Colleges Terms & Definitions

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Heading off to college can be quite a scary task. There’s a lot to learn about admission and financial aid. It’s all overwhelming. There are many new terms and concepts to master, from financial aid and application to academic credits and campus life.

If you’re bewildered by the terminology used at orientation, on college web pages, and on applications. To begin, learn all the terminology you and your college student may encounter before, during, and after freshman year.

College Terms and Definitions
CollegeRanker is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Academic Advisor

An academic mentor who guides your student through their degree, ensuring that they are studying the proper courses and assisting them in making important academic decisions.

Academic Probation

A designation that colleges bestow on students who are having trouble passing courses. Academic probation is used to notify students that their performance has to be improved. Scholarships may be revoked or sports eligibility suspended for academically probationary students.


An institution that is recognized by the United States Department of Education to provide a high-quality education is called an accredited university or college. Employers and graduate programs are most likely to look for degrees from institutions that have been granted accreditation.


A standardized test that schools use to decide whether or not to accept your child. The ACT is generally given during the spring semester of a student’s junior year of high school and/or the fall semester of his/her final year of high school.

Add/Drop Period

A grace period at the beginning of each semester during which a student may add or withdraw a course without incurring any debt.

AP Course

An advanced placement (AP) course is a high school class that may earn your child college credit.


This is the term used to describe all of the tasks and documents a student must complete and submit in order to apply to schools.

Associate’s Degree

A 2-3 year degree that you can obtain through online or community colleges. The credits from this qualification may be transferred to a 4-year Bachelor’s degree if the courses are relevant.


An alternative to taking a class for credit or having the grade affect your GPA.

Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor’s degree is a four-year degree, usually in the form of a Bachelor of Arts (in a liberal arts program) or a Bachelor of Science (in an applied science program such as engineering).

Campus Visit

On a tour of the facilities, you and a student usually go when you come to campus. This is also an opportunity to meet instructors and ask questions.

Career Services

Most colleges have a career services department that can help students locate internships and start looking for employment after they graduate.


Any program, dormitory, or activity that includes all genders is referred to as a coed program. This term is frequently used to describe rooms on the same floor where both boys and girls reside.

College Career Coach

A professional advisor who is an advocate for and with a student throughout their career. They also help you choose the finest courses, degrees, internships, and other possibilities to reach that goal. You may select one privately or get one from the career services office.

College Fair

High school students can visit this venue to hear about the various degree programs available at different colleges. The spring is a popular time for college fairs, which are frequently held at high schools, community centers, and conference centers.


A high school or college graduation ceremony.

Community College

A school that often takes no more than a high school diploma to attend. At community colleges, students can enroll in individual courses or pursue Associate’s degrees. Often, community college credits can be transferred to a four-year university.

Course Load

The total number of credit hours a student receives in a semester.

Credit Hour

A student’s credit hours are determined by the number of credits needed to graduate from high school. Each course is assigned a certain number of credit hours, which usually matches the frequency and duration of classes as well as the course level. Many classes earn a student 3 to 4 credit hours.


A college or university’s president.

Dean’s List

A list of students who have excelled academically is periodically produced. The Dean’s List qualification varies from institution to institution.


A college education culminates in the awarding of a degree. It is given to students who complete a certain amount of qualifying credit hours. Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Arts, Master of Business Administration, Ph.D., Associate’s, and more degrees are examples.


A section of a university. Departments are typically linked to bachelor’s degrees or fields of study within a college, such as the engineering department, English department, and so on.


A doctoral dissertation is a type of thesis that is generally required for a Ph.D. The dissertation is the final result of the student’s academic research, which contributes to the advancement of his or her field of interest. Sometimes known as a thesis..

Distance Learning

Distance learning, sometimes known as distance education, is the process of enrolling in classes that are taught away from the institution where they are provided. Online courses are often offered by way of this method.

Doctorate (Ph.D.)

The abbreviation Ph.D. stands for Doctorate of Philosophy, which is a post-graduate degree that may be earned after earning a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree. A doctoral dissertation is generally needed to earn a Ph.D.


Not required, but often utilized by freshmen and sophomores, are university-owned on-campus student housing. Most dorm living is included in the cost of a room and board plan.


When a student leaves a course during the Add/Drop grace period, it is called drop. There is no penalty for dropping a course during the allowed time. Students may drop courses due to an overload of work or desire to enroll in another class. This differs from quitting, which happens after the end of the Add/Drop grace period.


A Bachelor’s degree, for example, includes a set of courses and electives. Electives are additional classes that the student chooses from a list of possibilities that cover general education requirements.


A university’s teaching staff, which includes professors and instructors.


Stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first step in applying for financial aid at many institutions. The form must be completed by all incoming students.


The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal act that protects the privacy of student records. This legislation gives college students the right to keep their school records private, even if they are under the age of 18. This means you, as their parents, are not permitted to view their academic information, such as grades. There is


Exams at the end of a semester that evaluate a student’s understanding of all the material covered in a course. Finals are generally given more weight than other tests and coursework.

Financial Aid

Any type of student loan, scholarship, or grant received by a student to assist pay for college is referred to as educational assistance.

Financial Need

This is determined by the difference between the cost of education and whether or not the student can afford it. This typically takes into account whether or not the student’s parents are able to assist pay for college.

First Generation College Student

A student who is the first in their family to attend college. The phrase “first-generation college student” usually refers to a kid whose parents did not earn a degree from college.


A social organization for college males. Many fraternities operate their own houses where members reside and host activities.

Full-Time College Student

A student who is enrolled in a full course load, which typically consists of 12 or more credits.

Gap Year

A year of school before college. This is so you can have a break after high school before going to college.

General Education Requirements

Many four-year colleges have a set of common education standards in place to safeguard that all students acquire a broad education with knowledge of subjects outside their chosen discipline.


The term “GPA” stands for grade point average. This is a measure of a student’s school performance. The GPA is updated after each semester’s grades are finalized and reported.

Graduate School

A student who has already obtained a bachelor’s degree goes to graduate school. Graduate study is where students may gain a Master’s degree. Universities often provide both undergraduate and graduate programs. Graduate study generally takes two years to complete.

HIPAA Release Form

When a young person reaches the age of 18, he or she has the right to control their medical records under HIPAA. A HIPAA Release Form allows you, as their parent, to access their medical documents and make critical medical decisions on their behalf in the case of an emergency.


A term for the emotional strain that a student experiences when they are unable to be at home. Homesickness is most common during the start of freshman year when many students for the first time in their lives live away from home. College sadness can sometimes be linked to homesickness.

Independent Study

An independent study type of non-traditional course in which students may work outside of the classroom. Independent study is usually not closely observed, and the student may pursue any topic they desire.

In-State Student

Students with in-state status are known as in-state students. They pay a lot less for tuition than nonresident students do.


An internship is short-term employment that your student does to gain experience in his or her area of interest. An internship might lead to a job offer at times.


The phrase “lecture” is used to describe a class that does not involve laboratory activities.

Letter of Recommendation

Your student’s high school instructor, employer, or mentor wrote a letter to a college admissions department describing why they would be an excellent match for their institution.

Liberal Arts

Non-technical, intermediate and higher education degrees, as well as literature, art, mathematics, philosophy, and social and natural sciences are examples of non-academic vocations.


The main goal of a four-year degree. Your student may focus on biology, philosophy, or aeronautics engineering as an example.

Master’s Degree

A graduate program completed after undergraduate studies. Master’s programs generally take two years to complete.


A Master of Business Administration, or MBA, is a graduate business program that typically requires a bachelor’s degree.

Meal Plan

The meal plan determines how many meals a student may have at on-campus dining facilities. Some meal plans include a discretionary spending account that can be used at campus eateries and convenience stores as cash.


Midterms are examinations administered in the middle of a semester to check whether or not a student has understood material covered during the course. While midterms are often graded more favorably than other work and homework, they are still not as good as finals.


A minor is a distinct study area that is frequently completed simultaneously with a major. For example, you might have a biology major as well as a chemistry minor.


Students who do not reside in the same state as the institution they are attending are known as nonresidents. Nonresidents pay significantly greater tuition than residents.

Off Campus Living

Students don’t have to live on campus. Off-campus living refers to any form of housing that is not provided by the institution. It might be in a rented home, apartment, or with you at home.


Orientation is a great time for your kid to visit their college before the start of freshman year to take a tour of the campus and inquire.

Part-Time College Student

A student with less than a full course load. A part-time college student is one who takes fewer than 12 credit hours in any given semester.

Pass/Fail Course

A class in which no grade is given, with the only distinction between passing and failing being whether or not a student completes the course.


Plagiarism is the act of taking someone else’s work and claiming it as your own. Plagiarism is a significant issue in colleges, and it might lead to an F, academic probation, or expulsion.


A subject that must be completed before enrolling in a particular course. For example, Calculus 1 is a prerequisite to Calculus 2, and a student can’t proceed into the latter without first having passed the former.


It’s a type of test that many people take to see how suitable they are for higher education. It’s known as the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test, or PSAT. It is a Pre-SAT, which is used by high school students to prepare for the real deal. It’s typically taken in the second or third


The duration during which a student may sign up for classes they want to take in a semester.

Resident Assistant (RA)

A junior or senior student who lives in a portion of a dormitory and is responsible for student relations. RAs are frequently expected to be mentors and advisors, as well as organize events and activities for dorm residents.

Room and Board

The fee paid to cover on-campus housing and meal plan expenses, which is generally paid for a semester or year at a time.


Most dorms are shared by two people. Your student’s roommate is the other person who lives in the same room.


The Scholastic Aptitude Test, or SAT, is a standardized exam that was designed to assess academic aptitude in students. It is commonly taken during the spring semester of the junior year of high school, and it may be retaken at any time throughout the senior year of high school.


A financial award to assist students in paying for college.


A half of a year of college. There are two semesters in the fall and spring. The majority of courses are one semester long.


A female social club for college students. Many sororities have their own houses where members reside and hold gatherings.

Student Essay

A personal essay written on the topic of why a student wishes to be accepted to a university is commonly included in an application.


STEM is short for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. These subjects are used to help us learn about the world and how things work.

Study Abroad

Many colleges and universities provide the option of studying abroad for a semester, in which you may attend school in another nation while living there.


A broad description of a course given to students at the start of a semester.

Teaching Assistant (TA)

Teaching assistants assist instructors in a variety of ways. To assist the professor, some large classes employ teaching assistants. Outside of a class, a TA will generally teach recitations, in which smaller groups of pupils study the material covered in the session. Students may also visit with a TA during office hours to ask questions.


A thesis is a paper demonstrating the results of a student’s study on their chosen topic. It’s similar to a dissertation, and it’s required at the conclusion of many graduate programs as well as some undergraduate courses. A thesis is an essay that compiles information obtained during research.


A transcript is a summary of a student’s academic performance, typically including their GPA and total credit hours.

Transfer Credits

Credits that can be transferred from one institution and applied toward a degree at another.


The amount paid to attend a college or university.


A bachelor’s degree is conferred after four years of study. An undergraduate is any student enrolled in a four-year Bachelor’s program.

Virtual Tour

When you can’t make it to campus, a virtual tour might be an alternative. This is an online tour conducted either through an interactive website or as part of a live video broadcast by the institution.

Wait List

A group of prospective students who haven’t been formally accepted to a university but could still be in the near future. Being waitlisted is an indication that a student may be accepted in the next few months, depending on whether there are any more openings by the start of the school year. Being waitlisted isn’t an assurance of getting in. Rather,


A student drops out of a course after the add/drop period has expired. A withdrawal is when a student leaves a course after the add/drop period has ended. While a drop in grade does not affect a student’s GPA, it is recorded on their transcript. Withdraw can also imply term withdrawal, which occurs when someone stops taking courses for

Work Study Program

A government program that provides colleges money to employ students for part-time positions to assist them pay for their education while they attend.