As you start to visit college campuses, and particularly once you’re there for school, you will notice an entirely new language being used. In addition to there being an acronym for nearly everything on campus, there are both new terms for things you’ve heard of AND new things you’ve never heard of before. When you talk to another college student, you will likely get an ear full of it, but they will rarely even be aware they are saying anything you don’t understand. Much of it is slang, and will likely differ from one campus to another. But there are several widely used terms and acronyms you should be aware of to help you understand what’s being referred to. Some are listed below.
Academic Probation - Colleges require students to maintain a cumulative grade point average (GPA) to remain in school. Students not maintaining that GPA are placed on probation. Students may remain on probation if their semester GPA meets minimum requirements, but their cumulative GPA does not.
Academic Suspension - A student on academic probation may be placed on academic suspension if he/she fails to maintain or achieve the minimum cumulative GPA required. A student placed on suspension will be dismissed from the college for a specified time period - usually at least one semester. Specific requirements may be placed on the student’s re-entry into college.
Audit - A student who does not want to receive credit for a course may, with approval of the institution, audit the course as a "visitor." No grade or credit is earned. A student who audits a course usually cannot ask the institution at a later date to obtain college credit for the course.
Bursar – Both the office and the person who runs the office on campus where you pay your bills (e.g. tuition, room and board, parking tickets, etc.).
Catalog- College catalogs provide all types of information students and parents need to know about a school. Catalogs contain most if not all of the following: official policies and procedures, course descriptions for every class offered, information on academic colleges, schools, departments, majors, minors, and certificate programs, and admission and enrollment requirements and procedures. Often included also are descriptions of program accreditations, campus physical facilities, financial aid and scholarship programs, and student activities. They are almost always available on the school’s web site, but having a hard copy is usually a good idea.
CLEP/AP/IB – College Level Examination Program/Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate – All refer to programs through which students can gain college credit by “testing out” of certain subjects. AP and IB involve taking special classes during high school and testing at the end, while CLEP only involves the test which may be taken before or during college
Credit Hour – A unit of academic credit. Refers to both how much time a student is in class during a week AND how much credit toward graduation is received. A credit hour is usually slightly less than one clock hour of time spent in class, with 12 being the minimum to be considered a full-time student, and 14 – 16 being the average load. 120 credit hours is usually the minimum required to graduate.
Disbursement – When monies (often financial aid or scholarships) are actually deposited in a student’s university account to pay for educational expenses. This is different from when monies are awarded (or offered) to students to be used for the same purpose. For example, tuition scholarships may be awarded to students while they are still in high school, then accepted before a deadline, and finally disbursed at some point after the student has enrolled and is actually on campus.
Dorm – A term referring to on-campus housing. Often used in reference to residence hall rooms, suites, apartments, etc. True dorms (dormitories) were similar to an army barracks (back in the day), but the term has come to refer to 2-person rooms, usually with common bathroom facilities shared by residents of multiple rooms.
Drop and Add - Students are generally permitted to drop courses from their class schedules and/or add other courses. Colleges allow varying lengths of time for students to add and drop classes. Students usually need written approval from designated college officials (often academic advisors) to initiate dropping or adding a class. A small fee may be required.
Early Admission/Early Decision – An often exclusive and binding admission opportunity used predominantly by private and/or selective colleges. In these programs highly qualified students effectively tell a college it is their top choice and ask for an early decision as to their admissibility. Students not granted admission through an early admission program are still considered with the rest of the applicant pool and may still gain admission to that school. It simplifies and expedites a school’s application process for the most highly qualified of students.
FAFSA – Free Application for Federal Student Aid – The form used (almost universally) to apply for federal, state, and campus need-based aid for college expenses. It must be completed each year, and allows the student to be considered for loans, grants, and work-study programs.
Fees - Fees are additional charges not included in the tuition. Fees may be charged to cover the cost of materials and equipment needed in certain courses, and they may be assessed for student events, programs, and publications such as the campus recreation center, student newspaper, or student health center.
Frat – An abbreviation or slang word for fraternity. Often precedes “party” to designate a fraternity party. Not usually a term that is liked by fraternity members, and often used by those not in a fraternity or sorority in a derogatory fashion.
GA/TA – Graduate Assistant/Teaching Assistant – A student working toward an advanced degree (Masters, Ph.D, etc.) who either teaches a college class under the supervision of a professor OR one who helps a professor teach a class – they may also be teaching the lab portion of a particular class.
Greek – A label for those individuals who are members of or pledged to fraternities and sororities, and, more broadly, the group of fraternities and sororities on a campus – the Greek System. e.g. “She’s Greek” means “She’s in a sorority”.
Major/Minor - A major is a student’s chosen field of study. It usually requires the successful completion of a specified number of credit hours in a particular thematic area. A minor is a specific list and number of courses in a secondary field of study.
Provost – The chief academic officer on a college campus. May also be known as the Vice-President of Academic Affairs on some campuses.
RA – Resident Assistant or Resident Advisor – Usually an undergraduate student who lives in campus housing (often free of charge or at a significant discount in exchange for their work within the housing area), and has some leadership responsibility or authority (sometimes both) over the other students living there.
Registrar – Both the office and the person who runs the office on campus responsible for maintaining all academic records for current and former students at that school. Maintaining the integrity of the academic record is often seen as one of the most important activities on campus. For this reason, enrolling, withdrawing, dropping and adding courses, awarding and/or changing grades, and awarding degrees are highly regulated and scrutinized processes.
Student Union – A building on most college campuses that could be considered the center of activity for that campus. Usually houses meeting facilities or gathering places for student activities, but almost always includes one or more eating areas. May house student organizations or host outside activities and/or events. May even contain the campus bookstore or other retail shops, and could be the home of centralized services to students (i.e. counseling, advising, enrollment, admissions, etc.).
Syllabus – A document college professors create and distribute to students in classes. It is an outline of the important information about a course such as topics covered, important dates, assignments, grading scale, expectations and policies of that course. Some are quite lengthy.
Withdrawal – completely dropping all classes and ceasing attending a college during a given semester. This is different from, and often confused with, simply dropping one or more classes (while still remaining in others), which often yields a “W” on the transcript, and is simply referred to as “dropping” a class.
Special thanks to my friend Bill Etheredge, former Counselor at The Colony (TX) High School, whose definitions were the basis for much of this article.
An expanded list of college terms is available at www.collegeprep101.com.
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