American Higher Education Information Center, Szeged, Hungary

GLOSSARY for U.S. education


Note: The terms in this glossary are ones you are likely to encounter in the admission process at American colleges and universities. However, the glossary is not an exhaustive list, so you should be sure to talk with a counselor or admission officer abou t words whose meanings are unclear to you.

Academic adviser. A faculty or staff member who assists students in their selection of academic courses and programs, often providing general counseling as well, although that role is occasionally filled by upperclass students. (See also Internatio nal student adviser.)

Academic calendar. The period that makes up the school year, usually divided into two terms (semesters), three terms (trimesters), or four terms (quarters).

Accreditation. The "seal of approval" indicating that an academic institution has been recognized as providing at least an adequate education. There are general regional accrediting agencies and specific academic-area accrediting agencies. It is ve ry important to be sure that the colleges you are interested in are accredited by the appropriate agencies. Regional accreditation guarantees a minimum of adequacy in terms of academic facilities and programs, not necessarily excellence. In most countries , government agencies concerned with the evaluation of credentials and degrees specify the type of accreditation required to recognize a course of study completed at an international institution. It would be wise to confirm such requirements with your app ropriate home agency before leaving to study in the United States.

Achievement Tests. These tests are offered by the Educational Testing Service for the College Board. They are designed to measure a candidate's proficiency in a specific subject, such as European history, chemistry, or Latin.

ACT Assessment (ACT). A standardized test offered by American College Testing, required for admission to some American colleges. (See also Scholastic Assessment Test.)

Advanced standing. At many colleges this may be achieved by scoring well on the Advanced Placement tests offered by the College Board or by receiving credit for academic work that is beyond the American secondary school standard. Many international students are able to enter colleges in the United States with advanced standing because most non- American secondary school curricula are at a somewhat higher level. However, U.S. colleges are not uniform in giving credit for academic work in other count ries. International students applying for advanced credit can receive a wide variety of responses from U.S. colleges. There is generally no appeal on such divergent responses, which reflect the independent authority of U.S. colleges and universities.

American College Testing (ACT). An organization that conducts standardized testing (ACT Assessment) and financial aid need analysis.

Application fee. Fees charged to cover the cost of processing your application. The fees vary from school to school but average $30-$40 for each application. Some colleges may waive this requirement if applicants provide financial documentation est ablishing that their resources do not permit payment of the fee.

Associate degree.The degree awarded for successful completion of a two-year program, either terminal (occupational) or transfer (the first two years of a four-year program).

Automatic transfer. A plan in which a two-year branch of a larger educational system allows students in good standing to go on automatically to a bachelor's degree program on another campus of the system.

Bachelor's degree. The degree awarded upon successful completion of three to five years of study in the liberal arts and sciences or in professional or preprofessional areas.

Barrier-free campus. A campus that provides access for the disabled to all buildings and facilities.

Bursar. College or university treasurer and accountant.

Calendar. The system by which an institution divides its year into shorter periods for instruction and awarding credit (semesters, trimesters, quarters).

Candidate notification date. The date by which an institution will announce its decision on a student's application.

Candidates Reply Date. The date (May 1) established by the College Board, and accepted by many colleges, by which students must notify participating colleges that have accepted them whether or not they plan to attend in the fall. Not all colleges s ubscribe to this agreement, but most colleges set a date or an amount of time after notification by which the student must respond.

Catalog. Also known as bulletins and calendars, catalogs generally provide descriptions of all the courses an institution offers, its policies and philosophy, and a statement of all requirements for being admitted and earning a degree. Often catalo gs must be purchased, since they are quite lengthy. For more general information, a college viewbook or prospectus (usually free) is quite helpful. (See also College viewbook or prospectus.) Catalogs of many colleges and universities are available at advi sing centers of the USIS and the Fulbright Commission and in American libraries in many countries.

Class rank. Students' standing in the secondary school class relative to their peers. Rank in class is one of several criteria used by admission officers to determine how well individuals have performed in their secondary school studies relative to their peers. It is reported as a raw number (such as 3rd out of a class of 30) or in a rougher percentile (top third, top 10 percent, etc. ).

College. A postsecondary institution that awards either the associate degree or the bachelor's degree. College-level work in America is the same as first- degree work at a university abroad. Colleges, unlike universities, tend to be small and to em phasize teaching and undergraduate education over research, since graduate (postbachelor's) programs are not usually offered. Colleges, in another sense, can also be educational divisions of a larger university, such as a college of arts and sciences.

College Board. A membership organization consisting of representatives from college admission and financial aid offices and secondary school guidance personnel. The Board contracts with Educational Testing Service to create and administer its Admis sions Testing Program (SAT, Achievement Tests, Advanced Placement tests as well as reports to students indicating their performance on the tests).

College viewbook or prospectus. A pictorial brochure produced by colleges and universities to publicize themselves to prospective students. A viewbook or prospectus usually provides succinct information on entrance requirements, campus life, course s of study, costs, etc., and is a useful guide to an institution's image of itself.

Competitiveness. The degree of difficulty in gaining admission to a college or university. The highly competitive colleges are the most difficult; there can be as many as 10 candidates for every available place. The term may also be used to describ e the atmosphere or environment of a campus; the more competitive it is, the more intense are the academic pressures.

Conditional admission. This is offered by some colleges to students who are lacking certain skills, often English language proficiency. A student matriculates at a given school, completes the requirements for conditional admission, such as reaching a higher level of English language ability, and then goes on to earn his or her degree. Sometimes conditional students are allowed to take courses outside of the area requiring special attention.

Cooperative education plan. A program offered by many colleges that enables a student to combine work and study, often in order to gain degree-related experience. A cooperative program may be alternating (work and study in alternating terms) or par allel (work and study scheduled within the same term). In most such programs it takes five years to earn a bachelor's degree. Because of U.S. immigration regulations, institutions offering cooperative education plans often find it difficult to place inter national students in work off campus. The institution will advise you if it believes it can do so. If an international student is placed in off campus work, he or she will be using a portion of the practical-training eligibility allowed during the course of degree work by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. This practical-training eligibility is not to be confused with the six, twelve, or eighteen months (depending on visa type) allowed following the taking of a degree.

Core course. Such courses are also known as distribution requirements and, as their name implies, constitute the core, or center, of a degree program. A few colleges have no required core courses, while others may require several terms of such cour ses. Usually, core courses represent a sampling of work in the arts, humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences (also known as the liberal arts and sciences).

Course load. The number of courses taken in a given term. Colleges usually specify a range for the number of courses or credits to be taken by full-time students. Current U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service regulations require that an inter national student pursue a full-time course of study. While the academic institution is allowed to determine what constitutes a full course load, it generally means a minimum of twelve credit hours, or four courses, during each term.

Credit. The unit of measurement of academic work successfully completed. There are several different credit systems. Under one system, a course might be worth 1 credit, while in another system the same course would be worth 3 "credit hours" or "hou rs " indicating the amount of time spent each week in class. Sometimes courses that are more advanced-or that meet for more hours-offer greater credit.

Credit by Examination. Academic credit granted by a college when a student demonstrates proficiency in a subject as measured by an examination.

Deadline. The time by which something must be done or submitted. There are deadlines by which you must file your application for admission (often nine months prior to the term you wish to enter), file for financial assistance (usually at the same ti me you apply for admission), and submit your response to the admission decision (you generally have two to three weeks to confirm your intention to attend). If you anticipate a delay in your mail response reaching an American college, you may be able to u se a telex, fax, or cable as a means of communication. Look for a telex, fax, or cable identification on the letterhead or in the literature of the colleges to which you will be responding.

Dean/director of admission. The person in charge of the admission office. In some cases there will be a dean and a director in the same office. Usually the director will have responsibility for office procedures, and the dean will have broader poli cymaking responsibilities. Deans and directors often have little to do with the actual processing of students' applications but will chair the committee that makes the final decisions.

Deferred admission. The practice of permitting students to postpone enrollment for one year after acceptance to a college.

Doctorate, or doctor's degree. The most advanced academic degree offered in the United States, generally awarded after at least three years of graduate work following completion of the bachelor's and master's degree.

Double major. Any program of study in which a student completes the requirements of two majors concurrently.

Early admission. A program in which a college accepts students to begin college work before they graduate from secondary school. Admission standards are more stringent for early admission candidates.

Early decision. A plan in which students apply in November or December and learn of the decision on their application during December or January. Accepted early decision students must withdraw their applications to other colleges and agree to matri culate at the college that accepts them.

Elective. A course in the curriculum that you select that is optional but needed as part of the total number of credits required for graduation.

English as a second language (ESL) or English as a foreign language (EFL) program. A program offered by some colleges or proprietary schools for students whose English proficiency is not up to standard.

English language test. Generally required of all applicants for whom English is not the native language. These tests are designed to measure proficiency in written and spoken English and are essential to the admission process. Each college has its own requirement for level of achievement on the test, usually the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).

Enrollment deposit. A nonrefundable deposit of funds required of accepted students at many colleges to reserve a space in the incoming class.

Faculty. The professors and instructors at colleges and universities.

Financial aid. Money provided to help you meet the costs of attending college. It may come from your government, private agencies, colleges, and banks. There is merit-based financial aid (such as scholarships that reward superior academic or athlet ic achievement) and need-based financial aid (where the amount of money you get will be based upon your family's financial need). If you receive financial aid from a college, it usually comes in a "package" consisting of (1) a grant or scholarship, which you do not have to repay; (2) a loan, rarely given to international students but which must be repaid; and (3) a campus job, to allow you to earn money during the school year. Financial aid policies differ widely from school to school. Financial aid to in ternational students is limited at most institutions, especially at the undergraduate level. As a result of recent tax legislation in the United States, a grant or scholarship that provides funds for school expenses beyond tuition costs may be liable to U .S. federal and state taxes, as is income from paid employment on or off campus.

First professional degree. A degree granted for completion of academic requirements for selected professions.(at least two years of previous college work for entrance).

Foreign student adviser. See International student adviser.

GMAT. Graduate schools of business usually require applicants to take the Graduate Management Admissions Test, which measures general verbal and mathematical skills developed.

Grade. The indication of the quality of students' academic work. When you complete a course or take a test, you are evaluated and given a grade. A very common grading system in the United States is a scale of A to F, where A is the highest possible grade and F stands for failure. A grade of B+ would be between an A and a B.

Grade point average (GPA). A system of scoring student achievement used by many colleges and universities. A student's GPA is computed by multiplying the numerical grade received in each course by the number of credits offered for each course, then dividing by the total number of credit hours studied. Most institutions use the following grade conversion scale: A = 4, B = 3, C = 2, D =1, and E and F = 0.

Graduate study. A program leading to a master's degree or doctor's degree; advanced study generally following the bachelor's degree.

Graduation. The completion of one's studies, also referred to as commencement. Although graduation normally occurs four years after entry into a bachelor's program, some students complete the requirements early by obtaining advanced-standing credit or attending summer school. Some students take more than four years to graduate from a bachelor's program. Students enrolled in an associate degree program generally graduate after two years of study.

Grant. "Gift money," also known as a scholarship, provided by some schools to help students meet costs. Grant funds for expenses other than tuition and fees are currently subject to both U.S. federal and state taxes.

GRE. The Graduate Record Examination is administered by ETS. Scores on either the General or Subject Tests, or both, are used by many graduate and professional schools and fellowship spons ors to supplement undergraduate records and other indicators of students' potential for graduate study.

High school. The American term for secondary school, which usually must be completed before beginning undergraduate studies.

Honors program. An unusually challenging program for superior students with high grade achievement.

Independent study. An option that allows students to pursue independent research or undertake a creative project, usually with minimal faculty supervision. When offered, such study is usually assigned in the third or fourth year of study.

Insurance. This is often required to protect students against emergency health-care or hospitalization expenses. Even when the college does not require health insurance, the costs of medical care in the United States are now so high that no student from abroad should be without such insurance. Generally, each college provides information regarding insurance policies at the time of admission. Information may also be obtained from NAFSA: Association of International Education, Suite 1000,1875 Connect icut Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20009-5728.

Interdisciplinary. Refers to programs or courses that use the knowledge from a number of academic disciplines.

International student adviser. A professional staff member, often called an international student adviser, employed by most colleges to assist international students. International (or foreign) student advisers provide advice on a wide variety of a cademic and personal matters. They counsel on legal matters such as visas and employment and provide information on housing as well as on- and off- campus activities.

Internship. Short-term, supervised work experience, usually related to a student's major field, for which the student earns academic credit.

Liberal arts. Also known as the liberal arts and sciences, this term refers to academic work in the humanities (languages, music, art, etc.), social sciences (economics, history, sociology, etc.), and natural sciences (mathematics, chemistry, physi cs, etc.), as opposed to technical or professional subjects. Many colleges have requirements that ensure students' exposure to a wide variety of liberal arts courses.

Loan. A supplementary source of funding that, for non-U.S. citizens, usually comes from the college itself, since bank loans are generally not available to students who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Loans are generally awarded as pa rt of a financial aid package and range from about $ 100 to $2500. Some colleges offer emergency loans, of small amounts, to meet unexpected expenses. Foreign or international students should never count on receiving a loan, however, and must convince con sular officers that all college and personal funding needs can be met prior to departure for the United States before these officials will grant their visas.

Major. The academic area in which a student chooses to concentrate. Generally, major course requirements take up one quarter to one half of the student's undergraduate studies and are combined with other general education requirements.

Master's degree. The degree awarded after one or more years of graduate work following the bachelor's degree.

Matriculation. Enrollment at a college or university to begin work toward an academic degree.

Midterm. Halfway point in a semester or trimester.

Minor. An academic subject area in which a student may take the second-greatest concentration of courses. While a major may require as many as sixteen courses for a degree, a minor may require only four or five courses.

Open admissions. The college admissions policy of admitting high school graduates and other adults generally without regard to conventional academic qualifications. Virtually all applicants with a high school diploma or its equivalent are accepted.

Orientation. A period of time prior to matriculation, ranging from two days to a week, set aside for new students to come to campus to participate in an organized program designed to hasten academic and social acclimatization. Orientation programs include academic and personal counseling, social occasions, tours, and time for independent activity. These programs are generally required for international students.

Pass-fail grading system. An alternative to traditional letter or numerical grading systems; course credit is indicated simply by a pass or fail (or credit/no credit) notation.

Placement test. An examination offered to students after they have arrived on campus. Policies regarding placement tests vary, but many institutions recognize that international students will have pursued studies more advanced than those of their A merican peers and thus will allow students to accelerate their studies based on their scores on departmental examinations.

Prerequisite. A particular requirement that must be met as a condition for advancement. Fluency in English is usually a prerequisite for admission, and entry to upper-level courses usually requires successful completion of lower-level courses, know n as prerequisites.

Private institution. Colleges and universities that receive little or no direct financial support from government sources. Also known as independent institutions.

Quarter. A unit measuring the academic year. Under this system there are four quarters, or terms, each year: three composing the academic year and one the summer. International students are generally required to attend classes during three quarters , but they have the option of attending all four if they wish to accelerate their academic program.

Reference. A letter of support and evaluation, also known as a recommendation, that is usually required for admission to an American college. References from teachers and headmasters are particularly helpful in international admission because the l etter writer can help place an individual applicant's candidacy in the clearest context for evaluation. Often these letters must be submitted directly to the college by the individual writing the reference and are not included with the admission applicati on.

Registrar. The college or university official who keeps records of enrollment and academic standing.

Residence hall Also known as a dormitory, this is on-campus housing, which forms an integral part of the American college experience at most schools. Much informal interchange occurs in residence halls, where students have the opportunity to meet p eople with differing interests and backgrounds. Some residence halls have faculty members living in, some do not. International houses or residences are enjoying a revival on many U.S. campuses, and they generally provide a balance of U.S. and internation al students. In on-campus residential life at most colleges, students have a great deal of freedom in arranging their eating, sleeping, and study schedules and are not closely regulated by faculty and administration officers. Some campuses, especially at two-year colleges, do not have on-campus residence halls for students. It is important to determine this in advance.

Resident. Usually American citizens who are natives of the state in which a college is located. The term "permanent resident" refers to individuals who have been granted such status by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. Such persons a re eligible for in-state or resident tuition at publicly supported colleges and universities in that state. Residents are also, in another use of the term, students who live on campus.

Rolling admission A program adopted by many colleges through which admission applications are evaluated upon receipt and applicants are notified of the decision as soon as the application is processed.

SAT. The Scholastic Assessment Test is a standardized test, offered by the College Board through the Educational Testing Service, required for admission to many American undergraduate coll eges. (See also ACT Assessment.)

Scholarship. A form of financial assistance, also known as a grant or as gift aid, that students are not required to repay. Scholarships are based on either merit, a special characteristic, or need. Scholarships are offered to students with excellen t achievement in an area such as academics, athletics, or debating. If a family has the financial resources to be able to meet expenses at an American college, the student should probably not apply for a scholarship, lest he or she run the risk of not bei ng admitted. Competition for scholarship money is very strong. Although funds are awarded primarily to students with financial need, most colleges and universities provide limited funds or no funds at all to international students. Some colleges provide f unds only after the first year or in emergency circumstances, e.g., currency devaluation, death of a parent, etc. International student applicants who emphasize that they must have financial aid run a greater risk of being denied admission than an America n in the same situation.

Semester. A unit of the academic year. Under the semester system there are two terms in each nine- month academic year.

Social Security number. Identification number assigned to U.S. citizens by the government. Since these numbers are used by many colleges as identification numbers, the admission office often assigns a similar nine-digit number to noncitizens. This number helps distinguish between students with similar-or the same-names.

Standardized tests (undergraduate). These include the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT), subject-oriented Achievement Tests, the ACT Assessment (ACT), and the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). All of these tests are used, to some degree, in college adm ission. They measure aptitude and achievement and are used in combination with a student's secondary school record to help evaluate potential for academic success. Each institution has its own policies and procedures regarding the use of these tests, and all candidates should plan on taking all of the required examinations.

Studio. A class, usually in the arts, where students are instructed or have practice in a "hands-on" fashion. Photography, painting, and dance are courses that are taught with some component of studio experience.

Summer school. Study during the summer months of June, July, and August, when colleges traditionally are closed or offer a limited number of courses. Some students take advantage of the summer sessions to pursue independent research, to accelerate the process of course completion in order to enter graduate study earlier, or to study English before regular matriculation in September.

Syllabus. Outline of a course.

Teaching assistant. A student, usually a graduate student, who helps professors with their teaching and advising roles. Students will most often encounter a TA, as they are known, in the laboratory or seminar section of a large lecture course at a large university. An increasing number of teaching assistants in American universities are international graduate students, particularly in engineering and other technical fields.

Terminal program. An education program designed to prepare students for immediate employment.

TOEFL. The Test of English as a Foreign Language is the test most often taken by students for whom English is not the native language. In cases in which students have been educated in a scho ol where English is the language of instruction, they are sometimes exempted from this requirement. However, some colleges and universities even require the TOEFL for students from countries where English is the official language.

Transcript. The records of your academic work. You will always be required to submit an official, translated copy of your secondary school transcript when you apply for admission.

Transfer. The option of applying as an "upperclass" candidate at the same level from one American college to another. To be eligible for transfer admission, a student must usually meet the same requirements as a freshman candidate and must also hav e completed one or two years of college studies. If a student completes the first two years of a bachelor's program at one college and applies to, is admitted to, and enters the second as a third-year student, he or she should be able to finish the typica l four-year program on time. The term "transfer" is also used to describe the process of a student moving from one American college to another.

Trimester. A unit of the academic year. Under the trimester system the nine-month academic year is divided into three 3-month terms.

Tuition. The fees that cover academic expenses. Other expenses, such as those for room and board (lodging and meals), health insurance, activities, and transportation, are not included in tuition figures. Each college will provide tuition and gener al expense estimates in its admission information.

Undergraduate. An associate or bachelor's degree candidate or a description of such a candidate's courses. Once students have earned a bachelor's degree, they are eligible for entry to graduate programs at the master's and doctoral levels.

University. A large, educational institution comprising a number of divisions, including graduate and professional schools. Because universities usually have research as an important part of their mission, they may place less emphasis on undergradu ate teaching. Academic offerings are usually more comprehensive than at smaller colleges. Occasionally a "university" will have no professional schools or offer no doctoral programs, while some "colleges" offer master's programs.

Upper-division college. A college offering bachelor's degree programs that begin with the junior year. Entering students must have completed the first two years at other colleges.

Waiting list. A list of students who were not initially accepted by an institution but who will be accepted at a later date if space becomes available. In many cases waiting list candidates are not notified of the final decision until late in the s ummer.

Work-study. Employment, usually on campus, awarded to needy students as part of a financial aid package through the U.S. government's Federal Work-Study Program. While international students are not eligible for work-study jobs under this program, most are legally eligible to accept part-time employment on campus, with permission from the international (foreign) student adviser.

Zip codes. Mailing codes used by the U.S. Postal Service.


The text applied to WWW in the AFIK, Szeged is from 'Peterson's Applying to Colleges and Universities in the United States' and 'The College Handbook Foreign Student Supplement', a publication of the College Board.