Dictionary of Post-Secondary Terms

The post-secondary education world has its own vocabulary. If you’re looking for a little help in speaking the language as you get ready for college or university, here are some definitions that might come in handy:

Associate’s Degree: Associate of arts degree; often a two-year program. Associate’s degrees include AA (Associate of Arts), AS (Associate of Science) and AAS (Associate of Applied Science) degrees.

ACT: American College Test. This test is designed to measure skills in English, math, reading and science. Many colleges require ACT scores as part of their application process. Most students take this test in their junior or senior year.

Academic Advisor: A person at a college or university who gives students advice on choosing classes and programs.

Apprenticeship: An apprenticeship combines classroom time with hands-on, paid work experience. An apprentice often studies a trade under an experienced worker.

Bachelor’s Degree: Also called a baccalaureate or sometimes an undergraduate degree. Most often a four-year degree, although some students complete a bachelor’s degree in three years, while others take five or six years.
Some examples of bachelor’s degrees are: BA (bachelor of arts), B.Sc. or BS (bachelor of science), BEng (bachelor of engineering), BFA (bachelor of fine arts), and BComm (bachelor of commerce) degrees.

College Catalog: The publication listing the programs, classes and requirements of a college or university. Typically, the catalog is available as a book or online.

College: An educational institution that students enter after high school. In the U.S., the term college is often used for schools that award bachelor’s or associate’s degrees. However, many universities that award graduate degrees will also refer to themselves as colleges.

Community College: Sometimes called a junior college. Community colleges typically award certificates, diplomas or associate’s degrees. Many have university transfer programs in which students complete the first two years of a four-year degree program, then transfer to a university for the last two years. Most community college programs are two years or less in duration.

Co-op: A co-op program lets a student combine academic learning with paid, hands-on work experience. Co-op programs typically combine periods of attending classes with periods of working in a job related to the student’s field of study.

Credit: The value given to a certain class. Successfully finishing a class will earn the student a predetermined number of credits towards graduating. A degree will require a set number of credits.

Deferred Admission Option: A deferred admission option lets students take some time after being accepted before they start classes. Students accepted under a deferred admission option usually wait one school term or one calendar year before starting classes.

Degree: An academic award that recognizes a student has completed a program of study from a school.

Early Admission: Early admission lets a student enroll in college after their junior year. If accepted with early admission, they don’t have to complete high school before starting college.

Early Action Plan: An early action plan allows students to find out whether or not they are accepted before other students. A student who is accepted under an early action plan is not obligated to attend that school — they can accept the offer under the procedures for regular admissions.

Early Decision Plan: Under an early decision plan, a student can apply for admission and receive the school’s decision earlier than they would under regular admission. If a student applies under early admission, they must agree to accept an offer of admission. They’ll also have to withdraw any applications to other schools once they’ve been accepted.

Electives: Classes which aren’t necessary for a student’s major, often in another area they’re interested in. The credits for electives will usually still apply to the total credits needed for their degree.

Department of Education (ED): The U.S. government agency that administers several federal student financial aid programs. Also referred to as USED, for the U.S. Department of Education.

Expected Family Contribution (EFC): Financial aid applications may ask questions about a student’s family’s earnings, savings and assets. These numbers help calculate the Expected Family Contribution, which is the amount the student’s family is expected to pay.

Financial Aid Administrator (FAA): A college or university employee who is involved in the administration of financial aid. Also known as financial aid advisors, officers or counselors.
Financial Aid: The things that can help a student pay for college. Financial aid can include scholarships, loans and bursaries.

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA): The first step for financial aid. In order to receive federal financial aid for education, a student must fill out a FAFSA. The FAFSA is processed for free.

Grade Point Average (GPA): A student’s average grade for the classes they’ve taken. GPA is figured out by calculating an average of grades, using 4 for an A, 3 for B, 2 for a C, 1 for a D and 0 for an F.

Graduate Studies: Programs for which a bachelor’s degree is a prerequisite (a student must have a bachelor’s degree already).

Internship: An internship provides supervised work experience in an area relevant to a student’s career goals. An internship can be either paid or unpaid.

Law School Admission Test (LSAT): The LSAT is required for admission to most law schools.

Medical College Admission Test (MCAT): The MCAT is required for admission to most medical schools.

Master’s Degree: A degree following a bachelor’s degree. A master’s degree often takes two years, but it is sometimes possible to complete in one year; many people take longer than two years.

Major: The field of study a student focuses on for their degree. Many people choose their major before starting college, but others wait until the end of first or second year.

Midterms: Tests that are given in the middle of a school term to monitor a student’s progress.

Minor: A program of study requiring fewer courses than a major.

Non-resident: A student who does not live in the same state as the school’s location, or who hasn’t lived in the state for long enough to count as a resident.

Open Admissions: A school with an open admissions policy will admit almost all high school grads without taking marks or testing scores into account. They’ll also admit most students who have passed their GED.

PhD: A graduate degree, often following a master’s degree. These degrees typically take at least three years.

Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test (PSAT): The PSAT is usually taken in 10th or 11th grade and is part of a student’s preparation for the SAT. It is also one of the requirements for the National Merit Scholarship program.

PLUS Loans: U.S. Federal loans taken out by parents to borrow money for their college-bound student’s education.

Post-secondary Program: A program taken after high school. Post-secondary programs include programs at universities, two-and four-year colleges, and vocational and technical schools.

Preferential Admission: Preferential admission gives preference to students from certain groups, such as state residents, members of supporting churches or students whose parents went to the same school their child wishes to attend.

Prerequisite: A course that must be successfully completed before registering in another class. First-year math might be a prerequisite for second-year math, for example.

Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP): A savings plan for Canadians that allows a student or their parents to receive tax benefits while saving for the student’s education.

Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC): A program in which the military pays a student’s tuition and other expenses. The student takes part in summer training while in college and commits to military service after college.

Student Aid Report (SAR): A report that summarizes financial and other information reported on the FAFSA. The SAR is sent to students by the federal government. The student’s financial aid need or eligibility is indicated by the Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which is printed on the document.

Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT): A test of mathematical, critical reading and writing skills that students take in their junior or senior year. Many colleges require SAT scores as part of their application process.

Semester: A block of time indicating an academic session.

Stafford Loans: Student loans from the U.S. federal government.

Student Loan: Money loaned to a student and their parents to pay for the student’s education. This money has to be paid back, although usually not until the student finishes school.

Syllabus: The program and requirements for a certain class.

Transcript: A record of the classes a student has taken and their grades in those classes.

Tuition: The amount of money a student has to pay for their classes.

University: An educational institution which awards a range of academic degrees, including bachelor’s degrees and graduate degrees. Most programs at a university require at least four years of study.

University Transfer Programs: Programs in which students complete the first two years of a four-year degree program, then transfer to a university for the last two years.

Vocational School: A school with programs that prepare students for specific careers, trades or vocations.

Work-Study Programs: Programs that provide students with part-time jobs during the school year as part of their financial aid package. The jobs are often at the student’s school.

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