Higher Education Terminology in the U.S.

**All terminology from U.S. News & World Report (complete list of terms linked at the bottom)


As a prospective international student looking to study abroad in the U.S., the vast array of terminology used differently from your home country can be overwhelming. This glossary will help you make sense of what university admissions representatives are referring to during our WebiFair events or if you're meeting with them through other virtual fairs. 


This is not an exhaustive list, but it will offer you a starting point as you're exploring your best-fit college or university in the U.S.


Academic adviser: A member of a school's faculty who provides advice and guidance to students on academic matters like course selections


Accredited: Official recognition that a college or university meets the standards of a regional or national association. 


Affidavit of Support: An official document proving adequate funding from an individual or organization to cover an international student's education and living expenses while enrolled at a U.S. college or university. 


College: A postsecondary institution that typically provides only an undergraduate education and graduate degrees in some cases. "College" is often used interchangeably with "university" and "school" in the U.S. Separately, "college" can refer to an academic division of a university, such as College of Business.


Community college: A public, 2-year postsecondary institution that offers an associate's degree. Community colleges can also be referred to as junior colleges. Community colleges typically provide a transfer program, allowing students to transfer to a four-year school to complete their Bachelor's degree.


Conditional admission: An acceptance to a college or university that is dependent on the student first completing coursework or meeting specific criteria before enrollment. For an international student, this can include a requirement to attain a certain level of English-language proficiency if the student's TOEFL score doesn't meet the minimum required.


Deferred admission: A school's act of postponing a student's application for early decision or early action so that it will be considered along with the rest of the regular applicant group. A "deferral" can also refer to a student's act of postponing enrollment for one year if the school agrees.


Discipline: An area of academic study. 


Double major: A program of study that allows a student to complete the course requirements for two majors simultaneously. 


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. Although some schools allow international students to apply via early action, applicants who request financial aid may not receive a decision any earlier than those who apply through the regular decision process.


Early decision: A program offered by some colleges and universities that allows students to apply to their top-choice school early, typically in November or December, and receive the decision earlier, usually in mid- or late December. If accepted, students are required to enroll at that school and withdraw all applications to other schools. Although some schools allow international students to apply via early decision, applicants who apply for financial aid may not receive a decision any earlier than those who apply through the regular decision process.


Electives: Courses that students can choose to take for credit toward a degree but are not required. 


Financial aid: All types of money offered to students to help pay tuition, fees, and other educational expenses. This includes loans, grants, scholarships, assistantships, work-study. 


Humanities: Academic courses focused on human life and ideas, including history, philosophy, foreign languages, religion, art, music, and literature. 


International student advisor: A school official who assists international students and faculty with orientation, visas, income taxes, insurance, academic and government rules, among other areas.


Liberal arts: Academic studies of subjects in the humanities, social sciences, and the sciences, with a focus on general knowledge, in contrast to a professional or technical emphasis. "Liberal arts" is often used interchangeably with "liberal arts and sciences" or "arts and sciences."


Liberal arts college: A postsecondary institution that emphasizes an undergraduate education in liberal arts. Most liberal arts colleges have small student bodies, do not offer graduate studies, and focus on faculty teaching rather than research.


Major: The academic subject area you choose to focus on during your undergraduate studies. 


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


Minor: An academic subject area that you choose to have a secondary focus on during your undergraduate studies. Minors are typically not required. 


Net price calculator: An online tool that allows students and families to calculate a personalized estimate of a specific college or university cost after considering any scholarships or need-based financial aid.


Open admissions: A college or university's policy of accepting all students who have completed high school, regardless of their grades or test scores, until all spaces are filled. Most community colleges have an open admissions policy, including for international students. 


OPT (Optional Practical Training): A type of work authorization allowing international students to participate in professional work related to their field of study. OPT can take place during a degree program or after graduation.


Private school: A postsecondary institution controlled by a private individual(s) or a non-governmental agency. A private institution is usually not supported primarily by public funds, and its programs are not operated by publicly elected or appointed officials.


Public school: A postsecondary institution supported mainly by public funds and whose programs are operated by publicly elected or appointed officials.


RA (Resident Assistant): A student leader who works in campus dormitories and supervises issues and activities related to dorm life. 


Regular decision: An admissions process used by colleges and universities that typically requires applicants to submit their materials by January 1; an admissions decision is generally received by April 1, and if admitted, students usually have until May 1 to respond to the offer. The majority of applicants are evaluated during regular decision rather than early action and early decision.


Rolling admissions: An admissions process used by some colleges and universities. Each application is considered as soon as all the required materials have been received, rather than by a specific deadline. Colleges and universities with this policy will make decisions as applications are received until all spaces are filled.


School: Any educational institution, including those that provide elementary, secondary, and postsecondary education. In the latter case, "school" is often used interchangeably with "college" and "university."


SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System): A computerized U.S. government database used to track international students and scholars in the United States. Once a U.S. college or university accepts an international student, the school is required to mail the student a Form I-20, which is a paper record of the student's information in SEVIS. A student must pay a SEVIS fee and use the payment receipt and I-20 to apply for a visa.


Social Security number: A nine-digit number issued by the U.S. government to people authorized to work in the United States and collect certain government benefits. Many colleges and universities use the Social Security number as the student identification number. International students in the United States and are authorized to work either on or off-campus must apply for and obtain a Social Security number, which is then used to report their wages to the government.


University: A postsecondary institution that typically offers both undergraduate and graduate degree programs. "University" is often used interchangeably with "college" and "school." 




**All terminology from U.S. News & World Report

https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2011/08/15/us-higher-education-glossary 


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