Glossary of United States Educational Terminology

Accreditation
A process of granting recognition to academic institutions and professional programs offered by those institutions for meeting established standards of performance, integrity and quality and which entitles them to the confidence of the educational community and the public.
Adjunct Faculty
Faculty members who teach part-time without appointments in the regular faculty.
Admissions Office
The office responsible for admitting students to the institution.
Advanced Standing
The practice of placing a student in a course based on previous achievement levels, e.g., study at an another institution, by challenge examination, AP or CLEP examination results.
Academic Advisor
The officer (a member of the faculty or another professional) who provides academic advice and guidance to students.
Application Deadline
The last date on which a college will accept applications for admission to the coming term.
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Assistant Professor
A junior member of the faculty who has not yet received tenure.
Associate Professor
A tenured member of the faculty.
Bulletin
An institution’s catalog of programs, curricula and courses.
Bursar
The university official responsible for collecting student fees.
Chair/Chairperson
The head of an academic department.
Class Rank
The relative position of a student in his or her graduating class, determined by grade average.
Closed Course
Fully-subscribed course which is no longer enrolling students
CLEP (College Level Examination Program)
A program offered by the College Board designed to offer students the opportunity to earn college credit by examination.
Commencement
Graduation ceremony, usually held in May or June at the end of the academic year.
Community College
Public two-year institution supported by the local community. Community colleges offer two types of curricula: transfer (which consists of the first two years of work for the bachelor’s degree) and terminal (vocational training for employment in a wide variety of semi-professional and technical areas).
Comprehensive Examinations
Broad examinations covering material in several courses, typically taken at the end of master’s degree programs or after the end of doctoral course work before writing the dissertation.
Continuing Education
Educational programs offered by colleges and universities to adults in the community during the evening and on weekends. It usually refers to non-credit course work.
Core curriculum
General education requirements set as a defined series of interdisciplinary courses that must be taken by all undergraduates enrolled in degree programs at an institution.
Course
A discrete subject studied during one semester or quarter.
Credit
Time-based quantitative measure assigned to courses or course-equivalent learning. One credit is usually defined as 50 minutes of instruction over a semester (semester credit) or a quarter (quarter credit). ‘Unit’ is another term for credit.
Curve Grading
A system of relative grading based on the performance of all members of a class on an examination. It is also called norm-referenced grading.
Dean’s List
A published list of students who have earned a specified high grade-point average in a term.
Department
The formal faculty group, together with its support staff, responsible for instruction in a general subject area.
Discipline
An area of academic study.
Dissertation
The formal writing requirement — often an original contribution to knowledge — for a doctoral degree.
Distribution Requirement
The part of general education designed to ensure that each student takes a minimum number of courses or credits in specified, varying academic areas.
Double Major
Program of study in which a student completed the requirements of two majors at the same time.
Drop
To withdraw from a course.
Drop-Add
A period at the beginning of each term when students are allowed to change their class schedules by dropping or adding courses.
Drop-out
A person who has withdrawn from all courses. One who leaves school entirely is known as a ‘dropout’.
Dual Degree
Program of study in which a student receives two degrees from the same institution.
Early Admission
A program allowing well-qualified high school students to enter college full time before completing secondary school.
Elective
A course chosen freely by the student from the institution’s offerings. Also called ‘free elective’.
Elementary School
Primary school (grades 1-6 or 1-8)
Enrollment
(1) The process of registering for classes. (2) the total number of students at an institution.
Experiential Learning
Learning which takes place outside of the classroom through formal courses or other life activities.
Faculty
(1) The body of teaching personnel in a department, division, or an entire institution. (2) An academic administrative unit, e.g., The Faculty of Engineering.
Fellow
A student (graduate or undergraduate) granted a ‘fellowship’ on the basis of academic achievement.
Final Examination
A course-based examination taken at the end of the term.
Financial Aid
Scholarships, grants and loans provided for students by academic institutions from government and private sources to help defray educational costs.
Foreign Student Advisor
Official employed by the institution to assist foreign students, scholars and faculty with immigration, visas, orientation, insurance, and other such matters.
Freshman
First-year student (applies to both college undergraduates and high school students).
General Education
A component of the undergraduate curriculum designed to provide breadth to the curriculum and a common undergraduate experience for all students. It is usually defined on an institution-wide basis and involves study in several subject area.
GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test)
A standardized external examination of verbal and quantitative skills usually required by graduate schools of business and used to assess the qualifications of applicants for MBA programs.
Grade
An evaluation (normally by letter on a scale of A-F) of a student’s performance on an examination, a paper or in a course.
Graduate
(1) A person who has successfully completed a program of study and earned the final award (2) as an adjective, refers to post-baccalaureate status.
Graduate Advisor
The faculty member who serves as advisor to all graduate students in a department.
Graduate School
The academic unit within an institution which administers graduate education.
GRE (Graduate Record Examination)
A two-part standardized external examination designed to measure general verbal, quantitative and analytical skills (General Aptitude Test) and knowledge and understanding of subject matter basic to graduate study in specific fields (Advanced Tests). The GRE is generally required by graduate schools and is used to assess the qualifications of applicants to master’s and Ph.D. programs.
Gymnasium
The building which houses the sports facilities on a campus.
High School/Secondary School
(grades 7-12 or 9-12). In the 6+6 scheme, the first three years (grades 7-9) are known as ‘junior high school’ and the final three years (10-12) as ‘senior high school’.
Incomplete
Temporary grade indicating that the student has not met all course assignments at the end of the term.
Instructor
A formal term which designates a part-time, temporary, university teacher. It is also a synonym for teacher.
Junior
Third year student. (Applies to both college undergraduates and high school students.)
Land-Grant Institution
A state-run institution founded under the terms of the 1862 Morill Act which granted public lands to the states to establish colleges to provide full-time education in agriculture and mechanic arts.
Language Requirement
An institution’s requirement that its graduates master one or more foreign languages.
Liberal Arts College
A postsecondary institution that emphasizes an undergraduate education in liberal arts. The majority of liberal arts colleges have small student bodies, do not offer graduate studies, and focus on faculty teaching rather than research.
Load /course load
An informal term used by students and faculty to refer to the number of credits they are studying or teaching, respectively.
Lower-division
First two years of a bachelor’s degree program which consists mainly of courses at the introductory and elementary levels.
LSAT (Law School Admission Test)
A standardized external examination used by law schools to assess applicants’ verbal, analytical and reasoning skills
Major
Undergraduate student’s area of specialization, it consists of a number of courses in one field or in two or more related fields. The major is also referred to as concentration.
Major professor
The professor who advises a doctoral candidate in the final stages of the program, also known as ‘dissertation advisor’.
Make-up examination
A late examination for students who missed the original date.
Matriculated
Enrolled in a program leading to a degree.
MCAT (Medical College Admission Test)
A standardized external examination designed to measure specified science knowledge and its application in solving related problems, and of other learning and reasoning skills considered important for the study of medicine, used by medical schools to assess applicants.
Mid-term examination
An examination administered at the mid-point of the term.
Miller Analogies Test
A high-level mental ability test, used by some graduate schools in lieu of the GRE, which requires the solution of 100 intellectual problems stated in the form of analogies.
Multiple-choice examination
An objective examination giving students several choices of answers to a question of which one is correct.
non-matriculated
Enrolled in courses but not in a program leading to a degree.
Open-book examination
An examination where students are allowed to consult course materials while answering questions.
Participation
Student’s contribution to class discussion, often taken into account in grading.
Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)
The highest earned degree awarded in the United States.
Placement
The practice of placing a student in a course based on previous achievement levels. For example, a student who has done very well on an appropriate examination in mathematics might be placed in calculus as the first mathematics course rather than college algebra.
Preliminary Examinations
Written or oral examinations given to all prospective Ph.D. candidates after they have completed doctoral coursework. The examination results determine whether candidates are admitted to the dissertation stage of the program.
Prerequisite
A course which must be completed before a student is allowed to register for a more advanced course.
Private Institution
An institution which is supported primarily from private funds in the form of tuition, fees, endowments and donations.
Probation
A status imposed on students whose work is unsatisfactory until they improve their performance or are asked to leave the program or institution.
Professional School
A post-baccalaureate institution (usually within a university) which trains students in the traditional professions, e.g., law or medicine.
Professor
The common honorific for all university faculty members. But it is also the formal rank of senior (full) professors.
Provost
The chief academic officer of an institution.
Qualifying Examination
Examinatins given at the conclusion of master’s or doctoral coursework.
Quarter System
Academic calendar in which the year is divided into four quarters of 10 weeks.
Recitation
A small-group session where students discuss material covered in large lectures.
Registration
The formal process of enrolling students in courses.
Remedial Education
Instruction designed to bring students up to required basic skills or knowledge levels to allow them to attend programs which they would otherwise have been unable to follow.
Research Assistant (RA)
A graduate student who is employed part-time to assist with faculty research.
SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test)
A standardized external examination (formerly known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test and then the Scholastic Achievement Test) of mathematical, verbal and analytical skills, taken by high school students to demonstrate their abilities for post-secondary study; often required for admission to undergraduate programs.
Semester System
The academic year is divided into two 15-week semesters.
Senior
Fourth year student (Applies to both college undergraduates and high school students)
Summer Session
Formal course offerings during the summer.
Take-home examination
A course examination which is completed outside of the classroom.
Teaching Assistant (TA)
A graduate student who is employed part-time to assist with faculty teaching.
Term
A generic word for academic sessions (quarter, semester)
Term Paper
A formal paper required as part of course work.
Thesis
A written piece of work required for a degree.
TOEFL (Test of English as Foreign Language)
A standardized test administered world-wide to determine proficiency in English and required by most US institutions of all foreign applicants whose first language is other than English.
Transcript
The official record of a student’s academic performance at an institution.
Transfer credit
Credit awarded toward a degree on the basis of studies completed at another institution.
Trimester System
Academic calendar in which the year is divided into three 15-week terms; students may study full-time in two of the three or full- or part-time in all three.
TSE (Test of Spoken English)
A test designed to assess the spoken English proficiency of people whose native language is not English. The TSE is often required of graduate students seeking assistantships.
Upper-division
The part of the curriculum which is generally taught beyond the second year of a bachelor’s degree program and which constitutes its more advanced component.
Visting Scholar or Student
Individual attending a US institution by special agreement with a foreign institution. A visting scholar or student does not-matriculate which means that he or she is not engaged in a degree program. To change status and matriculate in a degree program a visiting student or scholar must apply for admission to the institution and undergo the usual selection process.
Accelerated program
Completion of a college program of study in fewer than the usual number of years, most often by attending summer sessions and carrying extra courses during the regular academic term.
Admitted student
Applicant who is offered admission to a degree-granting program at your institution.
Adult student services
Admission assistance, support, orientation, and other services expressly for adults who have started college for the first time, or who are re-entering after a lapse of a few years.
American Indian or Alaska Native
A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North America and who maintains cultural identification through tribal affiliation or community recognition.
Applicant (first-time, first-year)
An individual who has fulfilled the institution’s requirements to be considered for admission (including payment or waiving of the application fee, if any) and who has been notified of one of the following actions: admission, nonadmission, placement on waiting list, or application withdrawn (by applicant or institution).
Application fee
That amount of money that an institution charges for processing a student’s application for acceptance. This amount is not creditable toward tuition and required fees, nor is it refundable if the student is not admitted to the institution.
Asian or Pacific Islander
A person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, the Indian Subcontinent, or Pacific Islands. This includes people from China, Japan, Korea, the Philippine Islands, American Samoa, India, and Vietnam.
Black, non-Hispanic
A person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa (except those of Hispanic origin).
Board (charges)
Assume average cost for 19 meals per week or the maximum meal plan.
Books and supplies (costs)
Average cost of books and supplies. Do not include unusual costs for special groups of students (e.g., engineering or art majors), unless they constitute the majority of students at your institution.
Career and placement services
A range of services, including (often) the following: coordination of visits of employers to campus; aptitude and vocational testing; interest inventories, personal counseling; help in resume writing, interviewing, launching the job search; listings for those students desiring employment and those seeking permanent positions; establishment of a permanent reference folder; career resource materials.
College-preparatory program
Courses in academic subjects (English, history and social studies, foreign languages, mathematics, science, and the arts) that stress preparation for college or university study.
Common Application
The standard application form distributed by the National Association of Secondary School Principals for a large number of private colleges who are members of the Common Application Group.
Commuter
A student who lives off campus in housing that is not owned by, operated by, or affiliated with the college. This category includes students who commute from home and students who have moved to the area to attend college.
Contact hour
A unit of measure that represents an hour of scheduled instruction given to students. Also referred to as clock hour.
Cooperative housing
College-owned, -operated, or -affiliated housing in which students share room and board expenses and participate in household chores to reduce living expenses.
Cooperative (work-study plan) program
A program that provides for alternate class attendance and employment in business, industry, or government.
Counseling service
Activities designed to assist students in making plans and decisions related to their education, career, or personal development.
Credit course
A course that, if successfully completed, can be applied toward the number of courses required for achieving a degree, diploma, certificate, or other formal award.
Credit hour
A unit of measure representing an hour (50 minutes) of instruction over a 15-week period in a semester or trimester system or a 10-week period in a quarter system. It is applied toward the total number of hours needed for completing the requirements of a degree, diploma, certificate, or other formal award.
Degree-seeking students
Students enrolled in courses for credit who are recognized by the institution as seeking a degree or formal award. At the undergraduate level, this is intended to include students enrolled in vocational or occupational programs.
Distance learning
An option for earning course credit at off-campus locations via cable television, Internet, satellite classes, videotapes, correspondence courses, or other means.
Dual enrollment
A program through which high school students may enroll in college courses while still enrolled in high school. Students are not required to apply for admission to the college in order to participate.
Early action plan
An admission plan that allows students to apply and be notified of an admission decision well in advance of the regular notification dates. If admitted, the candidate is not committed to enroll; the student may reply to the offer under the college’s regular reply policy.
English as a Second Language (ESL)
A course of study designed specifically for students whose native language is not English.
Exchange student program-domestic
Any arrangement between a student and a college that permits study for a semester or more at another college in the United States without extending the amount of time required for a degree.
External degree program
A program of study in which students earn credits toward a degree through independent study, college courses, proficiency examinations, and personal experience. External degree programs require minimal or no classroom attendance.
Extracurricular activities (as admission factor)
Special consideration in the admissions process given for participation in both school and nonschool-related activities of interest to the college, such as clubs, hobbies, student government, athletics, performing arts, etc.
First professional certificate (postdegree)
An award that requires completion of an organized program of study designed for persons who have completed the first professional degree. Examples could be refresher courses or additional units of study in a specialty or subspecialty.
Geographical residence (as admission factor)
Special consideration in the admission process given to students from a particular region, state, or country of residence.
Graduate student
A student who holds a bachelor’s or first professional degree, or equivalent, and is taking courses at the post-baccalaureate level.
Health services
Free or low cost on-campus primary and preventive health care available to students.
High school diploma or recognized equivalent
A document certifying the successful completion of a prescribed secondary school program of studies, or the attainment of satisfactory scores on the Test of General Educational Development (GED), or another state-specified examination.
Hispanic
A person of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central or South American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race.
Honors program
Any special program for very able students offering the opportunity for educational enrichment, independent study, acceleration, or some combination of these.
In-state tuition
The tuition charged by institutions to those students who meet the state’s or institution’s residency requirements.
Internship
Any short-term, supervised work experience usually related to a student’s major field, for which the student earns academic credit. The work can be full- or part-time, on- or off-campus, paid or unpaid.
Learning center
Center offering assistance through tutors, workshops, computer programs, or audiovisual equipment in reading, writing, math, and skills such as taking notes, managing time, taking tests.
Legal services
Free or low cost legal advice for a range of issues (personal and other).
Minority affiliation (as admission factor)
Special consideration in the admission process for members of designated racial/ethnic minority groups.
Minority student center
Center with programs, activities, and/or services intended to enhance the college experience of students of color.
Nonresident alien
A person who is not a citizen or national of the United States and who is in this country on a visa or temporary basis and does not have the right to remain indefinitely.
Out-of-state tuition
The tuition charged by institutions to those students who do not meet the institution’s or state’s residency requirements.
Part-time student (undergraduate)
A student enrolled for fewer than 12 credits per semester or quarter, or fewer than 24 contact hours a week each term.
Personal counseling
One-on-one or group counseling with trained professionals for students who want to explore personal, educational, or vocational issues.
Post-baccalaureate certificate
An award that requires completion of an organized program of study requiring 18 credit hours beyond the bachelor’s; designed for persons who have completed a baccalaureate degree but do not meet the requirements of academic degrees carrying the title of master.
Post-master’s certificate
An award that requires completion of an organized program of study of 24 credit hours beyond the master’s degree but does not meet the requirements of academic degrees at the doctoral level.
Postsecondary award, certificate, or diploma
Includes the following three IPEDS definitions for postsecondary awards, certificates, and diplomas of varying durations and credit/contact hour requirements
Private for-profit institution
A private institution in which the individual(s) or agency in control receives compensation, other than wages, rent, or other expenses for the assumption of risk.
Race/ethnicity
Category used to describe groups to which individuals belong, identify with, or belong in the eyes of the community. The categories do not denote scientific definitions of anthropological origins. A person may be counted in only one group.
Religious affiliation/commitment (as admission factor)
Special consideration given in the admission process for affiliation with a certain church or faith/religion, commitment to a religious vocation, or observance of certain religious tenets/lifestyle.
Religious counseling
One-on-one or group counseling with trained professionals for students who want to explore religious problems or issues.
Remedial services
Instructional courses designed for students deficient in the general competencies necessary for a regular postsecondary curriculum and educational setting.
Required fees
Fixed sum charged to students for items not covered by tuition and required of such a large proportion of all students that the student who does NOT pay is the exception. Do not include application fees or optional fees such as lab fees or parking fees.
Resident alien or other eligible non-citizen
A person who is not a citizen or national of the United States and who has been admitted as a legal immigrant for the purpose of obtaining permanent resident alien status (and who holds either an alien registration card [Form I-551 or I-15], a Temporary Resident Card [Form I-688], or an Arrival-Departure Record [Form I-94] with a notation that conveys legal immigrant status, such as Section 207 Refugee, Section 208 Asylee, conditional Entrant Parolee or Cuban-Haitian).
Secondary school record (as admission factor)
Information maintained by the secondary school that may include such things as the student’s high school transcript, class rank, GPA, and teacher and counselor recommendations.
Student-designed major
A program of study based on individual interests, designed with the assistance of an adviser.
Study abroad
Any arrangement by which a student completes part of the college program studying in another country. Can be at a campus abroad or through a cooperative agreement with some other U.S. college or an institution of another country.
Talent/ability (as admission factor)
Special consideration given to students with demonstrated talent/abilities in areas of interest to the institution (e.g., sports, the arts, languages, etc.).
Teacher certification program
Program designed to prepare students to meet the requirements for certification as teachers in elementary, middle/junior high, and secondary schools.
Transfer student
A student entering the institution for the first time but known to have previously attended a postsecondary institution at the same level (e.g., undergraduate). The student may transfer with or without credit.
Tuition
Amount of money charged to students for instructional services. Tuition may be charged per term, per course, or per credit.
Tutoring
May range from one-on-one tutoring in specific subjects to tutoring in an area such as math, reading, or writing. Most tutors are college students; at some colleges, they are specially trained and certified.
Unit
A standard of measurement representing hours of academic instruction (e.g., semester credit, quarter credit, contact hour).
Undergraduate
A student enrolled in a four- or five-year bachelor’s degree program, an associate degree program, or a vocational or technical program below the baccalaureate.
Visually impaired
Any person whose sight loss is not correctable and is sufficiently severe as to adversely affect educational performance.
Volunteer work (as admission factor)
Special consideration given to students for activity done on a volunteer basis (e.g., tutoring, hospital care, working with the elderly or disabled) as a service to the community or the public in general.
Wait list
List of students who meet the admission requirements but will only be offered a place in the class if space becomes available.
Weekend college
A program that allows students to take a complete course of study and attend classes only on weekends.
White, non-Hispanic
A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, North Africa, or the Middle East (except those of Hispanic origin).
Women’s center
Center with programs, academic activities, and/or services intended to promote an understanding of the evolving roles of women.
Work experience (as admission factor)
Special consideration given to students who have been employed prior to application, whether for relevance to major, demonstration of employment-related skills, or as explanation of student’s academic and extracurricular record.
Financial aid applicant
Any applicant who submits any one of the institutionally required financial aid applications/forms, such as the FAFSA.
Indebtedness
Aggregate dollar amount borrowed through any loan programs (federal, state, subsidized, unsubsidized, private, etc.; excluding parent loans) while the student was enrolled at an institution. Student loans co-signed by a parent are assumed to be the responsibility of the student and should be included.
Institutional and external funds
Endowment, alumni, or external monies for which the institution determines the recipient or the dollar amount awarded.
Financial need
As determined by your institution using the federal methodology and/or your institution’s own standards.
Need-based gift aid
Scholarships and grants from institutional, state, federal, or other sources for which a student must have financial need to qualify.
Need-based self-help aid
Loans and jobs from institutional, state, federal, or other sources for which a student must demonstrate financial need to qualify.
Non-need-based gift aid
Scholarships and grants, gifts, or merit-based aid from institutional, state, federal, or other sources (including unrestricted funds, or gifts and endowment income) awarded solely on the basis of academic achievement, merit, or any other non-need-based reason. When reporting questions H1 and H2, non-need-based aid that is used to meet need should be counted as need-based aid.
Non-need-based self-help aid
Loans and jobs from institutional, state, or other sources for which a student need not demonstrate financial need to qualify.
Academic year
Annual period during which a student attends and receives formal instruction at a college or university, typically from August or September to May or June. The academic year may be divided into semesters, trimesters, quarters, or other calendars.
ACT (American College Test)
A standardized college entrance exam administered by the American College Testing Program. Four separate, multiple-choice tests measure knowledge of English, math, reading, and science, and one optional writing test measures essay planning and writing skills. Most students take the ACT during their junior or senior year of high school, and most colleges and universities accept scores from either the ACT or SAT. Some schools may recommend, but not require, international students to take the ACT or SAT.
Affidavit of Support
An official document proving adequate funding from an individual or organization to cover an international student’s educational and living expenses while enrolled at a U.S. college or university.
AP (Advanced Placement program)
A program offered by the College Board, a U.S.-based nonprofit educational organization, that allows students to take college-level courses while in high school. Students can then take standardized AP exams; those with qualifying scores can earn credit at certain colleges and universities.
Assistantship
A financial aid award granted to a graduate student to help pay for tuition that is offered in return for certain services, such as serving as a teaching assistant or research assistant.
Associate’s Degree
An undergraduate degree awarded by a college or university upon successful completion of a program of study, usually requiring two years of full-time study. An associate’s is typically awarded by community colleges; it may be a career or technical degree, or it may be a transfer degree, allowing students to transfer those credits to a four-year bachelor’s degree-granting school.
Audit
To take a class to gain knowledge about a subject, but without receiving credit toward a degree.
Bachelor’s degree
An undergraduate degree awarded by a college or university upon successful completion of a program of study, typically requiring at least four years (or the equivalent) of full-time study. Common degree types include bachelor of arts (B.A. or A.B.), which refers to the liberal arts, and bachelor of science (B.S.). A bachelor’s is required before starting graduate studies.
Campus
The grounds and buildings where a college or university is located.
Coed
Open to both men and women (often used to describe a school that admits both sexes and a dormitory that houses both genders).
College
A postsecondary institution that typically provides only an undergraduate education, but in some cases, also graduate degrees. “College” is often used interchangeably with “university” and “school.” Separately, “college” can refer to an academic division of a university, such as College of Business.
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.
Core requirements
Mandatory courses that students are required to complete to earn a degree.
Credits
Units that a school uses to indicate that a student has completed and passed courses that are required for a degree. Each school defines the total number and types of credits necessary for degree completion, with every course being assigned a value in terms of “credits,” “credit hours,” or “units.”
Culture shock
Feelings of uncertainty, confusion, or anxiety that can occur when adjusting to a new country and culture that may be very different from your own. International students may also experience “reverse culture shock” upon returning to their home country, after they have become accustomed to the new country and culture.
Curriculum
A program of study made up of a set of courses offered by a school.
Dean
The head of a division of a college or university.
Deferral / Deferred admission
A school’s act of postponing a student’s application for early decision or early action, so that it will be considered along with the rest of the regular applicant group. A “deferral” can also refer to a student’s act of postponing enrollment for one year, if the school agrees.
Degree
A diploma or title awarded to students by a college or university after successful completion of a program of study.
Discipline
An area of academic study.
Dissertation
An in-depth, formal writing requirement on an original topic of research that is typically submitted in the final stages before earning a doctorate (Ph.D.).
Doctorate (Ph.D.)
The highest academic degree awarded by a university upon successful completion of an advanced program of study, typically requiring at least three years of graduate study beyond the master’s degree (which may have been earned at a different university). Ph.D. candidates must demonstrate their mastery of a subject through oral and written exams and original, scholarly research presented in a dissertation.
Dormitories (dorms)
Student housing provided by a college or university, also known as “residence halls,” which typically includes rooms, bathrooms, common areas, and possibly a kitchen or cafeteria.
Double major
A program of study that allows a student to complete the course requirements for two majors at the same time.
Early decision
A program offered by some colleges and universities that allows students to submit an application to their top-choice school early, typically in November or December, and receive the decision early, usually in mid- or late December. If accepted, students are required to enroll at that school and withdraw all applications to other schools. Although some schools allow international students to apply via early decision, applicants who apply for financial aid may not receive a decision any earlier than those who apply through the regular decision process.
Exempt
Not required to do something that other students may be required to do. For example, a school may require all students to take a freshman English course, but some students may be exempt based on their high scores on a college entrance exam or their previous coursework.
FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)
Application used by U.S. citizens and permanent residents to apply for financial aid from U.S. federal and state governments. International students are not eligible for U.S. government aid, but schools may ask international students to submit a FAFSA to determine financial need. (Note A social security number is required to complete the FAFSA.)
Fellowship
An amount of money awarded by a college or university, usually to graduate students and generally based on academic achievement.
Fraternity
A student organization, typically for men, formed for social, academic, community service, or professional purposes. A fraternity is part of a college or university’s Greek system. Some fraternities, such as those with an academic or community service focus, may be coed.
Full-time student
A student who is enrolled at a college or university and is taking at least the minimum number of credits required by the school for a full course load.
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, and upon graduation, students receive an overall GPA for their studies.
Grant
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. “Grant” is often used interchangeably with “scholarship.”
Greek life / Greek system
A college or university’s collection of fraternities and sororities on campus, whose names originate from letters in the ancient Greek alphabet.
Humanities
Academic courses focused on human life and ideas, including history, philosophy, foreign languages, religion, art, music, and literature.
Independent study
An academic course that allows students to earn credit for work done outside of the normal classroom setting. The reading or research assignment is usually designed by the students themselves or with the help of a faculty member, who monitors the progress.
Institute
An organization created for a specific purpose, usually for research, that may be located on a college or university’s campus.
Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
The U.S. government agency that collects income taxes. International students who work on or off campus or receive taxable scholarships must pay taxes. A college or university’s international student adviser can provide further information, including on relevant tax treaties between the United States and specific countries that may allow certain benefits.
International student adviser
A school official who assists international students, scholars, and faculty with matters including orientation, visas, income taxes, insurance, and academic and government rules, among other areas.
Ivy League
An association of eight private universities located in the northeastern United States, originally formed as an athletic conference. Today, the term is associated with universities that are considered highly competitive and prestigious. The Ivy League consists of the highly ranked Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, and Yale University.
Junior college
A two-year postsecondary institution that offers the associate degree. (See “community college.”)
Letter of recommendation
A letter written by a student’s teacher, counselor, coach, or mentor that assesses his or her qualifications and skills. Colleges, universities, and graduate schools generally require recommendation letters as part of the application process.
Liberal arts
Academic studies of subjects in the humanities, social sciences, and the sciences, with a focus on general knowledge, in contrast to a professional or technical emphasis. “Liberal arts” is often used interchangeably with “liberal arts and sciences” or “arts and sciences.”
Loan
A type of financial aid that consists of an amount of money that is given to someone for a period of time, with an agreement that it will be repaid later. International students are generally not eligible for U.S. federal government loans and will typically require an American cosigner to apply for a private bank loan.
Master’s
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. Common degree types include master of arts (M.A.), which refers to the liberal arts; master of science (M.S.); and master of business administration (M.B.A.).
M.B.A.
A master of business administration degree.
Merit aid / merit scholarships
A type of financial aid awarded by a college or university to students who have demonstrated special academic ability or talents, regardless of their financial need. Most merit aid has specific requirements if students want to continue to receive it, such as maintaining a certain GPA.
Minor
An academic subject area that a student chooses to have a secondary focus on during their undergraduate studies. Unlike a major, a minor is typically not required, but it allows a student to take a few additional courses in a subject different from his or her major.
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.
Need-blind admissions
A college or university’s policy of accepting or declining applications without considering an applicant’s financial circumstances. This policy does not necessarily mean that these schools will offer enough financial aid to meet a student’s full need. Only a handful of U.S. colleges or universities offer need-blind admissions to international students.
Net price calculator
An online tool that allows students and families to calculate a personalized estimate of the cost of a specific college or university, after taking into account any scholarships or need-based financial aid that an applicant would receive. By Oct. 29, 2011, each higher education institution in the United States is required by law to post a net price calculator on its respective website.
Nonmatriculated
Enrolled in a college or university’s courses, but not in a program of study leading to a degree.
Nonresident
A student who does not meet a state’s residence requirements. A college or university may have different tuition costs and admissions policies for residents versus nonresidents. In most cases, international students are considered nonresidents. A “nonresident alien” is a person who is not a U.S. citizen and is in the country on a temporary basis.
Notarized
Certified as authentic by a public official, lawyer, or bank. Colleges and universities often require international students to submit notarized documents, such as the Affidavit of Support or high school transcripts.
Open admissions
A college or university’s policy of accepting all students who have completed high school, regardless of their grades or test scores, until all spaces are filled. Most community colleges have an open admissions policy, including for international students.
Orientation
A college or university’s official process of welcoming new, accepted students to campus and providing them with information and policies before classes begin, usually in a half-day or full-day event. Many colleges and graduate schools offer a separate orientation just for international students to cover topics such as how to follow immigration and visa regulations, set up a U.S. bank account, and handle culture shock.
Part-time student
A student who is enrolled at a college or university but is not taking the minimum number of credits required for a full course load.
Pass-fail
A grading system in which students receive either a “pass” or “fail” grade, rather than a specific score or letter grade. Certain college or university courses can be taken pass-fail, but these typically don’t include ones taken to fulfill major or minor requirements.
Plagiarism
The use of another person’s words or ideas as your own, without acknowledging that person. Schools have different policies and punishments for students caught plagiarizing, which tends to occur with research papers and other written assignments.
Postdoctorate
Academic studies or research for those who have completed a doctorate. A “postdoc” can refer both to a person who is pursuing a postdoctorate and to the postdoctorate itself.
Priority date
The date by which an application must be received in order to be given full consideration. This can apply to admissions, financial aid, and on-campus housing. After the priority date passes, applications may be considered on a case-by-case or first-come-first-served basis.
Private school
A postsecondary institution controlled by a private individual(s) or a nongovernmental agency. A private institution is usually not supported primarily by public funds and its programs are not operated by publicly elected or appointed officials. Stanford University, for example, is a private school.
Public school
A postsecondary institution that is supported mainly by public funds and whose programs are operated by publicly elected or appointed officials. The University of California—Berkeley, for example, is a public school.
Quarters
Periods of study that divide the academic year into four equal segments of approximately 12 weeks each, typically including the summer.
Registrar
The college or university official who is responsible for registering students and keeping their academic records, such as transcripts.
Regular decision
An admissions process used by colleges and universities that typically requires applicants to submit their materials by January 1; an admissions decision is generally received by April 1, and if admitted, students usually have until May 1 to respond to the offer. The majority of applicants are evaluated during regular decision, rather than early action and early decision.
Resident assistant (RA)
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.
Rolling admissions
An admissions process used by some colleges and universities in which each application is considered as soon as all the required materials have been received, rather than by a specific deadline. Colleges and universities with this policy will make decisions as applications are received until all spaces are filled.
Room and board
Housing and meals. “Room and board” is typically one of the costs that colleges and universities will list in their annual estimated cost of attendance, in addition to tuition, fees, and textbooks and supplies. If students choose to live in dormitories, they may be required to buy into a meal plan to use on-campus dining facilities.
Scholarship
A type of financial aid that consists of an amount of free money given to a student by a school, individual, organization, company, charity, or federal or state government. “Scholarship” is often used interchangeably with “grant.”
School
Any educational institution, including those that provide elementary, secondary, and postsecondary education. In the latter case, “school” is often used interchangeably with “college” and “university.”
Semesters
Periods of study that divide the academic year into two equal segments of approximately 15 to 18 weeks each. Some schools also offer a shorter summer semester, beyond the traditional academic year.
Seminar
A course offered to a small group of students who are typically more advanced and who meet with a professor to discuss specialized topics.
SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System)
A computerized U.S. government database used to track international students and scholars in the United States. Once an international student is accepted by a U.S. college or university, the school is required to mail the student a Form I-20, which is a paper record of the student’s information in SEVIS. A student must pay a SEVIS fee and use the payment receipt and I-20 to apply for a visa.
Social Security number
A nine-digit number issued by the U.S. government to people who are authorized to work in the United States and collect certain government benefits. Many colleges and universities use the Social Security number as the student identification number. International students who are in the United States and are authorized to work either on or off campus must apply for and obtain a Social Security number, which is then used to report their wages to the government.
Sophomore
A student in the second year of high school or college / university.
Sorority
A student organization for women formed for social, academic, community service, or professional purposes. A sorority is part of a college or university’s Greek system.
Standardized tests
Exams, such as the SAT, ACT, and GRE, which measure knowledge and skills and are designed to be consistent in how they are administered and scored. Standardized tests are intended to help admissions officials compare students who come from different backgrounds.
Tenure
A status offered to high-level faculty members at a college or university that allows them to stay permanently in their positions, after demonstrating a strong record of teaching and published research.
Trimesters
Periods of study that divide the academic year into three equal segments of approximately 10 to 12 weeks each.
Tuition
An amount of money charged by a school per term, per course, or per credit, in exchange for instruction and training. Tuition generally does not include the cost of textbooks, room and board, and other fees.
Undergraduate student / undergraduate studies
A student enrolled in a two-year or four-year study program at a college or university after graduation from high school, leading to an associate or bachelor’s degree.
University
A postsecondary institution that typically offers both undergraduate and graduate degree programs. “University” is often used interchangeably with “college” and “school.”
Visa
An official mark or stamp in a passport that allows someone to enter a country for a particular amount of time. Common visa types for international students and scholars in the United States include the F-1 (student visa) and J-1 (exchange visitor visa). To apply for a U.S. visa, student applicants must first receive a Form I-20 from the college or university they plan to attend, which is created by the U.S. government’s SEVIS database.
Withdraw
To formally stop participating in a course or attending a university.
Work-study
A financial aid program funded by the U.S. federal government that allows undergraduate or graduate students to work part time on campus or with approved off-campus employers. To participate in work-study, students must complete the FAFSA. In general, international students are not eligible for work-study positions.