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Definitions and Vocabulary Related to Colleges and Universities in the USA

Around Campus

Accreditation: A process by which an educational institution is certified by an official agency or association as maintaining acceptable standards or practices.

Academic Advisor: A campus administrator that assists students with academic or personal needs.  An academic advisor may also be a professor.

Academic Calendar: The calendar followed by an educational institution that usually outlines the dates that school is in session, when final exams take place, etc.

Academic Honesty and Integrity: A policy adapted by many colleges and universities describing the policies regarding cheating, fabrication, plagiarism and unauthorized collaboration,

Academic Term: Time in which a college or university holds classes.  Some academic terms may be held in semesters (usually 15 weeks), trimesters (usually 10 weeks) or quarters (usually 10 weeks).

Bachelor Degree: The academic degree awarded for the completion of undergraduate study.   The most common bachelor degrees awarded are the B.S. or the Bachelor of Science and the B.A. Bachelor of Arts.  Bachelor degrees are usually completed within four years.


Bookstore: Location on campus where students can purchase the required books for their classes and other necessary school supplies.

Bursar (Student Accounts, Student Services, Financial Aid): A bursar is usually the chief financial officer of college or university.  Students may be referred to the Bursar’s Office to take care of business related to their student account.

Degree-Seeking Student: A student who is actively enrolled in an academic institution and seeking a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree.

Degree Requirements: The outline of the required courses needed in order to receive a degree. 

Dining Hall: The location on campus where students eat.

Disability Student Services: Office on a college or university campus where students with learning or physical disabilities can receive assistance.  The office may be responsible for determining and providing appropriate accommodations for students, such as tutoring, extend time on exams, etc.

ESL (English as a Second Language): Term often used students or courses where English is being learned.  

Endowment: The total value of the college or universities investments. The endowment is often used to fund the operations of the college and can determine the amount of financial aid available.

Full Time: A student who is enrolled in a minimum number of academic credits or courses in order to pursue a full course of study.   The number of credits needed to maintain “full-time” status will vary from college to college, however full time enrollment is often required to maintain your visa status.

Graduate Work (or graduate study): The time in which students are pursuing a graduate degree (usually a Master’s or Doctorate degree).

International Student: A student or applicant who is not a citizen or permanent resident alien of the United States.

On-Campus Housing: Housing accommodations available to student on a college or university campus.  Often referred to as dormitories, residence halls or on-campus apartments.

Off-Campus Housing: Housing accommodations available to students off of the college or university campus.

Orientation: Time period before the beginning of an academic semester, trimester or quarter where new students are able to adjust to their new lives on a college or university campus through organized programs.  Orientation usually takes place just prior to the beginning of an academic semester, trimester or quarter.

Residence Hall: Also called dorm or dormitory.  Physical location of sleeping or living quarters for students on a college or university campus.

Resident Assistant (R.A.): Usually an upper class student (sophomore, junior or senior) who is trained to assist other students with their needs while living in a residence hall.

Resident Director (R.D.): Also called Area Directors or Area Coordinators, are administrators who supervise resident assistants.  These administrators often live in the residence halls and are trained to assist students with personal, academic or social needs, including emergency situations.

Student Affairs: Also referred to as Student Life. Is often the office on campus responsible for academic advising and support services for students.  This office may also oversee student activities, student government and other campus resources.

Undergraduate Work: Also referred to as undergraduate study. The time in which students are pursuing an undergraduate degree after the completion of secondary school  (usually a bachelors degree).


Application Terms

ACT: One type of standardized test used by colleges and universities in the admission process.

Admission Interview:  The opportunity for an applicant to discuss features of their application beyond their transcript, essays and standardized test scores.  Not all colleges and universities offer admission interviews and a small number do require applicants to participate in interviews.  Applicants may interview with an admission officer, alumnus, campus administrator or a current student.

Admitted Student: A student who has been offered admission to a college or university.

Campus Tours: An opportunity for a prospective student to visit a college or university campus and receive a guided tour of the facilities in order to learn more about the institution.  Several schools also offer virtual tours through their websites.

Common Application: A program where students can fill out one form in order to submit applications to several different colleges or universities. Some schools do require additional materials beyond the what is available through CommonApp.org. Be sure to check with all of the schools you are applying to in order to ensure you are fulfilling are requirements by the stated deadlines.

Early Action: A type of admission program where applicants submit their application materials to a college or university early, usually by November 15th of their senior year, in order to receive their admission decision by the end of December.

Early Decision: A type of admissions program under which a student applies to their first-choice college usually by November 15 of their senior year.  Under the early decision agreement students are required to attend their first-choice school if they are admitted.  You may only apply early decision to one school.

Grade Point Average (G.P.A): Term used to describe the average of all grades achieved in a secondary institution.  Some admission officers will recalculate your GPA in order to only include academic courses.  For more information on how GPA’s are used in the admission process in the US, please visit our website.

IELTS: (International English Language Testing Service):  Is a type of standardized test often required of international students to show their proficiency in English.

Legacy: Refers to an applicant who has one or more immediate family member attending or graduated from the college or university to which he or shie is applying.

Prospective Student:  Any student who is interested in applying to a particular college or university.

Regular Admission: The most common type of admission program where students apply to a college or university by the regularly stated deadline (usually sometime in January or February).

Rolling Admission: A type of admission program where admission officers review applications as soon as an application becomes complete.  Admission offices also often release application decisions as soon as they are made and not all at once.

SAT or Scholastic Aptitude Test : One type of standardized test used by colleges and universities in the admission process.

Secondary School (or high school): Generally refers to the education a student completes just before beginning their undergraduate work.

Selective College: Also referred to as competitive colleges, are colleges or universities that do not admit all of the students who apply.  Selectivity may vary greatly among educational institutions and programs within the same institution.

Standardized Test: Examinations often required as part of the application process. These tests include the ACT, SAT, TOEFL and IELTS.  Not all colleges and universities require standardized test.

Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL): Is a type of standardized test often required of international students to show their proficiency in English.

Transcript: A record of all courses and grades received by a student at an academic institution.  Students are required to submit official academic transcripts from their secondary school for the application process.

Wait List: Applicants who are not offered admission to a college or university unless there is space available after the May 1st deposit deadline.


Financial Aid Terms

Award Letter: A letter students who have applied for financial aid receive informing them of how much financial support, in grants, loans and scholarships, they will receive.  The letter also outlines the cost of attendance, expected family contribution and information on next steps that need to be taken in order to accept or decline the funds being offered.

Cost of Attendance (COA): This is the projected cost of attending an educational institution for one year, including tuition, fees, room, board, books and supplies, transportation and personal expenses.

Demonstrated Financial Need: The amount of money a student needs to receive in the form of financial aid after the expected family contribution is subtracted from the cost of attendance.

Expected Family Contribution (EFC): The amount of money a family is expected to contribute to their student’s education.  This amount is determined through information submitted on financial aid forms.

Financial Aid: Financial assistance students and their families receive n the form of scholarships, grants, work-study, and loans for education.

Grants: Financial aid money that does not have to be repaid.  Grants are available through the federal government, state agencies and individual colleges.

Loan: Financial aid money available to students and parents that does have to be repaid.  Loan programs may be from the government or from private companies.   Terms and interest rates vary greatly.

Merit-Based Aid: Often merit-based scholarships are funds that are available to all student applicants where eligibility is based on factors other than financial need, such as academic performance in high school, leadership involvement or a specific talent.

Need Based Aid: Financial aid awarded where financial need is the determining factor.

Need Blind:  Refers to a policy by which a college or universitiy does not consider the financial needs of the applicant when determining admissibility.

Need Aware: Refers to a policy by which a college or universitiy does take into consideration the financial needs of the applicant when determining admissibility. 

Scholarships:  Financial aid money awarded that does not have to be repaid.  Scholarships are awarded based on numerous factors, such as cultural background, academics, extracurricular activities, etc. A separate application process is usually required. 


Immigration Terms

Curricular Practical Training (CPT): Is a type of work authorization granted to students with an F-1 visa status that want to participate in a program designed to apply and practice the knowledge and skills gained in their academic work.

Declaration of Finances: A form international students are required to submit that shows proof of financial support.  You must submit an official bank letter showing that you have enough funds (either from your family or an official sponsor) to pay for the entire cost of your program (tuition, room and board, cost of living expenses, etc.) for one year  (the exact amount expected varies from college to college).  You may also need to submit a copy of your passport with this form.  This form is necessary in order to receive your I-20 form and should be completed by the colleges stated deadlines.

Form I-20: Is issued by the college or university you have officially decided to attend.   This is the form issued for students receiving F-1 Visa status and plan to study full-time at the college or university they are attending.

DS-2019 Form: Is issued by the college or university you are authorized to attend as a visiting or exchange students.  These students are only studying in the US for a short period of time and will receive the J-1 Visa status.

Sevis Fee: A congressionally mandated fee collected by the US Department of Homeland Security to cover the costs for the continued operation of the Student and Exchange Visitor Program.

Visa: The document that you will receive which will allow you to enter and leave the United States.  Most international students will receive F-1 visa status

Form I-94: Is your official “Arrival-Departure Record‘. It is a small white card that is issued when you arrive in the United States. The Form I-94 is an important immigration document as it indicates your immigration status,

Optional Practical Training (OPT): This is a benefit of F-1 non-immigrant visa status that allows students to work off-campus in a field related to their area of study.


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