College Terms Defined

There are a lot of new terms used in college which, in all likelihood, may never get clearly explained to you. That's where this guide comes in. We want you feeling smart and savvy when you show up to college, and learning these terms is a good place to start.

  • Academic Probation - Hopefully you can avoid this. Academic probation is a trial period for students whose GPAs have fallen to unacceptably low levels. If your GPA does fall to this point, your college gives you this trial period of time to either raise your GPA or be removed from the school.


  • Accredited - If your college is accredited, it has been evaluated by an official accrediting agency and is recognized as a respectable, high-quality institution.


  • Add/Drop - These are the terms used when changing your class schedule. Make sure you're aware of the deadlines for adding or dropping classes! Missing these deadlines could cost you a lot of money or impact your GPA.


  • Adjunct Professor - A part-time, non-tenure-track professor. Adjunct professors are often professionals in their field who work full-time elsewhere, and only teach a few classes at the college each week.


  • Alumna - A female graduate of the college.


  • Alumnae - The plural form of "alumna."


  • Alumni - Former graduates of the college (plural, both male and female).


  • Alumnus - A male graduate of the college.


  • Area Coordinator (AC) - ACs supervise a large area of the residence hall or campus. In the residence staff hierarchy, they are one step higher than (and often supervise) Resident Advisers (RAs). Area Coordinators are also called Area Directors (AD).


  • Associate's Degree - These degrees usually take 2 years to complete, and require 60 credit hours (requirements vary by program and institution).


  • Bachelor's Degree - These degree usually take 4 years to complete, and require 120 credit hours (requirements vary by program and institution).


  • Board of Directors - Also called the Board of Trustees, this is the college's lead decision-making group. They choose the college's president, make decisions regarding campus policies, and manage the institution's finances. The Board of Directors is usually comprised of alumni, community leaders, staff and faculty, and (in some cases) students.


  • Board of Regents - A Board of Regents is like a Board of Directors, but with more responsibility. A Board of Directors deals with a single college or university; a Board of Regents deals with an entire state system of public colleges or universities.


  • College - Colleges, in general, only offer undergraduate degrees (associate's and bachelor's), whereas universities offer both undergraduate and graduate degrees (associate's through doctorate).


  • Commencement - The graduation ceremony.


  • Convocation - A convocation ceremony is a celebration to mark the beginning of the academic year and to welcome the new class.


  • Credit Hour - A unit to measure academic progress. Different classes are worth different numbers of credit hours (ranging from 1 - 6, typically), and a certain number of credit hours are required to graduate. Students are usually charged per credit hour.


  • Dean - The dean oversees a large area or department of the college. There may be a Dean of Students, a Dean of the School of Medicine, a Dean of Arts and Sciences, etc.


  • Discipline - Your main field of study, or major.


  • Discourse - A discussion, conversation, or intellectual debate which typically takes into account a wide range of ideas and perspectives.


  • Faculty - Anyone who teaches at the college.


  • FAFSA - Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This is a form which you must fill out and turn in to be considered for federal financial aid.


  • Fees - Any charge which is incurred for services provided by the college, such as parking, health and workout centers, or computer labs.


  • Financial Aid - A broad term which refers to how you pay for school. Financial aid comes in many forms, including scholarships, grants, tuition waivers, loans, and more.


  • GPA - Grade Point Average. This is the system of grading and evaluation used by the vast majority of institutions. It usually works on a 4.0 scale, with 4.0 being the highest possible grade, and 0.0 being the lowest.


  • Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) - GSIs are graduate students who teach classes or assist professors. It is common for lower level classes and seminar discussions to be taught by GSIs. GSIs are also known as Graduate Assistants/Graduate Advisers (GA), or Graduate Instructors (GI).


  • Grants - A form of financial aid which you don't need to repay (like a scholarship). Grants are usually awarded to students for research, or to cover room and board.


  • Hall Coordinator (HC) - Hall coordinators are also called Hall Directors (HD), and oversee an entire residence hall and all the Resident Advisers therein.


  • Hall Council (HC) - Often called a Residence Council, a Hall Council makes decisions regarding the hall community, plans events and programs, and represents the student residents in any campus decision-making processes.


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