Glossary of Higher Education Terms


ACT: American College Test – A standardized test administered to students who want to be admitted into a college or university. It is designed to assess a student’s readiness for college-level academic work.

Accreditation: A recognition awarded to schools that maintain a certain educational standard. The goal of the accreditation system is to ensure that a school meets acceptable levels of quality.

AP: Advanced Placement – A national program of standardized classes offered to high school students. AP courses are college-level courses that allow students to earn college credits with a qualifying score on the end-of-course AP exam.

Associate’s Degree: A degree that requires 60-80 specified credit hours which breaks down to approximately two years of study. It is awarded as Associate in Arts (AA) or Associate in Science (AS). Typically, associate degrees are awarded by community colleges

Bachelor’s Degree: A degree that requires 120+ specified credit hours which breaks down to approximately four years of study. It is awarded as Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Science (BS), or Bachelor of Social Work (BSW).

Community College: A public two-year postsecondary institution that offers two programs: a transfer program which consists of the first two years of a bachelor’s degree and  a terminal program which consists of vocational training resulting in an associate’s degree.

Common Application: A standard application form that is accepted by more than 750 member colleges and universities for admissions. Students can complete the form online or in print and submit copies to any of the participating colleges, rather than filling out individual forms for each school.

Deferred Admissions: This is when an institution has not yet completed reviewing an application file and will make a final decision on admission status at a later date.

Distance Learning: At some universities, you can opt for distance learning courses, which are a combination of web-learning and traditional learning. The advantage of distance learning is that you can study anywhere, anytime.

Early Action: A program offered by some colleges and universities that allows students to submit their applications early, typically in November or December, and receive decisions early, usually in mid- or late December. Students are not required to accept the admissions offer and have until May 1 to decide.

FAFSA: Free Application for Federal Student Aid – The application used by the US government to determine the amount of financial aid a student will receive in a given year. Students must reapply every year they attend a college or university. International students are not eligible.

Financial Aid: All types of money offered to a student to help pay tuition, fees and other educational expenses. This can include loans, grants, scholarships, assistantships, fellowships and work-study jobs.

Language Requirement: A requirement of some college or university programs that students must show basic reading and writing proficiency in a language other than their own to receive a degree.

Liberal Arts College: A postsecondary institution that emphasizes an undergraduate education in liberal arts (humanities, social sciences and the sciences). The majority of liberal arts colleges have small student bodies, do not offer graduate studies, and focus on faculty teaching rather than research.

Merit Aid/Merit Scholarships: A type of financial aid awarded by a college or university to students who have demonstrated special academic ability or talents, regardless of their financial need.

Massive Open Online Course (MOOC): An online course aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web. In addition to traditional course materials, such as filmed lectures, readings, and problem sets, many MOOCs provide interactive courses  with user forums or social media discussions to support community interactions among students, professors, and teaching assistants.

Need-blind Admissions: A college or university’s policy of accepting or declining applications without considering an applicant’s financial circumstances.

Open Admissions: A college or university’s non-selective policy to accept all students who have completed high school regardless of their grades and/or standardized test scores.

Postsecondary: Any type of education that takes place after high school, or secondary school.

PSAT: The Preliminary SAT, a standardized practice test cosponsored by the nonprofit College Board and the National Merit Scholarship Corp., which measures reading, writing and math skills, giving students experience with the SAT.

SAT: A standardized college entrance exam administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) on behalf of the nonprofit College Board, which measures reading, writing and math skills. Most students take the SAT during their junior or senior year of high school, and most colleges and universities accept scores from either the SAT or ACT.

Scholarship: A type of financial aid that consists of an amount of free money given to a student by a school, individual, organization, company, charity, or federal or state government. “Scholarship” is often used interchangeably with “grant.”

Standardized Tests:  Exams, such as the SAT and ACT, which measure knowledge and skills and are designed to be consistent in how they are administered and scored. Standardized tests are intended to help admissions officials compare students who come from different backgrounds.

STEM: The collective subjects of science, technology, engineering and math.

TOEFL: A standardized exam that tests English language proficiency. Many colleges around the world require students to take the exam if courses are to be taught in English.

Transcript: An official record of a student’s coursework and grades at a high school, college or university. A high school transcript is usually one of the required components of the college application process.

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