Ohio University

College Lingo

College can be confusing and difficult to adjust to for first-year students. A common contributor to this difficulty is navigating the college "lingo". Below is a list of commonly used titles, words, and acronyms to assist you with navigating the university system.


  • Academic advisor: A member of a school's faculty who provides advice and guidance to students on academic matters, such as course selections.
  • Academic year: Annual period during which a student attends and receives formal instruction at a college or university, typically from August to May. The academic year at Ohio University is divided into 3 semesters - Fall, Spring, and Summer.
  • Accredited: Official recognition that a college or university meets the standards of a regional or national association. Although international students are not required to attend an accredited college or university in the United States, employers, other schools, and governments worldwide often only recognize degrees from accredited schools.
  • Associate's: 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: 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.), which refers to the liberal arts, and bachelor of science (B.S.). A bachelor's is required before starting graduate studies.
  • Bursar: The Bursar's office is located on the ground floor of Chubb Hall. They oversee all aspects of University billing.


  • 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. 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.
  • Conditional admission: An acceptance to a college or university that is dependent on the student first completing coursework or meeting specific criteria before enrollment.
  • Core requirements: Mandatory courses that students are required to complete to earn a degree.
  • Course load: The number of courses or credits a student takes during a specific term. On average, students take a course load of 15 credit hours per term to progress toward a timely graduation.
  • Credits/Credit Hours: 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. You may experience culture shock related to the university's location in rural, Southeastern Ohio or related to the environment of higher education in general.
  • 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.
  • Department: A division of a school, made up of faculty and support staff, that gives instruction in a particular field of study, such as the history department.
  • 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, and common areas.
  • Double major: A program of study that allows a student to complete the course requirements for two majors at the same time.
  • Drop: 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.
  • Dual degree: Program of study that allows a student to receive two degrees from the same college or university.


  • Electives: Courses that students can choose to take for credit toward a degree, but are not required.
  • Enroll: To register or enter a school or course as a participant.
  • 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.


  • Faculty: A school's teaching and administrative staff who is responsible for designing programs of study.
  • 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.)
  • Financial aid: All types of money offered to a student to help pay tuition, fees, and other educational expenses. This can include scholarships, loans, grants, and work study positions.
  • 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.


  • GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test): A standardized graduate business school entrance exam administered by the nonprofit Graduate Management Admission Council, which measures verbal, quantitative, and analytical writing skills. Some business schools accept either the GMAT or GRE.
  • Graduate school: The division of a college or university, or an independent postsecondary institution, which administers graduate studies and awards master's degrees, doctorates, or graduate certificates.
  • Graduate student / graduate studies: A student who already holds an undergraduate degree and is pursuing advanced studies at a graduate school, leading to a master's, doctorate, or graduate certificate. A "graduate" can also refer to any student who has successfully completed a program of study and earned a degree.
  • 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.
  • GRE (Graduate Record Examination): A standardized graduate school entrance exam administered by the nonprofit Educational Testing Service (ETS), which measures verbal, quantitative, and analytical writing skills. The exam is generally required by graduate schools, which use it to assess applicants of master's and Ph.D. programs. Some business schools accept either the GMAT or GRE; law schools generally require the LSAT; and medical schools typically require the MCAT.
  • 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.
  • Internship: An experience that allows students to work in a professional environment to gain training and skills. Internships may be paid or unpaid and can be of varying lengths during or after the academic year.
  • 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.




  • Letter of recommendation: A letter written by a student's professor, 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 sometimes 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. The majority of liberal arts colleges have small student bodies, do not offer graduate studies, and focus on faculty teaching rather than research


  • Major: The academic subject area that a student chooses to focus on during his or her undergraduate studies. Students typically must officially choose their major by the middle or 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: 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.).
  • Matriculate: To enroll in a program of study at a college or university, with the intention of earning a degree.
  • MBA: A master of business administration degree.
  • MCAT (Medical College Admission Test): A standardized U.S. medical school entrance exam administered by the nonprofit Association of American Medical Colleges, which measures verbal reasoning and writing skills and physical and biological sciences knowledge.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Non-degree Seeking Student: A student who is 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.


  • 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.


  • 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 (12 hours).
  • 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. (See "doctorate.")
  • Post doctorate: Academic studies or research for those who have completed a doctorate. A "postdoc" can refer both to a person who is pursuing a post doctorate and to the post doctorate itself.
  • Prerequisite: A required course that must be completed before a student is allowed to enroll in a more advanced one. Sometimes this is also called a "requisite."
  • 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.
  • Probation: A status or period of time in which students with GPAs below 2.0 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 residence halls.
  • Professional school: A higher education institution for students who have already received their undergraduate degree to gain training in specific professions, such as law, medicine, and pharmacy.
  • Provost: The senior academic officer of a college or university who typically oversees all academic policies and curriculum-related matters.



  • Registrar: The college or university official who is responsible for registering students and keeping their academic records, such as transcripts.
  • Registration: The process in which students choose and enroll in courses to be taken during the academic year or in summer sessions.
  • RA (Resident assistant): A student leader who works in residence halls and supervises issues and activities related to residential life. RAs often receive free or discounted housing in the hall 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 residence halls, 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.


  • TA (Teaching assistant): A graduate student who assists a professor with teaching an undergraduate course, usually within his or her field, as part of an assistantship.
  • 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.
  • Term: Periods of study, which can include semesters, quarters, trimesters, or summer sessions.
  • Thesis: A formal piece of writing on a specific subject, which may be required to earn a bachelor's or master's degree.
  • TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language): A standardized exam administered by the nonprofit Educational Testing Service (ETS), which measures English-language proficiency in reading, listening, speaking, and writing. Many U.S. colleges and universities require non-native English speakers to take the TOEFL and submit their scores as part of the admissions process.
  • Transcript: An official record of a student's coursework and grades at a high school, college, or university. A high school transcript is usually one of the required components of the college application process.
  • 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.
  • 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: 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.



  • 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.






Text is modified from http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2011/08/15/us-higher-education-glossary