Study in the U.S.



At four-year colleges, the following terms are used for students studying in different years:

  • First-year students: Freshmen
  • Second-year students: Sophomores
  • Third-year students: Juniors
  • Fourth-year students: Seniors

Here are other common terms used in the admissions process and on U.S. campuses:

Academic Adviser: A faculty member who is assigned the job of advising and assisting a small number of students on academic matters.

Academic Year: The time period during which teaching and instruction (and exams) are conducted. Normally, the academic year begins during the month of September and runs through May. The academic year may be divided into semesters (two in a year), trimesters (three in a year), or quarters (four, including the summer quarter).

Accreditation: A system for recognizing educational institutions and professional programs, for level of quality, performance and integrity, based on published criteria and standards. It is purely voluntary and self –regulatory. There are two major types of accreditation –institutional and programmatic. Institutional accreditation is granted by regional and national accrediting commissions, while programmatic (professional) accreditation is granted by commissions managed by professional organizations in fields such as engineering, business studies, and architecture.

Advance Registration: Process of registering for courses, usually online, before arrival on campus. Popular courses may fill up quickly and so it is useful to be aware of the option of registering in advance.

Advanced Placement or Accelerated Programs: Allows you to complete your degree in less time by giving you credit for advanced or college-level course work completed before you enter college. University – or college – level proficiency can be demonstrated by taking AP exams before arriving on campus. It is possible to save time (and money) by taking this path.

Affidavit of support: A signed document pledging financial support to a student for studies. An affidavit is generally required of anyone other than the parents who undertake to support the student. It should include all the relevant details of the student and the sponsor.

Audit: To attend classes without receiving credit towards a degree. You can audit a class to get a flavor of the subject and decide whether you want to pursue it further.

Baccalaureate Degree: A degree awarded upon completion of approximately four years of full-time study in the liberal arts and sciences or professional studies.

B-School: Business school where one can earn an undergraduate degree, graduate degree, or pursue research.

Catalog or Bulletin: An official document that details the different programs and courses of study available at a college or a university, admission requirements and prerequisites, facilities and student life.

Coeducational: An institution that includes members of both genders.

Conditional Admission: Admission granted subject to certain conditions being fulfilled before starting a degree program.

Cooperative Education: A program of study during which students spend part of their time in a professional environment outside the university. Under this program of study, the duration of a bachelor's degree may be five years. Students may be able to earn money working full–time during the co-op term.

Core Requirements: Mandatory course work required to complete the requirements of a degree.

Course: Regularly scheduled classroom sessions of one to five hours or more per week during term time. A degree program is usually made up of a specified number of required and elected courses.

Credits: Units of study that record the progress and completion of courses that are required. The college catalog indicates the value of each course in terms of credit hours or units. Generally speaking, a cumulative 120 credits are required over 4 years in order to get a bachelor's degree. International students have to be enrolled in a minimum of 9 credits per semester in order to maintain their international–student status.

Credentialing: This term is used to include the broad establishment of standards for higher education and the regulation of professional practice.

Culture Shock: The feelings of alienation, loneliness and confusion that can often result from an encounter with another culture. International students experience culture shock to varying degrees.

Dorms or Residences: Housing facilities on the campus of a college or university. Generally owned and leased by the university, they include single-sex or shared accommodation, bathrooms, common rooms, gym facilities, etc.

Electives: Courses that students "elect" to take, outside of their core requirements. Elective credits count towards the completion of a degree.

F-1 Visa: The category of visa that most students are granted.

Fraternity: Fraternities and sororities are a unique feature of American campuses. These organizations are usually all male or all-female, but occasionally are mixed-sex organizations. Although these organizations sometimes have had negative publicity, membership is highly sought after, and is usually by invitation only.

The names of fraternities and sororities are usually a combination of two to four Greek alphabets. For example:"Alpha Theta Gamma" or "Gamma Phi Beta." Because of this quaint system of naming themselves, fraternities and sororities are collectively referred to as "The Greek System." It is common for American college students to ask about "Greek life on campus."

Full -time Student: A full-time student is one who is taking the full load of courses. International students can enroll only as full-time students.

Grade point Average (GPA): An American system of recording academic standards. It is a numerical measure obtained by multiplying the numerical grade received in each course by the number of credit hours and arriving at the average.

The higher the GPA, the better a student's academic prowess is assumed to be. A student with a GPA of 4.0 has received all A grades and is assumed to be at the top of her or his class.

Grading System: To calculate the GPA, the number of credit hours allotted for a particular course is multiplied by the number of points the student has earned. All the products are added up and the total is divided by the number of credit hours to arrive at the GPA.

For example, let's assume a student completes 5 courses that had 3 semester hours each every week, and whose grades were 3As, 1B and 1C. The GPA would be calculated thus:

Grade Points X Credit Hours = Total Points for the Course
1 A 4 3 12
2 A 4 3 12
3 B 3 3 9
3 C 2 3 6
5 A 4 3 12
Total   15 51

The GPA would be 51/15= 3.25

Some universities refine the grading system by using a plus or minus after the grades –A+ or B- and so on. Grades are usually based on a combination of class participation and discussion, seminars, homework, quizzes, assignments, and final exams.

Grant: A sum of money given for a specific purpose –for research, scholarship, building a facility, laboratories, acquiring books for libraries, etc.

Greek life: A collection term used to describe life in sorority and fraternity organizations on U.S. campuses.

Honors: A program of study wherein the entire cohort takes challenging and accelerated coursework. Students are usually invited to the honors programs by the college, after demonstrating superior academic achievement in their first two years of study.

I-20: The document issued by an accredited university college or university to international students and which is used to apply for a U.S. student visa.

IRS: The Internal Revenue Service –the U.S. government body that collects and supervises taxes from individuals resident in the U.S.

Major (declaring a major): The subject area in which the student will be taking the maximum number of courses and credits. Generally speaking, a student is expected to declare a major in the second year of college.

Minor: The subject in which the student takes the second greatest concentration of course work and credits.

Placement Tests: Tests that assesses a student's academic knowledge in a subject, and is used to "place" a student ahead of the entering class. Credit may be given based on the outcome of the placement tests. Advanced Placement tests, also simply known as "AP tests" are one type of placement test.

Plagiarism: Plagiarism is the use of another person's intellectual property –words, ideas - without acknowledging ownership and attempting to pass them off as one's own.

Resident Adviser or Assistant: A person designated to assist students in campus dormitories and the first point of contact for anything connected with residing in the dorms. Most often, resident assistants are senior students who receive free accommodation in exchange for their work. International students may have the option of apply for a resident assistant position after the first or second year of study. This is a great option for lowering the cost of study.

Semester: A period of study lasting from 15 to 16 weeks, followed by a break. An academic year usually comprises two or more semesters.

SEVIS: Established in 2003, the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) track and monitor international students, exchange visitors, and their dependents throughout the duration of their studies in the U.S. This system guarantees that only legitimate foreign students or exchange visitors gain entry to the United States.

Social Security Number: A Social Security Number (SSN) is a 9-digit number issued to U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and temporary (working) residents, including international full-time students. Its primary purpose is to track individuals who earn income of any kind in the United States for taxation purposes. In recent years, the SSN has become a de facto national identification number and is accepted as such almost everywhere in the U.S. International students will receive detailed guidance from their International Student Office on how to apply for a Social Security Number. For further information, visit the Web site

Sorority: See Fraternity

Transcript: An official document issued by an educational institution, which certifies the coursework completed by a student attending that institution, and lists credits earned by the student.

Transfer Students: Students who have completed some part of their studies at one institution and wish to transfer their credits to complete their education at another institution.

Tuition Fee: The amount that has to be paid to an educational institution, which covers instruction and training, but not the cost of books and other materials.

Undergraduate Study: Four years of study after high school leading to a bachelor's degree.


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