Education Systems


Glossary of US Education

What's the difference between a semester and quarter ? Studying in the United States can be confusing if you don't fully understand the words used in U.S. higher education. With that in mind, Litz USA Student Service has compiled a glossary of  terms specifically for international students and their parents.

Academic advisor:  A member of a college faculty who helps and advises students solely on academic matters, he or she may also assist students during the registration process.

Academic year:  The period of formal instruction, usually September to May; may be divided into terms of varying lengths: semesters, trimesters, or quarters. The period consists of at least 30 weeks of instructional time. The school year typically runs from the beginning of September through the end of May at most colleges and universities.

Accreditation:  Approval of colleges and universities by nationally recognized professional associations or regional accrediting bodies - The US government does not monitor the quality of US colleges and universities, as does the ministry of education in other countries. Instead, the US Department of Education approves accrediting agencies. These accrediting agencies review a school's educational program for quality, and certify that the school meets a minimal set of standards. So it is important to be sure that the schools to which you are applying are accredited by a recognized accrediting agency, since schools without accreditation are likely to be of lesser quality.

ACT (American College Test):  A standardized test offered by American College Testing to assess preparation for college. Similar in nature to the SAT. Required primarily by schools in the Western and Midwestern United States.  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. (See the U.S. News college test prep guide for more information.)

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

Alumnus, Alumna, Alumni, Alumnae:  Latin terms for graduates of a college or university. Alumnus is singular male, alumna is singular female, alumni is plural male, and alumnae is plural female. Alumnus and alumni are often used in a gender neutral fashion.

AP (Advanced Placement):  An exam that students can take and receive college credit. Credit is determined by the college, school, or major at the U.C. campus that the student transfers to. (A waiver of some of the studies normally required for an undergraduate degree, granted to a student on the basis of prior study or experience). Or 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.

Associate degree:  The degree awarded for completion of a two-year program at a community college, trade, or vocational school, it can be either "transfer" (the first two years of a bachelor's degree) or "terminal" (vocational). Associate degree can be in the arts or sciences (A.A. or A.S.). Associate's Degree

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

B-2 Visa:  Tourist visa. Cannot be used for studying in theUS.

Baccalaureate degree:  The degree of "bachelor" conferred upon graduates of most U.S. colleges and universities, Bachelor degree or Baccalaureate degree refers to the diploma awarded to an undergraduate that has completed all of the graduation requirements. This is same meaning as Bachelor's degree.

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.

Campus:  A school's buildings, grounds, and other facilities collectively comprise its "campus", or the locations of a university system. (For example, the locations of the specific nineUniversity of California are San Diego, Irvine, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Riverside, San Francisco, Davis and Berkeley.)

College:  A postsecondary institution of higher education that awards primarily undergraduate degrees. Often used interchangeably with "University", it usually provides undergraduate education and, in some cases, master's level degrees. College, in a separate sense, is a division of a university, a collection of departments and or majors connected together usually by an academic discipline or theme. For example:College ofBusiness.

College Board:  The College Board is a nonprofit educational association of colleges, universities, educational systems, and other educational institutions. For more information, see College Board Online (CBO).

Commencement:  A graduation ceremony where students officially receive their degrees, typically held in May or June at the end of the academic year, though some colleges and universities also hold August and December ceremonies.

Common Application:  A standard application form that is accepted by more than 450 member colleges and universities for admissions. Students can complete the form online or in print and submit copies to any of the participating colleges, rather than filling out individual forms for each school. However, international students will typically need to submit additional application materials unique to each college.

Community college:  A public, two-year postsecondary institution that offers the associate degree. Also known as a "junior college." Community colleges typically provide a transfer program, allowing students to transfer to a four-year school to complete their bachelor's degree, and a career program, which provides students with a vocational degree.

Community, technical, or junior college:  A postsecondary institution that offers programs of up to two years' duration, including the associate degree in the arts or sciences (A.A. or A.S.). Under the Community College, student can proceed to the 3rd year in a University.

Conditional admission:  In the case of overseas students, it means admission to the school with the condition that you meet their requirements for English proficiency after arrival. The school may require you to enroll in English as a Second Language (ESL) classes when you arrive.Or 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.

County:  A US government division that is larger than a single city but smaller than a state.

Course:  Regularly scheduled class sessions (on a particular subject) 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. Each college or university offers degree programs that consist of a specific number of required and elective courses.

Course Description:  A brief description of the content of an academic course

Course load:  The number of courses for which a student is registered during a specific period of time.

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."

* Each school defines the total number and types of credits necessary for degree completion.

* Every course is assigned a value in terms of "credits," "credit hours," or "units."

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:  Every course is awarded a credit value, usually from 1 to 5 credits. The credit number that is assigned to each course also indicates the number of hours per week you will be in class. For example, a 3 credit class will meet for 3 hours each week. Undergraduate(s) generally register for 12-15 credits each semester, and graduate students generally register for 9 credits each semester.

(Alternative definition: 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.)

Culture shock:  The mental shock of adjusting to a new country and a new culture, which may be dramatically different from your own. It can be feelings of uncertainty, confusion, or anxiety that can occur when adjusting to a new country. 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.

Curriculum Vitae (c.v.):  A resume of a student's education, employment, publications, and other activities. This term is usually used in connection with graduate students and faculty, not undergraduate students.

Cut:  Unauthorized absence from a class.

Dean’s List:  An academic award for students who earn a certain grade point average (GPA), usually about 3.5 or higher, in a given period of time, such as a semester

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.

Department:  Administrative subdivision of a school, college, or university through which instruction in a field of study is given. It is a specific unit that usually focuses on one specific field of academics, e.g. Department of Science, Psychology or History.

Dependent:  A person who receives more than half their financial support from another, usually a parent or legal guardian. Most often a child or spouse, but occasionally includes other relatives.

Discipline:  An area of academic study.

Distance education:  Formal learning in which the student and the instructor are not in the same place at the same time

Dissertation:  Thesis written on an original topic of research, usually presented as one of the final requirements for a doctoral degree (Ph.D.). Or 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.):  One of several degrees granted by graduate schools. It is 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/Dorm:  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. Some universities call them “residence halls”.

Double/Dual major:  Most students choose one major, but some students choose 2 majors. Students with a double, or dual, major must complete the degree requirements for both majors. A program of study that allows a student to receive two degrees from the same college or university. 

(If a student wants to double major, he/she should complete as much coursework in both majors prior to transfer as time and energy permits. Universities and colleges have different rules about double majors, so a student would need to check with the specific institution.)

Drop:  The administrative procedure of dropping a course or leaving a university, to withdraw from a course. A college or university typically has a period of time at the beginning of a term during which students can add or drop courses.

Early action:  A program offered by some colleges and universities that allows students to submit their applications early, typically in November or December, and receive decisions early, usually in mid- or late December. Students are not required to accept the admissions offer and have until May 1 to decide. Although some schools allow international students to apply via early action, applicants who request financial aid may not receive a decision any earlier than those who apply through the regular decision process.

Early Admission:  US colleges and universities have two early admission programs, early action and early decision. Early decision commits the student to attending the school if admitted, early action doesn't. International students are generally not permitted to apply under early admission programs.

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.

Electives:  Courses that students may choose to take for credit toward their intended degree (but are not required), as distinguished from courses that they are required to take.

Elementary School:  Grades K through 6.

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

Enroll:  To register or enter a school or course as a participant.

ESL:  English as a Second Language.

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.

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.

Extracurricular activities/Extracurricular:  Non-academic activities undertaken outside university courses. Opportunities that are offered outside of the classroom, such as sports, clubs, and other events.

F-1 Visa:  Student visa for full-time study.

Faculty:  In the US, the word "faculty" refers to a school's professors, lecturers, and instructors, not a division or department of the university, or 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.

Fellowship:  An amount of money awarded by a college or university, usually to graduate students and generally based on their academic achievement, this is to help support their education. Some fellowships include a tuition waiver or a payment to the university in lieu of tuition. Most fellowships include a stipend to cover reasonable living expenses (e.g., just above the poverty line). Fellowships are a form of gift aid and do not have to be repaid. 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. Major forms of financial aid include gift aid (grants and scholarships) and self-help aid (loans and work).

Final exam:  A cumulative exam, taken at the end of a term, encompassing all material covered in a particular course.

First-time, first-year (freshman) student:  A student attending any institution for the first time at the undergraduate level. Includes students enrolled in the fall term who attended college for the first time in the prior summer term. Also includes students who entered with advanced standing (college credits earned before graduation from high school).

Flunk:  To fail an course or examination.

Fraternities:  Male social, academic, and philanthropic organizations found on many U.S. campuses.   Fraternity can be 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.

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.

General Education: A broad smattering of courses to include a wide variety of subjects outside a specific major, and are usually taken in the first two years of university study; also known as survey courses. Typically, it makes up of English, Mathematics, Science, Arts and Social Sciences.

GMAT:  Graduate Management Admission Test, usually required for applicants to business or management programs, a standardized test for MBA applicants that measures basic verbal, mathematical, and analytical writing skills that have been developed over a long period of time through education and work.  Some business schools accept either the GMAT or GRE. In June 2012, the GMAT will incorporate an integrated reasoning section designed to assess how applicants analyze different types of information at once. (See the U.S. News business school test prep guide for more information.)

GPA Grade Point Average:  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.

GPA can also be furthered defined as a weighted sum of the student's grades. Each of a student's grades is converted to a number on a scale from 1.0 to 4.0, and weighted according to the number of credits received from the class. Typically, a 4.0 corresponds to an "A", a 3.0 to a "B", a 2.0 to a "C", a 1.0 to a "D", and 0.0 to an "E" or "F".

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

Grading system:  Schools, colleges and universities in the United States commonly use letter grades to indicate the quality of a student's academic performance: A – excellent, B – good, C – average, D- below average, F – failing Work rated C or above is usually required of an undergraduate students to continue their studies; work rated B or higher is usually required of a graduate student to continue. Sometimes Grades of P (pass), S (satisfactory), and N (no credit) are also used. In percentage scales, 100 percent is the highest mark, and 70 percent (or 65 percent) is usually the lowest passing mark.

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.

Graduate Student:  A student pursuing a master's degree or doctoral degree.

GRE (Graduate Record Examination):  A standardized test of verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing that measures readiness for graduate-level study, often required of applicants to graduate schools in fields other than professional programs such as medicine, dentistry, or law. Both a GRE general test and subject tests for specific fields are offered.

GRE is administered by the nonprofit Educational Testing Service (ETS), which measures verbal, quantitative, and analytical writing skills. Some business schools accept either the GMAT or GRE; law schools generally require the LSAT; and medical schools typically require the MCAT. Effective August 2011, the GRE will incorporate key changes in the content, length, and style of the exam. (See the U.S. News GRE guide for more information.)

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.

High school: The last three or four years of the twelve-year public education program in the United States, or a secondary school that offers grades 9 to 12.

Higher education: Postsecondary education at colleges, universities, junior or community college, professional schools, technical institutes and teacher-training schools.

Honors Program:  A special program for high-achieving students; students in this program have the opportunity to take special or more challenging courses

(Alternative definition: Any special program for very able students offering the opportunity for educational enrichment, independent study, acceleration, or some combination of these.)

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.

Incomplete grade:  A temporary grade given to students who have not finished all the requirements for a course. Students must ask a professor for an incomplete grade and, if granted the professor will give the student a deadline for completing the requirements. 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.

In-state tuition:  The tuition charged by institutions to those students who meet the state's or institution's residency requirements.

Institute:  An organization created for a specific purpose, usually for research, that may be located on a college or university's campus.

Intercampus Transfer:  Some transfers within the U.C. campuses may be granted due to a student's personal circumstances and availability in the prospective major. An application must be submitted in a specified filing period. Some U.C. campuses do not accept any transfers who may have completed more than 120 quarter units.

Interdepartmental major:  A specific course of study usually grouped around a central theme that requires coursework from many different departments.

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.

International Student:  A student who is a citizen of a country other than the United States.

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.

Ivy League:  An association of eight private universities located in the northeasternUnited 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 Universities including,BrownUniversity,ColumbiaUniversity,CornellUniversity,DartmouthCollege,HarvardUniversity,PrincetonUniversity,University ofPennsylvania, andYaleUniversity.

J-1 Visa: Exchange visitor visa.

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.

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.

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 usually lectures in classes of 20 to several hundred students. Lectures may be supplemented with regular small group discussions led by teaching assistants.

Letter of Recommendation:  A letter written by a teacher to evaluate a student's qualifications and abilities, often included as part of an application for admission to college or in support of an application for a scholarship or fellowship.

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."

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."

Liberal Arts:  A term referring to academic studies of subjects in the humanities (language, literature, philosophy, the arts), the social sciences (economics, sociology, anthropology, history, political science), and the physical sciences (mathematics, physics, biology, chemistry) with the goal of developing students' verbal, written, and reasoning skills.

It focuses 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."

Liberal arts college:  A postsecondary institution that emphasizes an undergraduate education in liberal arts study. The majority of liberal arts colleges have small student bodies, do not offer graduate studies, and focus on faculty teaching rather than research. (See U.S. News's rankings of Best Liberal Arts Colleges.)

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

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

Lower Division:  A term used to describe courses that are usually taught the freshman or sophomore year of college and are general in content.California community colleges can only teach lower division courses.

Lower Division Major Preparation:  Lower division courses that are required as foundation information for upper division coursework. These courses are often comprised from a variety of departments. For example, engineering students are required to complete lower division courses in physics, chemistry, and math.

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 academic area or field of study in which a student's studies are concentrated, or a specific course of study that is the focus of the undergraduate degree emphasizing one specific discipline.  Students typically must officially choose their major by the end of their sophomore year, allowing them to take a number of courses in the chosen area during their junior and senior years.

Master's degree:  An award that requires the successful completion of a program of study of at least the full-time equivalent of one but not more than two academic years of work beyond the bachelor's degree.

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

Midterm exam:  An exam given after half of the academic term has passed and that covers all material studied in a particular course until that point. Not all courses have midterm exams.

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.

Matriculation:  Formal registration and enrollment in a university academic program

Middle School:  Grades 7 and 8, also known as Junior High.

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

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.  (A subject in which the student takes the second greatest concentration of courses, an additional coursework in a specific discipline other than the declared major, usually related to the major, but not always. To "minor" in a subject means to take a prescribed number of courses relating to a specific subject, in addition to your major courses).

Non-resident:  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 non-residents, and there is little possibility of changing to resident status at a later date for tuition purposes.  (Most publicly supported institutions will not permit a foreign student to be classified as a resident student while on a student visa).

Non-resident 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.

Non-credit:  Course work or co-curricular activities for which students do not earn academic credit.

Non-profit (or not-for-profit):  A legally-constituted organization whose objective is to support or engage in activities without commercial or monetary profit. A non-profit does not issue stock or dividends. Many but not allU.S. non-profits are tax-exempt. There are legal restrictions on how revenues generated by non-profit organizations may be used

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

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.

Off-campus:  Areas that are not owned by the college or university

On-campus:  Areas that are owned by the college or university

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 program usually offered at the beginning of the academic year to help new students become familiar with the college or university., it is 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.)

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 who is enrolled at a university but is not taking the minimum number of credits (often 12) credits per semester or quarter, or fewer than 24 contact hours a week each term to meet the university's requirement 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.

Ph.D.:  A doctor of philosophy degree.

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.”

Plagiarism:  The use of another person's words or ideas as your own, this includes using another student’s work as your own, copying word-for-word from another source, or cheating on a test. Plagiarism is taken very seriously at colleges and universities in theUnited States. Students who are found to have plagiarized may be dismissed from the college or university or may receive a grade of F. (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.

Postgraduates: Usually refers to studies for individuals who have completed a graduate degree, it may also be used to refer to graduate education.

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.

Practicum:  A course that gives you first-hand experience and allows you to practice what you have learned in a class. Practicum classes are usually required for students are majoring in education or in a health profession (nursing, physical therapy, etc.).

Prerequisite:  A required course that must be completed before a student is allowed to enroll in a more advanced one.

Private nonprofit institution:  A private institution in which the individual(s) or agency in control receives no compensation, other than wages, rent, or other expenses for the assumption of risk. These include both independent nonprofit schools and those affiliated with a religious organization.

Private University/College, Institution:  A private institution generally does not receive funding from the state or federal government, instead they receive private funding through alumni donations, faculty research grants, and tuition fees. Private universities are able to attract and retain faculty well-known in their academic fields. Students benefit from faculty experience in the field, enriching the classroom experience. Unusual or innovative academic programs may be found on private university campuses. The most competitive and selective universities in the United States are private, for example U.S. News & World Report ranks the top (5) universities in the United States for 2009 as: Harvard University, Princeton University, Yale University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Stanford University.

Probation:  A status or period of time in which students with very low GPAs, or whose academic work is unsatisfactory according to the school, must improve their performance. If they are unable to do so, they may be dismissed from the school. Students may also face "disciplinary probation" for nonacademic reasons, such as behavioral problems in the dorms.

Provost: The senior academic officer of a college or university who typically oversees all academic policies and curriculum-related matters.

Public University/College Institution:  A public institution, often referred to as aStateUniversity, is one that receives funding from the state and/or federal government, although tuition revenue and private funding also contribute to their financial stability. These institutions may follow state-wide admissions requirements, or have their own individual campus requirements. Faculty research grants are typically an important part of state university faculty and bring numerous practical research opportunities to students. Often public universities may have large departments which offer numerous degree options for students from associate degrees to doctoral and post-doctoral programs. Public Universities are generally less expensive than private universities, and as such, can also have fairly competitive admissions policies.

President:  The rector or highest administrative officer of an academic institution.

Quality point:  The value assigned to a grade. For example: if a grade of A is 4 quality points, a B is 3 quality points, a C is 2 quality points, a D is 1 quality point, and a grade of F is 0 quality points. Quality points are used to calculate a grade point average (GPA).

Quarter:  Periods of study that divide the academic year into four equal segments of approximately 10 to 12 weeks each, typically including the summer.

Some universities in theUnited Statesdivide the academic year into 3 or 4 quarters. Each quarter is about 10 weeks long. Fall quarter begins in August or September and ends in December. Winter quarter begins in January and ends in March. Spring quarter begins in March or April and ends in May or June. Some universities have a summer quarter.

Quarter System:  The division of the academic year into four equal parts. For example: All U.C.s, except Berkeley , are on a modified quarter system. In the U.C.s, three quarters constitute an academic year, with summer school considered an optional "quarter".

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.

Recommendation Letter (also called "personal recommendation," "personal endorsement," or "personal reference"): A letter appraising an applicant's qualifications, written by a professor or employer who knows the applicant's character and work.

Re-entry Student:  An older, returning student of a university. Some university provide programs and support services to assist all aspects of the a re-entry student's experience.

Registrar:  The University staff person who is responsible for maintaining student records, issuing transcripts, assigning classrooms, and other academic responsibilities.

Registration: Process through which students select courses to be taken during a quarter, semester, or trimester.

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.

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.

Repetition:  Repeating a course where a "D", "F", or "No Credit" (NC) was earned. A Withdraw ("W") is not considered a repetition.

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 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. RA 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.)

Residence Hall (or Dormitory):  Used to describe an entire building that houses students on a university campus.  Residence halls may range in size from just a few rooms to hundreds and may offer single rooms or multiple occupancy rooms.  In theUnited States, many residence halls are paired with mandatory meal plans (catered-options); however self-catered options are often available upon request and based on availability. Outside theU.S. accommodations are more commonly self-catered.

Resume:  A one-page summary of an individual's education, employment history, awards, and other accomplishments.

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

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

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.

Semester:  A division of the academic year into spring and fall terms, the period of study lasting approximately 15 to 18 weeks or one-half the academic year. (Some schools also offer a shorter summer semester, beyond the traditional academic year.)

Semester calendar system:  A calendar system that consists of two semesters during the academic year with about 16 weeks for each semester of instruction. There may be an additional summer session.

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

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

Sororities:  Female social, academic, and philanthropic organizations found on manyU.S. campuses.

(More details: It is 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.

Syllabus:  An outline of what the professor will teach you in your course; it may also include what the professor will expect of you in the course

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 (or Grade Transcript):  An official record of a student's academic work, including a list of courses taken, grades received, and credits awarded. It is a document produced by a university/college showing the courses, credits, grades, and degrees earned by a specific student at that institution. Most institutions issues both official transcripts (produced on special paper and/or with official seals, and often mailed directly to another institution) and unofficial transcripts (often issued direct to the student on ordinary paper). A certified copy (see "Notarization") of a student's educational record.

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

Transfer applicant:  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 previously attended another college or university and earned college-level credit.

Transfer courses/requirements:  A student needs to complete minimum university admission requirements (depending on the college or university a student wants to attend), coursework in the intended major, and general education courses. There are usually a minimum number of units a student need to complete, too. The time it takes to transfer depends on the number of units completed each term, and the minimum number of units that a transfer institution requires for admission. 

Note: Only courses specifically designated as transferable will transfer to a college or university. If a student wants to know if the course transfers to a university or college, a student needs to consult a counselor from the university a student wishes to transfer to. Also, regardless of the type of Associated Degrees you earn, you may transfer with a different major to a university.

Regarding the time for transfer application, a student should always try to get an application in as soon as applications are being accepted, instead of waiting for the deadline.

Transfer credit:  Credit granted toward a degree on the basis of studies completed at another college or university. For instance, students who transfer from a community college to a four-year college may earn some transfer credit.

Transfer GPA/Grades:  The GPA necessary for admission varies from university to university and from major to major. When available, GPA requirements can be obtained from each university. You are required to report all previous institutions that you have attended even though you might have got bad grades at those colleges. Note: If a student did not report all institutions that he/she has attended, the student will have provided false information, and could potentially have his/her admission or degree revoked.

Trimester:  An academic year consisting of 3 terms of about 15 weeks each - a division of the academic year into thirds, adding a summer term to the fall and spring terms, it refers to the period of study consisting of approximately three equal terms of 16 weeks during the academic year, that is divided into three equal terms.

Tuition:  The fees charged by a school to allow a student to register to take courses at the school, or the money an institution charges for instruction and training (does not include the cost of books), the university fee required for each course. *Tuition may be charged per term, per course, or per credit.

Tutor:  A person, usually a student, who provides special assistance in a course

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.

UC and Cal State U:  California has two public university systems. The UC (University of California) system emphasizes a theory based approach to learning, and offers doctorate programs in most disciplines, along with graduate opportunities in medicine, dentistry, business, law, pharmacy, and veterinary medicine. The CSU (California State University) offers traditional and career specific majors, with graduate opportunities at the Master's level.

Undergraduate Student:  A student pursuing a bachelor's degree.

Undergraduate studies:  Study toward a baccalaureate or associate degree. (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:  An institution of higher education that awards undergraduate and graduate degrees. Often used interchangeably with "College", or a postsecondary institution that offers both undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

Unit:  A specific measure of value ascribed to satisfactory completion of a course of study. ‘Units' is sometimes referred to as ‘Credits' or ‘Hours'.

(Alternative definition:  A standard of measurement representing hours of academic instruction; e.g., semester credit, quarter credit, contact hour).

Upper Division:  A category of study at the undergraduate level that is more narrow in focus than lower division study. These courses are usually taught in junior and senior years, and encompass most of the major.

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 theUnited States include the F-1 (student visa) and J-1 (exchange visitor visa). To apply for aU.S. visa, student applicants must first receive a Form I-20 from the college or university they plan to attend, which is created by theU.S. government's SEVIS database.

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:  A list of qualified applicants to a school who may be offered admission if there is space available after all admitted students have made their decisions. Being on a wait list does not guarantee eventual admission, so some students may choose not to remain on the list, particularly if the school is not their first choice.

Well-Rounded Students:  Students who, in addition to their major, have completed a broad array of courses in different areas of study.

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

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.

Work-study:  A financial aid program funded by theU.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.

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

Sources: including U.S. Department of State, Education USA, Common Data Set of U.S. Higher Education Terminology, Wikipedia, Litz USA Student Services, US News – Education and other sources. Copyright @ 2009 ALL Rights Reserved