Glossary of U.S. Educational Terminology (Assefa)
Glossary of United States Educational Terminology
Mariam Assefa, President
World Education Services, New York

(Reproduced for FAST-US-5 with the permission of Mariam Assefa and World Education Services)
(see also Common Data Set of U.S. Higher Education Definitions)


A
ABD "all but degree" or "all but dissertation" Not a formal degree; applies to someone who has completed all the requirements for a Ph.D. except the dissertation.
Acceleration Completion of a college program of study in fewer than the usual number of years, most often by attending summer sessions and carrying extra courses during regular academic terms.
Accreditation (see also "regional accreditation" and "professional accreditation") A process of granting recognition to academic institutions and professional programs offered by those institutions for meeting established standards of performance, integrity and quality and which entitles them to the confidence of the educational community and the public.
Achievement Tests (ACH) Subject examinations, administered by the College Board, used to measure academic achievement and for student placement.
ACT A standardized external battery of tests administered by the American College Testing Program and covering English, mathematics, reading and science reasoning. The tests are designed to assess the student's educational development and readiness for college-level study and may used by institutions in lieu of the SAT.
Adjunct Faculty Faculty members who teach part-time without appointments in the regular faculty.
Admissions Office The office responsible for admitting students to the institution.
AP (Advanced Placement Program) A program offered by the College Board that allows students to take college-level courses while in high school and then take standardized tests to demonstrate whether they have attained college-level achievement. Universities and colleges grant students credit on the basis of AP test results.
Advanced Standing The practice of placing a student in a course based on previous achievement levels, e.g., study at an another institution, by challenge examination, AP or CLEP examination results.
Academic Advisor The officer (a member of the faculty or another professional) who provides academic advice and guidance to students.
Application Deadline The last date on which a college will accept applications for admission to the coming term.
Assistant Professor A junior member of the faculty who has not yet received tenure.
Assistantship Award granted to graduate students and which consists of tuition remission and a stipend for part-time teaching or research. (see also graduate assistant; research assistant; teaching assistant)
Associate Degree Degree granted upon the completion of a two-year academic program mostly offered at two-year institutions.
Associate Professor A tenured member of the faculty.
Auditing Taking a class to acquire knowledge but not for credit or grades. Audited courses do not count toward degree requirements.
B
Baccalaureate Bachelor's degree
Bachelor's Degree The first university degree awarded upon the completion of an undergraduate curriculum. The degrees are usually known as 'bachelor of arts'; 'bachelor of science'.
Bulletin An institution's catalog of programs, curricula and courses.
Bursar The university official responsible for collecting student fees.
C
Carnegie Unit Time-based, quantitative measure assigned to high school courses. One unit generally consists of one subject studied one 50-minute period per day, 5 times per week, for one 36-week academic year (180 periods).
Catalog see bulletin
Chair/Chairperson The head of an academic department.
Challenge Examination Examination created by an institution as the equivalent to a course. Students who pass challenge tests are commonly exempted from, or given credit for, the course counterpart of the examination.
Class Rank The relative position of a student in his or her graduating class, determined by grade average.
Closed Course Fully-subscribed course which is no longer enrolling students
College A general term for post-secondary education. It often refers to institutions which offer undergraduate programs or to the undergraduate divisions of large universities.
CLEP (College Level Examination Program) A program offered by the College Board designed to offer students the opportunity to earn college credit by examination.
Commencement Graduation ceremony, usually held in May or June at the end of the academic year.
Community College Public two-year institution supported by the local community. Community colleges offer two types of curricula: transfer (which consists of the first two years of work for the bachelor's degree) and terminal (vocational training for employment in a wide variety of semi-professional and technical areas).
Comprehensive Examinations Broad examinations covering material in several courses, typically taken at the end of master's degree programs or after the end of doctoral course work before writing the dissertation.
Concentration see major
Continuing Education Educational programs offered by colleges and universities to adults in the community during the evening and on weekends. It usually refers to non-credit course work.
Cooperative Education Educational program requiring students to alternate periods of full-time study and full-time work in their major.
Core curriculum General education requirements set as a defined series of interdisciplinary courses that must be taken by all undergraduates enrolled in degree programs at an institution.
Course A discrete subject studied during one semester or quarter.
Credit Time-based quantitative measure assigned to courses or course-equivalent learning. One credit is usually defined as 50 minutes of instruction over a semester (semester credit) or a quarter (quarter credit). 'Unit' is another term for credit.
Credit-by-Examination The practice of awarding students college credit for satisfactory performance on an examination.
Cumulative Grade Point Average The numerical average of all the student's grades achieved during the period of study at an institution.
Curriculum The body of courses and other formally established learning experiences which constitute a program of study.
Curve Grading A system of relative grading based on the performance of all members of a class on an examination. It is also called norm-referenced grading.
D
Dean Middle-level academic or administrative officer in charge of an administrative unit.
Dean's List A published list of students who have earned a specified high grade-point average in a term.
Department The formal faculty group, together with its support staff, responsible for instruction in a general subject area.
Discipline An area of academic study.
Dissertation The formal writing requirement -- often an original contribution to knowledge -- for a doctoral degree.
Distribution Requirement The part of general education designed to ensure that each student takes a minimum number of courses or credits in specified, varying academic areas.
Double Major Program of study in which a student completed the requirements of two majors at the same time.
Drop To withdraw from a course.
Drop-Add A period at the beginning of each term when students are allowed to change their class schedules by dropping or adding courses.
Drop-out A person who has withdrawn from all courses. One who leaves school entirely is known as a 'dropout'.
Dual Degree Program of study in which a student receives two degrees from the same institution.
E
Early Admission A program allowing well-qualified high school students to enter college full time before completing secondary school.
Elective A course chosen freely by the student from the institution's offerings. Also called 'free elective'.
Elementary School Primary school (grades 1-6 or 1-8)
Enrollment (1) The process of registering for classes. (2) the total number of students at an institution.
Exchange Scholar or Student see visiting scholar or student
Exemption The practice of exempting a student from a requirement. For example, if a college required all students to take freshman English, but on the basis of evidence of outstanding prior achievement (such as high scores on an examination) waived the requirement, this would constitute exemption.
Experiential Learning Learning which takes place outside of the classroom through formal courses or other life activities.
F
Faculty (1) The body of teaching personnel in a department, division, or an entire institution. (2) An academic administrative unit, e.g., The Faculty of Engineering.
Fellow A student (graduate or undergraduate) granted a 'fellowship' on the basis of academic achievement.
Final Examination A course-based examination taken at the end of the term.
Financial Aid Scholarships, grants and loans provided for students by academic institutions from government and private sources to help defray educational costs.
Foreign Student Advisor Official employed by the institution to assist foreign students, scholars and faculty with immigration, visas, orientation, insurance, and other such matters.
Freshman First-year student (applies to both college undergraduates and high school students).
Full-time Student taking 12 or more credits during any given term.
G
General Education A component of the undergraduate curriculum designed to provide breadth to the curriculum and a common undergraduate experience for all students. It is usually defined on an institution-wide basis and involves study in several subject area.
GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) A standardized external examination of verbal and quantitative skills usually required by graduate schools of business and used to assess the qualifications of applicants for MBA programs.
Grade An evaluation (normally by letter on a scale of A-F) of a student's performance on an examination, a paper or in a course.
Grade-point average (GPA) The average of grades earned in all courses taken during a term divided by the number of credits.
Graduate (1) A person who has successfully completed a program of study and earned the final award (2) as an adjective, refers to post-baccalaureate status.
Graduate Advisor The faculty member who serves as advisor to all graduate students in a department.
Graduate Assistant see 'research assistant'
Graduate School The academic unit within an institution which administers graduate education.
GRE (Graduate Record Examination) A two-part standardized external examination designed to measure general verbal, quantitative and analytical skills (General Aptitude Test) and knowledge and understanding of subject matter basic to graduate study in specific fields (Advanced Tests). The GRE is generally required by graduate schools and is used to assess the qualifications of applicants to master's and Ph.D. programs.
Gymnasium The building which houses the sports facilities on a campus.
H


High School


Secondary School (grades 7-12 or 9-12). In the 6+6 scheme, the first three years (grades 7-9) are known as 'junior high school' and the final three years (10-12) as 'senior high school'.
Homework Regular assignments to be completed outside the classroom and taken into account in the student's course grade.
Honors Special recognition of students' outstanding academic achievement.
I
Incomplete Temporary grade indicating that the student has not met all course assignments at the end of the term.
Independent Study An assignment (reading or research) carried out by a student under faculty supervision.
Instructor A formal term which designates a part-time, temporary, university teacher. It is also a synonym for teacher.
International Student Advisor see foreign student advisor
Internship Supervised professional training designed to allow students to apply previously acquired skills and knowledge to practical situations. Internships can be done as part of a course, during vacation or after graduation.
Ivy League Association of institutions located in eastern United States originally organized for athletic competitions. The term has since become synonymous with highly selective prestigious and elite education. The Ivy League consists of: Brown Univ., Columbia Univ., Cornell Univ., Dartmouth Coll., Harvard Univ., Univ. of Pennsylvania, Princeton Univ, and Yale Univ.
J
Junior Third year student. (Applies to both college undergraduates and high school students.)
Junior College Private two-year institution.
Junior High School see high school
L
Land-Grant Institution A state-run institution founded under the terms of the 1862 Morill Act which granted public lands to the states to establish colleges to provide full-time education in agriculture and mechanic arts.
Language Requirement An institution's requirement that its graduates master one or more foreign languages.
Letter of Recommendation Letter written in support of a student's application for admission to a study program which assesses the candidate's qualifications for the program in question.
Liberal Arts The traditional fields of study in the humanities, sciences and social sciences as distinct from technical and professional education.
Liberal Arts College Higher education institution in which the bachelor's degree emphasis is on liberal or general undergraduate education.
Load An informal term used by students and faculty to refer to the number of credits they are studying or teaching, respectively.
Lower-division First two years of a bachelor's degree program which consists mainly of courses at the introductory and elementary levels.
LSAT (Law School Admission Test) A standardized external examination used by law schools to assess applicants' verbal, analytical and reasoning skills
M
Major Undergraduate student's area of specialization, it consists of a number of courses in one field or in two or more related fields. The major is also referred to as concentration.
Major professor The professor who advises a doctoral candidate in the final stages of the program, also known as 'dissertation advisor'.
Make-up examination A late examination for students who missed the original date.
Master's degree A post-baccalaureate degree usually earned after one or two years of course work.
MBA Master of Business Administration
Matriculated Enrolled in a program leading to a degree.
MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) A standardized external examination designed to measure specified science knowledge and its application in solving related problems, and of other learning and reasoning skills considered important for the study of medicine, used by medical schools to assess applicants.
Mid-term examination An examination administered at the mid-point of the term.
Miller Analogies Test A high-level mental ability test, used by some graduate schools in lieu of the GRE, which requires the solution of 100 intellectual problems stated in the form of analogies.
Minor A secondary area of concentration.
Multiple-choice examination An objective examination giving students several choices of answers to a question of which one is correct.
N
non-matriculated Enrolled in courses but not in a program leading to a degree.
O
Open Admission Non-selective admission of all students who have completed high school.
Open-book examination An examination where students are allowed to consult course materials while answering questions.
P
Participation Student's contribution to class discussion, often taken into account in grading.
Part-time Student taking fewer that 12 semester credits.
Pass-Fail A system of grading which distinguishes only those who pass from those who fail.
Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) The highest earned degree awarded in the United States.
Placement The practice of placing a student in a course based on previous achievement levels. For example, a student who has done very well on an appropriate examination in mathematics might be placed in calculus as the first mathematics course rather than college algebra.
Postdoctoral Fellow Usually a recent Ph.D. holder temporarily appointed to teach or conduct research.
Preliminary Examinations Written or oral examinations given to all prospective Ph.D. candidates after they have completed doctoral coursework. The examination results determine whether candidates are admitted to the dissertation stage of the program.
Prerequisite A course which must be completed before a student is allowed to register for a more advanced course.
Private Institution An institution which is supported primarily from private funds in the form of tuition, fees, endowments and donations.
Probation A status imposed on students whose work is unsatisfactory until they improve their performance or are asked to leave the program or institution.
Professional Accreditation Accreditation granted to a professional school or a program offered at a regionally-accredited institution by accrediting commissions affiliated with national professional organizations in such areas as business, engineering, law, medicine, nursing, physical therapy, etc. Professional accreditation is also known as 'specialized accreditation'.
Professional School A post-baccalaureate institution (usually within a university) which trains students in the traditional professions, e.g., law or medicine.,
Professor The common honorific for all university faculty members. But it is also the formal rank of senior (full) professors.
Program see curriculum
Proprietary Institution Privately owned, profit-making educational institution (mostly) offering practical occupational skills; awards certificates and diplomas.
Provost The chief academic officer of an institution.
Public Institution Institutions supported directly by public funds.

Q
Qualifying Examination Examinatins given at the conclusion of master's or doctoral coursework.
Quarter System Academic calendar in which the year is divided into four quarters of 10 weeks.
R
Recitation A small-group session where students discuss material covered in large lectures.
Regional Accreditation Accreditation granted to an entire academic institution by the accrediting commission responsible for institutions in the particular geographic area. There are six regional accrediting commissions in the United States. Regional accreditation is also referred to as 'institutional accreditation'.
Registrar The officer responsible for registering students and maintaining their educational records.
Registration The formal process of enrolling students in courses.
Remedial Education Instruction designed to bring students up to required basic skills or knowledge levels to allow them to attend programs which they would otherwise have been unable to follow.
Research Assistant (RA) A graduate student who is employed part-time to assist with faculty research.
Residence Requirement An institution's requirement that a student take a set number of credits at that institution in order to receive its degree.
S
SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) A standardized external examination (formerly known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test and then the Scholastic Achievement Test) of mathematical, verbal and analytical skills, taken by high school students to demonstrate their abilities for post-secondary study; often required for admission to undergraduate programs.
Seminar A small class of generally advanced students which meets with a professor to discuss specialized topics.
Semester System The academic year is divided into two 15-week semesters.
Senior Fourth year student (Applies to both college undergraduates and high school students)
Senior High School see high school
Sophomore Second year student (Applies to both college undergraduates and high school students)
Specialized Accreditation see professional accreditation
Summer Session Formal course offerings during the summer.
T
Take-home examination A course examination which is completed outside of the classroom.
Teaching Assistant (TA) A graduate student who is employed part-time to assist with faculty teaching.
Tenure The status of a permanent member of the faculty earned by peer-review on the basis of publications and scholarship.
Term A generic word for academic sessions (quarter, semester)
Term Paper A formal paper required as part of course work.
Thesis A written piece of work required for a degree.
TOEFL (Test of English as Foreign Language) A standardized test administered world-wide to determine proficiency in English and required by most US institutions of all foreign applicants whose first language is other than English.
Transcript The official record of a student's academic performance at an institution.
Transfer credit Credit awarded toward a degree on the basis of studies completed at another institution.
Trimester System Academic calendar in which the year is divided into three 15-week terms; students may study full-time in two of the three or full- or part-time in all three.
TSE (Test of Spoken English) A test designed to assess the spoken English proficiency of people whose native language is not English. The TSE is often required of graduate students seeking assistantships.
Tuition The fee paid by students for their instruction.
U
Undergraduate (1) Description of a post-secondary program leading to a bachelor's degree; (2) a student enrolled in such a program.
University An institution of higher learning and research consisting of several units which offer programs leading to advanced degrees. Universities stress graduate and professional education and research, but also have important undergraduate divisions.
Upper-division The part of the curriculum which is generally taught beyond the second year of a bachelor's degree program and which constitutes its more advanced component.
V
Visting Scholar or Student Individual attending a US institution by special agreement with a foreign institution. A visting scholar or student does not-matriculate which means that he or she is not engaged in a degree program. To change status and matriculate in a degree program a visiting student or scholar must apply for admission to the institution and undergo the usual selection process.
W
Withdrawal Formal process of leaving an institution before (and without) completing a degree.


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Last Updated 04 April 2010