College Terminology: Important Terms to Know Before Classes Start

College Terminology: Important Terms to Know Before Classes Start

Whether you have just graduated high school or are going back to school later in life, college life may be significantly different from what you're used to. One of the ways to prepare for this adjustment is to make sure you're familiar with all the important college terminology and phrases you'll hear a lot of over the next few years. Knowing these terms can help reduce stress and confusion once the school year starts, especially when you're trying to juggle financial aid and enrollment responsibilities with coursework.

Think about the glossary below as "college terminology 101."

  • Academic year – This refers to the period of time that comprises one full year of classes and coursework. For example, AIU offers classes in 10-week quarters (for undergraduates, each quarter includes two 5-week sessions). Three quarters (30 weeks) make up an academic year.
  • Accreditation – Accreditation is granted by a recognized higher-education association when a college or university can demonstrate that it meets the required education and quality standards. Many employers and professional groups look to make sure the degree held by an applicant is from an accredited institution, and schools may receive regional or national accreditation. AIU is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
  • Award Letter – Sometimes referred to as a "financial aid award letter," these are documents that outline the different types and amounts of financial aid you may be eligible to receive. This may include federal loans and grants, as well as any aid the school itself offers.
  • Associate's Degree – An associate degree at AIU is earned after the completion of 90 quarter credit hours, which involves a mix of general education requirements, electives, and required coursework within one's degree program.
  • Bachelor's Degree – This is the degree many people think of when it comes to the traditional four-year program of study at a college or university—however, it may take more or less time to earn depending on whether one starts the program from scratch or with an existing associate degree or transfer credits. At AIU, a bachelor's degree requires completion of 180 quarter credit hours and can be completed in as little as 36 months.
  • Commencement – The commencement ceremony (also sometimes called convocation) is when new graduates are recognized and granted their degrees.
  • Core Courses – Core courses refer to those classes that make up the essential foundation of your degree program. These are more specific to your main area of study than general education credits, and may be taken in greater concentration during the later part of your program.
  • Course Number – Courses are typically labeled by both department and number. Introductory and general education courses often start in the 100 or 200 range, while higher-level courses are often in the 300s or 400s. Your program may also indicate which courses you are required to take for your degree based on the specific number(s) by which they are offered.
  • Credit Hour – Credit hours are earned by successfully completing courses, and act as a marker of academic progress. Different courses may offer a different number of credit hours upon completion. AIU awards quarter credit hours based on the estimated amount of time a course should take to complete (combined in-class instruction time and out-of-class study time).
  • Drop/Add Period – This is the period at the beginning of each enrollment session that students can make changes to their schedule by adding or dropping classes. After the add/drop period has passed, students are responsible for tuition costs and will receive a final grade for each course in which they're still enrolled. AIUs add/drop period is the first six days from the start date of the session (for five-week courses) or quarter (for 10-week courses).
  • Elective – Electives are courses that students are allowed to choose based on their own interests, and also contribute toward the successful completion of a degree. Electives can be offered within or outside of one's degree program, and in some cases transfer credits or prior learning assessment(s) can be counted toward the fulfillment of elective credits.
  • Financial Aid – This is any aid offered to qualifying students to be used for tuition expenses or course materials costs, including federal student loans, federal and institution-based grants or scholarships, and any private school loans.
  • Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) – This is a document through which students apply for federal student aid. Students must complete the FAFSA each year they intend to claim federal loans and/or grants for which they may qualify.
  • Full-time Student – AIU requires students to be enrolled for a minimum of 12 credit hours per quarter in order to retain full-time status. Whether students are on full- or part-time status can impact the time it takes to earn their degree as well as financial aid eligibility.
  • General Education Classes – Informally referred to as "gen eds," these are courses outside a student's primary focus of study that are required for the successful completion of a degree. General education credits are designed to ensure a more well-rounded education that addresses institutional goals for higher learning, as well as the specific professional objectives of one's degree program.
  • Grade Point Average (GPA) – GPA is calculated at AIU on a 4-point scale, and grades for each course are converted to a numeric value (A = 4.00, A- = 3.70, B+ = 3.30, etc.). These values are then averaged together each quarter and used to indicate academic progress.
  • Grant – Grants are funds awarded to students who qualify without the requirement that they be repaid. There are a number of grants for which students may qualify at both the federal and institutional level.
  • Internship – An internship is a temporary position that provides students an opportunity to get additional on-the-job training and experience in the workplace. Internships can be paid or unpaid, and are often taken in the later years of one's college experience.
  • Loan – Loans are financial aid packages extended to qualifying students that must eventually be repaid with interest. These could include subsidized and unsubsidized federal student loans, as well as any private loans for which students apply.
  • Master's Degree – Master's degree programs are completed after a bachelor's degree in order to further develop one's knowledge and expertise in a field. At AIU, master's degrees require the completion of 48 credits, which includes a graduate-level research project.
  • Net Price Calculator – This is a tool that helps students calculate their total tuition costs once any federal, state, or military aid for which they qualify have been factored in.
  • Office Hours – College instructors are typically required to keep weekly office hours during which they're accessible to students. Students can use these office hours to schedule a meeting with an instructor to review specific questions or concerns.
  • Orientation – Orientation is an event designed to welcome new students and help familiarize them with the university and any important policies and procedures. It is typically held at the beginning or shortly before the start of the academic year.
  • Part-time Student – At AIU, part-time students are those enrolled in less than 12 credit hours per quarter.
  • Proof of Graduation (POG) – Students must submit proof of their completion of high school (diploma or other accepted documentation) before the first day of their second quarter or term.
  • Quarter – At AIU, two five-week class sessions make up one quarter. Three quarters makes up one academic year.
  • Registrar – The Registrar's Office typically handles all student records, as well as course registration and schedules, grades, transcripts and verification of other academic requirements.
  • SAP (Satisfactory Academic Progress) – Students must make satisfactory academic progress in order to remain enrolled at their institution (and often to remain qualified for financial aid). Progress is based on not only on the number of courses a student has completed toward their degree, but also cumulative GPA at the end of each term.
  • Scholarship – Scholarships are funds awarded to qualifying students based on merit and need, and like grants, typically do not need to be repaid. Most schools offer their own unique range of scholarship opportunities.
  • Specialization – Certain institutions may offer the option to select a specialization within one's degree program. This gives students an opportunity to pursue a more specific focus.
  • Student Services Advisor – Student services advisors at AIU help ensure students have the support they need to succeed in college. This may involve connecting students to academic and personal support services, helping students with important paperwork and deadlines or directing them to career resources.
  • Term – Each academic term at AIU refers to one quarter.
  • Transcript – Transcripts are records of a student's academic progress, including all courses taken, grades and completion status for each course, cumulative GPA and any other information relevant to the completion of one's degree.

Even if you're not able to memorize all of the college terms above, being familiar with some of the general language you'll hear when signing up for classes and talking with advisors is important. Remember that you don't need to face all the challenges and new processes of college alone—make sure to speak with an advisor any time you have questions about a specific process or requirement.1

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1. American InterContinental University, 2016 AIU Course Catalog, on the Internet at (visited March 14, 2016).