Student Resources

Glossary of Terms

The following glossary of important U.S. academic terms was prepared by the U.S. Educational Advisory Service, The Fulbright Commission, United Kingdom.


Academic Adviser
A member of faculty who helps and advises students purely on academic matters.

Academic Year
The period of formal instruction, usually late August/early September through late May/early June; may be divided into terms of varying lengths – semesters, trimesters, or quarters.

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

A process at the beginning of the term when students can change their course schedules, adding or dropping classes with the instructor’s permission.

A study grant of financial aid offered by graduate programs in return for certain services in teaching or laboratory supervision (teaching assistantship) or services in research (research assistantship).

Associate Degree
The degree awarded after a two-year period of study which can be either terminal (vocational) or transfer (the first two years of a bachelor’s degree).

To take a class without receiving a grade or credit towards the degree.


Bachelor’s Degree
The degree awarded upon completion of approximately four years of full time study in the liberal arts and sciences or professional subjects.


Individual study area usually reserved for graduate students in a library; available on a first come, first serve basis (sometimes for a fee).

A postsecondary institution that provides mainly undergraduate education. College in a separate sense is a division of a university, e.g. College of Business.

College Catalog
Also prospectus; an official publication giving information about a university’s academic programs, facilities, entrance requirements and student life.

Core Requirements
Compulsory courses required for completion of the degree.

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

The units which universities use to record the completion of courses (with passing grades) that are required to complete the degree. The catalog will define the amounts and kinds of credits that are required for the university’s degrees and will state the value of each course offered in terms of "credit hours" or "units."


Day Student
A student who lives in non-university-administered accommodation (e.g., at parent’s home) and commutes to the campus every day for classes.

Substantial academic paper written on an original topic of research, usually presented as one of the final requirements for the doctorate.


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

Exchange Award
A study grant of financial aid, as a condition of which recipients are expected to return to their home country upon completion of their study in the United States.


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

A study grant of financial aid, usually awarded to a graduate student without requiring services in return.

A cumulative exam on a particular course in one term encompassing all material covered throughout the duration of the course.

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

Social and philanthropic organizations found on many U.S. campuses, usually male-only (see "Sororities").


Grade/Grading System
The evaluation of a student’s academic work. Work rated B or higher is generally required of a graduate student to continue a program.

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

A student who has completed a course of study, either at high school or university level. A graduate program at a U.S. university is, in British English terms, a postgraduate study program. Graduate study is designed to lead towards a master's or doctorate and generally is open only to students who have completed an undergraduate degree.

Graduate Management Admissions Test, required for applicants to graduate business or management programs.

Graduate Record Examination, commonly required of applicants to graduate schools in fields other than business, law, and medicine.


High School
The U.S. term for secondary school.

Honors Program
A challenging program for students with high grades.


International Student Adviser
The person associated with a university who is in charge of providing information and guidance to international students in the areas of government regulation, visas, academic regulations, social customs, language, financial or housing problems, travel plans, insurance, and legal matters.


Language Requirement
Students in some graduate programs must show a basic reading and writing proficiency in one other language besides their own in order to receive their degree.

Law School Admissions Test, required of applicants to JD (professional law) programs and some graduate law programs in American law schools.

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."


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

The subject in which a student wishes to concentrate for an undergraduate degree.

Master’s Degree
Graduate degree following the bachelor’s degree. This may be completed in only one or two years, in cases in which the master’s stands alone, or it may be a degree attained while working toward a doctorate. Academic master’s degrees usually involve preparing a thesis as well as completing courses, while a professional master’s degree (e.g. education, management, communications, etc.) may require directed practical training together with course work.

Medical College Admissions Test, required of applicants to American medical first professional degree programs.

Midterm Exam
An exam administered after half the academic term has passed which covers all course material up until that point.

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


Non-resident Student
A student who does not meet the residence requirements of the state while attending a public (state) university. Tuition fees and admissions policies may differ for residents and non-residents. International students are usually classified as non-residents.

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


Studies designed for those who have completed a doctoral degree.

Program or course that a student is required to complete before being permitted to enroll in a more advanced program or course.


Qualifying Exam
In many graduate departments, students who have completed coursework for a doctoral degree must pass an examination before embarking on the dissertation. A qualifying examination may be oral, written, or both, and must be passed in order for the student to continue.

Period of study, approximately 10 to 12 weeks’ duration or one-quarter of the academic year.


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


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

A primarily multiple choice test of mathematical and English abilities that is required by most colleges and universities for admission into an undergraduate program.

Usually elementary, middle, or high schools. Also a catch-all term for any place of education e.g., law school, graduate school.

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

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

Female social, academic and philanthropic organizations found on many U.S. campuses.

Special Student
A student who is not enrolled in a degree program and is therefore independent of the university’s academic requirements.

An outline of topics covered in an academic course.


Teaching assistant, a graduate student acting as instructor for an undergraduate course in their field, in return for some form of financial aid from the university.

Test of English as a Foreign Language, an English language proficiency examination, required of applicants whose native language is not English.

A certified copy (see "notarization") of a student’s educational record. For graduate applications this will state the date a degree was conferred, indicate the student’s overall grade point average and list the courses completed, their value in terms of credits and the final grade attained in each. For students with British qualifications, certified copies of degree or examination certificates along with a syllabus for each course from the college or university registrar will suffice.

The process of moving from one college or university to another to complete a degree.

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


A student enrolled in a bachelor's or associate degree program. An undergraduate program is a study program leading to the award of a bachelor or associate degree.

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