Need a refresher on some of those common college terms? Consider this the ultimate reference guide.
College academic terms
Academic Advisor: A professor assigned to help students choose appropriate courses each semester.
Associate’s Degree: A degree given by a community college. Comparable to two years at a 4-year university. Marks the completion of a two year program of study. You may notice that some institutions offer both Associate’s of Arts (AA) and Associate’s of Science (AS). Both Associate’s degrees carry the same value, but the coursework will look a bit different between the two. In general, an AA will allow you to cover the topic of your major in a more broad and general way, while an AS will allow you to drill down into the specifics of your major a bit more.
Bachelor’s Degree: A degree given by a college upon completion of a program of study. Usually takes four years. You may notice that some institutions offer both Bachelor’s of Arts (BA) and Bachelor’s of Science (BS). Both Bachelor’s degrees carry the same value, but the coursework will look a bit different between the two. In general, a BA will allow you to cover the topic of your major in a more broad and general way, while a BS will allow you to drill down into the specifics of your major a bit more.
Concentration: A specialized branch within a major.
Core Curriculum: A group of courses, in varied areas of the arts and sciences, designated by a college as one of the requirements for a degree.
Credit: A unit that gives weighting to the value of an academic course taken at a school. Usually based on how long you are physically in the class a week—sometimes referred to as credit-hours.
Department: A group of related programs of study within a college. For example, a biology department could offer degrees in cellular biology and marine biology.
Distance Learning: An option for earning course credits off campus, via cable television, Internet, satellite devices, videotapes, correspondence courses or other means.
Double Major: Any program in which a student completes the requirements of two majors at a time.
Dual Enrollment: The practice of allowing students to enroll in college courses while still in high school.
Elective: A course that is not required for one’s chosen major or the college’s core curriculum and can be used to fulfill the credit hour requirement for graduation.
Fieldwork: Study that takes place outside the classroom and provides students with hands-on experience in their major.
Graduate Degree: A degree pursued after a student has earned a bachelor’s degree.
Major: A student’s primary field of study. All students must pick a major and complete a specific set of classes required by the department.
Minor: Coursework that is not as extensive as that in a major, but gives students some specialized knowledge of a second field. Students may choose a minor in the department of their major or in a different department.
Prerequisite: A course that must be taken as a preparation for more advanced coursework in a particular field.
College application terms
ACT: The ACT is a college admissions test with four sections – English, math, reading, and science, with an optional writing section. Scores range from 1 to 36.
Common App: The Common App allows you to apply to hundreds of colleges throughout the country. It also provides you with resources on planning and how to apply for college.
Early Action: Early Action is the option to apply early to a school and find out their decision earlier. Early Action is non-binding, meaning that you don’t have to go to that school if you get in.
Early Decision: Early Decision is the option to apply early to a school and find out their decision earlier. Early Decision is binding, meaning that you have to go to that school if you get in, even if you don’t get enough financial aid.
Foundation School: Schools that you know you will get into (based on assured admittance requirements) or schools that you know you have a very good chance of getting into (ie. SAT scores and class rank exceed requirements. Learn more.
HBCU: HBCU is an acronym for Historically Black College or University. The Higher Education Act of 1965 defines HBCU’s as “any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans, and that is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency or association determined by the Secretary [of Education] to be a reliable authority as to the quality of training offered or is, according to such an agency or association, making reasonable progress toward accreditation.” HBCUs offer all students, regardless of race, religion, or sex an opportunity to further develop talents, skills, and education. The National Center for Education Statistics is a great place to find a list of all HBCUs.
HSI: HSI is an acronym for Hispanic Serving Institution. HSIs are schools that participate in a designated federal program that aims to assist first-generation students, who typically are of Hispanic origin. The Hispanic Association of Colleges & Universities is a great place to find a list of all HSIs.
Private University: A university that relies on private donations and tuition for funding. Private universities do not receive state funds.
Proprietary (For-Profit) Schools: Educational institutions operated by private, profit-seeking businesses.
*Warning: When choosing an institution, stay away from “for-profit” schools. These schools are usually expensive and are not as reliable as nonprofit institutions. This means that credits earned from a for-profit school may not transfer to another institution, and a degree may not be recognized by some employers. Students are able to gain the same technical skills from Texas public or private community colleges for much less cost.
Public University: A university that relies on state funds, private donations, and tuition for funding.
Reach School: Schools where you may not quite meet the admissions standards and you may be taking a chance by applying, but with a strong essay and letters of recommendation, you may be accepted. Even if the school may be hard to get into, it is still good to try! Although your GPA or test scores may be lower than what they usually accept, other factors like community service, extracurricular activities, background, etc. may help you get accepted.
SAT: The SAT is a college admissions test with three sections – critical reading, math, and writing. Scores range from 400 to 1600.
SAT Subject Test: SAT Subject Tests are very similar to the AP tests, but are shorter and don’t have writing sections. These tests are required by many very prestigious schools.
Target School: Schools that you feel like you have a decent chance of getting into, but it is not a guarantee (ie. your GPA and SAT scores are in the school’s average range). These schools might include your top choice school.
College search terms
Acceptance Rate: The percentage of applying students who are accepted into the college or university.
College Board: The College Board is a mission-driven nonprofit organization that connects students to college success and opportunity. The College Board website provides great college search information and should be considered a primary resource for students when researching schools.
College Greenlight: College Greenlight is a totally free resource for any traditionally underrepresented student who is serious about getting into and thriving at their perfect college. Students receive a customized list of the awards and scholarships best suited to their academic, social, and community accomplishments.
Graduation Rate: The percentage of students who graduate within 6 years at a four-year school, and within three years at a two-year school unless otherwise noted.
Percent of Need Met: On average, the percentage of a student’s financial need that is covered by that school’s financial aid package.
Persistence Rate: The percentage of freshmen who enroll in classes for their sophomore year at the same or different college or university without a lapse in taking classes. Persistence rates measure a student’s individual ability to continue on to the next term. Retention rates are campus-wide and show a college’s or university’s ability to retain students.
Retention Rate: The percentage of freshmen who enroll in classes for their sophomore year at the same university without a lapse in taking classes. Retention rates are campus-wide and show a college’s or university’s ability to retain students. Persistence rates measure a student’s individual ability to continue on to the next term.
Student-to-Faculty Ratio: How many students a school has per teacher. For example, a student-to-faculty ratio of 10:1 would mean that there are 10 students for every one teacher.
Financial aid terms
Cost of Attendance: The approximate total cost for attendance including tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, transportation, personal expenses, and miscellaneous costs per academic year.
Expected Family Contribution: Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is the estimated amount of the cost of attendance that can be paid by the student’s family based on a formula using information from FAFSA, including family income and size
Financial Aid Package: Individual package of loans, grants, scholarships, and work-study, determined by each college, based on your FAFSA and expected family contribution
Financial Need: The amount of your total cost of attendance that isn’t covered by the expected family contribution. A student must demonstrate financial need to be eligible for need-based financial aid.
Grants (such as a Pell Grant): Grants are another type of gift aid. Generally, grant aid does not need to be paid back, unless you withdraw early from your program for which the grant was awarded, your enrollment status changes, or you receive additional financial aid that reduces your financial need. There are three different types of grants: Federal, State, and institutional. Learn more.
Loans (or Student Loans): Loans are a type of financial aid that must be paid back with interest. Postsecondary degrees are investments in yourself and in your future, and just like other large investments such as a house or a car, they often require a loan. There are three types of student loans that you may explore, federal, state, and private loans. Learn more. Subsidized loans do not accrue interest while you are in school. Unsubsidized loans do. Interest rates for these loans can be found at studentaid.gov.
Room and Board: The fees for on-campus housing and food from the dining hall. Think of these as on-campus living expenses.
Scholarships: Scholarships are gift aid —meaning you won’t have to pay them back! Most scholarships are awarded based on merit, for example, your high school gpa or class rank, SAT or ACT scores, or an essay that you submit. The ones listed on your Financial Aid letter are being offered by your school. You can also apply for independent scholarships.
Tuition: The price of classes you pay to the college or university. Tuition does not include room and board, textbooks, or other fees.
Unmet Need: The remaining amount of cost of attendance that is unaccounted for. Must be met by additional scholarships or additional family contributions.
Verification: The process your school uses to confirm that the data reported on your FAFSA form is accurate. Your school has the authority to contact you for documentation that supports income and other information that you reported.
Work Study: Federal Work-Study is a program that allows students with financial need to work part-time jobs in order to earn money for education expenses. Students are not guaranteed to receive employment and will need to apply for work-study positions. Once you receive a work-study position you will be paid with a paycheck, just like you would in a non-work-study job. However, you can request that your school use your pay for education-related charges such as tuition, fees, or room and board.
General college terms
Accreditation: Recognition that a college meets acceptable standards in its programs, facilities, and services.
College: We use the term “college” to include postsecondary certificate programs, technical colleges, two-year community colleges, and four-year colleges and universities. Often times when you hear the word college you may only think of one type of institution, possibly the large four-year universities like Texas A&M or The University of Texas at Austin. But in fact, there are many different types of colleges that should be considered when identifying which college will be a good fit for you.
Community College: Offers a two-year associate degree, certificates, technical degrees, and continuing education. Offers classes to the community surrounding them, and is very accessible in terms of location, price, and time. A great stepping stone to get credits and then transfer into a four-year university to earn a bachelor’s degree.
Full-Time Student: An enrolled student who is carrying a full-time academic workload. This is usually 12 or more credit hours per fall or spring semester. A full-time workload is determined by the institution and is applicable to all students enrolled in a program.
Internship: A 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 the campus, paid or unpaid.
Postsecondary: We use “postsecondary” as an umbrella term to refer to any education or training beyond a high school diploma. Postsecondary education includes certificate programs, technical colleges, two-year community colleges, and four-year colleges and universities. You can even begin your postsecondary education in high school through dual credit classes or career and technical education programs of study that lead to industry-recognized certifications.
Transfer Student: A student who attends a college-typically for a period ranging from a single term to up to three years- and is then accepted by and enrolls in another college.
Study Abroad: An arrangement in which a student completes coursework, typically for a semester or a summer session, studying in another country.
University: An institution made up of an undergraduate division which confers bachelor’s degrees and a graduate division which comprises a graduate school and professional schools which may confer master’s degrees and doctorate degrees.