An introductory guide to college conversation: Helpful terms to know

The transition to college is an exciting journey, but it can be confusing at times. The first step to walking the walk is learning how to talk the talk. And we’ve made it easy to get started.

Consider this a sort of college intro 101. This glossary of college admissions terms will help you navigate the college process, from your application to financial aid and beyond.

  • General college terms

  • Admission terms

  • Tuition and financial aid college terms

  • Academic college terms


  • Academic program: Series of credit courses designed to lead to a degree, diploma or certificate in a field of study or occupation

  • Commencement: Formal graduation ceremony that celebrates recent graduates of the institution with their family and friends

  • Co-op (or cooperative education): Paid, full-time job related to your field of study that counts toward your degree 

  • First-generation student: College student who is the first in their family to go to college

  • Registrar: Specialist tasked with handling several administrative and logistical areas of academia. The registrar’s office is responsible for many administrative academic duties like registering students for classes, preparing student transcripts, preparing class schedules and analyzing enrollment statistics.

  • Syllabus: A document provided by an instructor that describes the content, learning objectives and expectations of a course, the grading policy, a list of assignments and due dates, and related information such as the required textbooks and other course materials, the instructor's office hours, contact information, etc.


  • FAFSA: Stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. A document prospective students complete to determine eligibility for federal loans and grants.

  • Federal grants vs. state grants: Grants are need-based forms of financial aid that do not need to be repaid. Federal grants are awarded through the FAFSA. State grants are awarded through the student’s home state and usually have different eligibility requirements than that of the FAFSA.

  • Room and board: Term for charges stemming from on-campus food services and housing

  • Stafford loan: A direct federal loan with fixed interest rates

  • Tuition: The core price for college classes. Tuition may be listed as a flat rate for a range of credits, usually 12-18, or priced per credit.


  • ACT: The American College Test (ACT) is a standardized test that estimates a student’s readiness for college coursework. Either the ACT or Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) is required for many college and university applications — but it’s not a universal requirement.

  • Common application: A platform that allows students to apply to most all UC colleges and programs in a streamlined way

  • Early action vs. early decision: Both early action and early decision allow college applicants to apply earlier and find out the results sooner. Generally, students can apply to as many schools as they’d like with early action. But if you apply early and are accepted, you must enroll in that school.

  • Entrance requirements: Also called admission requirements, many colleges require applicants to submit an application, transcripts and standardized test scores among other materials. Not to be confused with prerequisites.

  • Placement test: Some colleges administer placement tests in subjects like math and English to check the academic skills of new students so they can properly place them in the right courses.

  • Waitlisted or deferred: Admissions status that is neither an offer nor rejection. Waitlisted students may be accepted to the college or university at a later time.


  • Academic course load: The number of credit hours in which a student is enrolled during a semester

  • Academic advisor: Staff members assigned to students in their department. They help students choose majors and minors, design a course of study and help ensure students fulfill graduation requirements.

  • Associate's degree: The degree typically awarded by a community or junior college following the completion of a two-year program of study or approximately 60 credits

  • Baccalaureate degree: An academic program generally of 120 semester credits, including completion of the General Education program and course requirements for each major. Programs are designed for a full-time student to complete in four years, provided the student enrolls in and successfully completes 15 credits per regular academic semester. 

  • Core courses: Include fundamental classes like English, math, general science and history that provide a foundation for major-specific classes. The exact class requirements may vary depending on your major. Core courses may also be referred to as general education courses.

  • Credits or credit hours: Each credit hour is a unit of time during which a class will meet each week during a semester. The number of credit hours for each course usually indicates how much time is spent in the classroom each week.

  • Department: Academic division specializing in an area of study like nursing, English, engineering or biology

  • Electives: Classes students choose to fulfill a general education requirement or because they’re interested in a topic outside of their major’s core required courses

  • Major and minor: A major is the subject area leading to a degree or certificate in which a student chooses to concentrate his/her academic work. A minor consists of the lower-level courses required for obtaining a certificate instead of a degree in the same discipline. 

  • Midterm: An exam given approximately halfway through a course term that generally covers all lecture, reading and discussion material presented so far.

  • Transcript: Written record of a student’s academic performance. Students may obtain official transcripts by contacting the Registrar.

Feeling ready for college? No matter what grade you are in, it is never too early to start planning for your future. We have put together a list of recommendations and tips for preparing for college.