pays the interest during the time the student is in school, thereby subsidizing the loan.

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

T

Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL): An English language proficiency examination for students whose first language is not English.

Thesis: A written work containing the results of research on a specific topic prepared by a candidate for a bachelor's or master's degree.

Transcript: A certified copy of a student's educational record that lists all courses taken and grades received. 

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

Transfer/Articulation Agreements: A formal agreement between institutions (usually community college/2-year colleges and 4-year institutions) that map a program from a two-year to a four year-degree program.

Transfer Credits: Also known as Credit Transfer and Advance Standing, these are terms used by colleges and universities for the procedure of granting credit to a student for educational experience or courses undertaken at another institution.

Transfer Program: An associate degree program allowing the student to transfer into the third year of a four-year bachelor's degree program.

U

Upper Division: The junior and senior years of study. Some colleges offer only upper-division study. The lower divisions must be completed at another institution before entering upper division programs to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Unsubsidized Loan: A federal loan that is not need based, and the borrower is responsible for accrued interest.  

W

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