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Common Terms You Should Know

Academic adviser: A member of a college faculty who helps and advises students solely on academic matters.

Academic year: The period of formal instruction, usually September to May; may be divided into terms of varying lengths: semesters, trimesters, or quarters.

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

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

Advance registration: A process of choosing classes in advance of other students.

Affidavit of support: An official document proving a promise of funding from an individual or organization.

Assistantship: A study grant of financial assistance to a graduate student that is offered in return for certain services in teaching or laboratory supervision as a teaching assistant, or for services in research as a research assistant.

Audit: To take a class without receiving credit toward a degree.

Baccalaureate degree: The degree of “bachelor” conferred upon graduates of most U.S. colleges and universities.

Bachelor’s degree: Degree awarded upon completion of approximately four years of full-time study in the liberal arts and sciences or professional subjects. It is a prerequisite to study in a graduate program.

Bulletin: A publication created each year by a university or college that contains the details of academic majors offered and the requirements for completing them. Usually includes a listing and description of every class the institution offers.

Campus: The land on which the buildings of a college or university are located.

Class rank: A number or ratio indicating a student’s academic standing in his or her graduating class. A student who ranks first in a class of 100 students would report his or her class rank as 1/100, while a student ranking last would report 100/100. Class rank may also be expressed in percentiles (for example, the top 25 percent, the lower 50 percent).

Coed: A college or university that admits both men and women; also refers to a dormitory that houses both men and women.

College: A postsecondary institution that provides undergraduate education and, in some cases, master’s level degrees. College, in a separate sense, is a division of a university; for example, College of Business.

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

Conditional admission: An acceptance to a college or university that is dependent upon the individual completing coursework or meeting specified criteria prior to enrollment.

Core requirements: Mandatory courses required for completion of a degree.

Course: Regularly scheduled class sessions of one to five hours (or more) per week during a term. A degree program is made up of a specified number of required and elective courses and varies from institution to institution.

Course load: The number of courses or credits taken in a specific term.

Credits: Units institutions use to record the completion of courses (with passing grades) that are required for an academic degree. The catalog of a college or university defines the number and kinds of credits that are required for the university’s degrees and states the value of each course offered in terms of “credit hours” or “units.”

Culture shock: The mental shock of adjusting to a new country and a new culture, which may be dramatically different from your own.

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.

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).

Dissertation: Thesis written on an original topic of research, usually presented as one of the final requirements for a doctoral degree(Ph.D.).

Doctorate (Ph.D.): The highest academic degree conferred by a university to students who have completed at least three years of graduate study beyond the bachelor’s and/or master’s degree and who have demonstrated their academic ability in oral and written examinations and through original research presented in the form of a dissertation.

Dormitories: Housing facilities on the campus of a college or university reserved for students. A typical dormitory would include student rooms, bathrooms, common rooms, and possibly a cafeteria.

Drop: See “Withdrawal.”

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

English as a Second Language (ESL): A course used to teach English to students whose first language is not English.

Extracurricular activities: Nonacademic activities undertaken outside university courses.

Faculty: The members of the teaching staff, and occasionally the administrative staff, of an educational institution. The faculty is responsible for designing the plans of study offered by the institution.

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

Fellowship: A form of financial assistance, usually awarded to a graduate student. Generally, no service is required of the student in return.

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

Freshman: A first-year student at a secondary school, college, or university.

Full-time student: A student who is enrolled at a university and is taking at least the minimum number of credits (often 12) to meet the university’s requirement for a full course load.

Grade Point Average (GPA): A system of recording achievement based on a numerical average of the grades attained in each course.

Graduate: A student who has completed a course of study, either at the secondary or university level. A graduate program at a university is a study course for students who already hold a bachelor’s degree.

Grant: A form of financial aid.

Incomplete: A designation given in lieu of a grade for a course that has not been completed (with permission). The student will be given a specified period for completion of the coursework, after which an “F” (a failing grade) will result.

Independent study: Official coursework undertaken outside a classroom setting. It will usually be monitored by an instructor.

Internal Revenue Service (IRS): The U.S. government body that oversees the collection of income taxes.

International student adviser (ISA): The person at a university who is in charge of providing information and guidance to international students in such areas as government regulations, visas, academic regulations, social customs, language, financial or housing problems, travel plans, insurance, and legal matters.

Internship: Placement of a student in a work environment in order to acquire professional experience.

Junior: A third-year student at a secondary school, college, or university.

Language requirement: A requirement of some graduate programs that students must show basic reading and writing proficiency in one other language besides their own to receive their degree.

Lease: A legal document to show an agreement between the owner (landlord) and the renter of an apartment or other property.

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.

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.”

Loan: A sum of money lent to an individual (or organization) with an agreement to repay the money, possibly with interest.

Maintenance: Refers to the expenses of attending a university, including room (living quarters) and board (meals), books, clothing, laundry, local transportation, and incidentals.

Major: The subject in which a student wishes to concentrate.

Major professor/thesis adviser: 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 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.

Midterm exam: An exam administered after half the academic term has passed that covers all class material studied until that point.

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

Nonresident: A student who does not meet the residence requirements of the state. Tuition fees and admission policies may differ for residents and nonresidents. International students are usually classified as nonresidents, and there is little possibility of changing to resident status at a later date for tuition purposes.

Notarization: The certification of a document (or a statement or signature) as authentic and true by a public official (known in the United States as a “notary public”) or a lawyer who is also a commissioner of oaths.

Part-time student: A student who is enrolled at a university but is not taking the minimum number of credits (often 12) to meet the university’s requirement for a full course load.

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.

Plagiarism: The use of another person’s words or ideas as your own.

Postdoctorate: Studies designed for those who have completed a doctoral degree (Ph.D.).

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.

Resident assistant (RA): A person who assists the residence hall director in campus dormitories and is usually the first point of contact for students with problems or queries regarding dorm life. RAs are usually students at the college who receive free accommodation and other benefits in return for their services.

Reverse culture shock: The culture shock an individual experiences upon returning to their home country after living abroad.

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

Semester: Period of study lasting approximately 15 to 16 weeks or one-half the academic year.

Senior: A fourth-year student at a secondary school, college, or university.

Social Security Number: A number issued to people by the U.S. government for payroll deductions for old age, survivors, and disability insurance. Anyone who works regularly must obtain a Social Security Number. Many institutions use this number as the student identification number.

Sophomore: A second-year student at a secondary school, college, or university.

Special student: A student at a college or university who is not enrolled as a candidate for a degree. Also may be referred to as a nondegree, nonmatriculating, or visiting student.

Teaching Assistant (TA): A graduate student who acts as instructor for an undergraduate course in his or her field, in return for some form of financial aid from the university.

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 (see “Notarization”) of a student’s educational record.

Trimester: Period of study consisting of approximately three equal terms of 16 weeks during the academic year.

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

Undergraduate studies: Two-year or four-year programs at a college or university, undertaken after secondary school graduation and leading to the associate or bachelor’s degree.

University: A large postsecondary institution that offers both undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

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

Zip code: A series of numbers in mailing addresses that designate postal delivery districts in the United States.

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