Glossary of US University Terms

Academic Adviser:
A faculty or staff member who gives advice to students on selecting courses, information about the college or university, and assists the student with other academic problems or questions

Academic Probation:
Students who fall below the minimum grade point average (GPA) are placed on academic probation. Schools usually only allow students to remain on academic probation for one or two semesters. After this, students are dismissed from the college or university.

Academic Year:
The period of time when classes are taught; usually considered to be from September to June.

Advanced standing:
Students who completed a similar course at another college or university are given advanced standing and are permitted to enroll in a higher level course in the same area of study.

Graduates of the college or university

A learning opportunity option that allows the student to enroll in a course, but does not earn credits for the course. Students must obtain permission from the professor to audit a course. You must pay tuition to audit a course.

The office at the university where students pay tuition and fees

There is no difference between a college and a university in the United States. Universities are generally larger and are divided into schools and colleges. However, there are large colleges and small universities. A college can also be a division of a university.

Community college:
A school that offers post-secondary course work and associate’s degree academic and vocational programs.

Credit/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.

The head of an academic division, school, or college

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

Department head:
The faculty member is who is the leader of an academic department

Buildings where student live. 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.

An optional course

Opportunities that are offered outside of the classroom, such as sports, clubs, and other events.

The teaching staff of a college or university

A first-year undergraduate student

General Education Requirements:
A set of courses that all undergraduate students must take, typically foundation and broad spectrum coursework.

Grade Point Average (GPA):
A mathematical calculation that gives an overall indication of how well you are doing in your classes. The highest grade point average is usually 4.0 in the US, but a few schools may use a 4.5 or a 5.0 scale. Undergraduate students must generally maintain a GPA of 2.0/4.0 to be considered in good academic status. Graduate students must generally maintain a GPA of 3.0/4.0 to be considered in good academic status.

Graduate student:
A student who has earned a bachelor’s or master’s degree and who is pursuing a second (or higher) level degree (Master’s, Ph.D.)

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

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 third-year undergraduate student

Junior college:
A school that usually offers 2 year programs of study

The main academic area of study in which you will specialize

Formal registration and enrollment in a university academic program

Minimum academic requirement:
Academic programs generally require a minimum grade point average (GPA) to be considered for admission. At the graduate level, other academic credentials or documents may also be required, such as the submission of a minimum score on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), Miller Analogies Test (MAT), or Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), along with relevant work experience, a personal statement, and letters of recommendation. Students who do not have the minimum academic requirements for a particular program are encouraged to apply for a program that is a better match with their qualifications.

A secondary academic area of study in which you will specialize

Areas that are not owned by the college or university

Areas that are owned by the college or university

A program usually offered at the beginning of the academic year to help new students become familiar with the college or university

Using another person’s work without their permission; 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 the United States. Students who are found to have plagiarized may be dismissed from the college or university or may receive a grade of F.

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.).

An academic requirement, such as a foundation course of study, that you must complete before taking a higher level course

Private 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.

Public Institution:
A public institution, often referred to as a State University, 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.

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).

Some universities in the United States divide 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.

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

Resident Assistant(RA):
A student in a dormitory or residence hall who is responsible for answering questions, helping with problems, and also has programs for the students living on his or her floor.

Some universities in the United States divide the academic year into 2 or 3 semesters. Each semester is about 15 weeks long. Fall semester begins in August or September and ends in December. Spring semester begins in January and ends in April or May. Some universities have a summer semester.

A small class where discussion is the emphasis

A fourth-year undergraduate student

A second-year undergraduate student

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 assists the professor with grading papers, supervising a laboratory, leading discussions, or teaching lower level courses

A record of all the courses you take and the grades you have received for each course

Transfer credit:
Academic credit awarded for courses taken at another college or university

The university fee required for each course

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

A student who is pursuing a first-level degree (Associate’s, Bachelor’s), diploma, or certificate