Glossary of university terms
with example sentencesThis glossary includes terms commonly used when talking about studying at university. Each word is followed by its part of speech (adjective, noun, verb, etc.) and in some cases British/UK English or American/US English is also indicated. Next is the word's definition followed by an example sentence that shows the word being used in a context that will help you to understand its meaning. (Note that some of the words have additional meanings unrelated to studying at university that aren't included here.)
academia (noun): all the people and places that make up the world of higher education and academic research – The first step towards a life in academia is getting a post-graduate degree.
academic (adjective): relating to education, especially higher education – Your CV should include your skills, work experience and academic qualifications.
academic (noun): a person whose job is to teach or do research at a college or university – I loved studying so much that I became an academic.
alumni (plural noun, mostly US): graduates of a particular school, college or university – Hundreds of Oxford alumni signed a letter opposing their country's invasion of Iraq.
assignment (noun): a piece of work done as part of a course of study – Our latest assignment is a 3,000 word essay that's due next Friday.
AA (or Associate of Arts) (noun): in some countries a first degree in arts subjects such as languages – Matt will use his Associate of Arts to qualify for a BA course in English literature.
AS (or Associate of Science) (noun): in some countries a first degree in scientific subjects such as chemistry – Some AS degrees like business are somewhat less focused specifically on science.
BA (or Bachelor of Arts) (noun): a first university degree in arts or humanities subjects like a language or history – Joe has a BA in English literature.
BSc (or Bachelor of Science) (noun): a first university degree in scientific subjects like chemistry or biology – To teach biology, the minimum requirement is a BSc in biology.
bachelor's degree (noun): the first degree a student completes at a university – Is your bachelor's degree a BA or a Bachelor of Science?
bursar (noun): a person who manages the financial affairs of a school or college – If you need extra time to pay your fees, contact the bursar.
bursary (noun): a grant that pays a person's university or college fees – If you can't afford to pay for college, apply for a bursary.
campus (noun): all the land and buildings that a university or college occupies – All our new students are given a tour of the university's campus.
college (UK noun): a training institute for school-leavers that awards vocational or technical diplomas – I wanted to be a mechanic so I went to a technical college.
college (US noun): a university – Maria went to college and got a BA.
course (noun): a series of lessons or lectures on a particular subject – I'm doing a part-time course in interior design.
credit (noun): a completed unit of study that counts towards a degree, diploma or other qualification – Each of these courses counts as one credit towards a degree.
curriculum (noun): the subjects taught in a course, or all the subjects offered in a school, college, etc. – Our school's curriculum includes a wide range of subjects, including foreign languages.
dean (noun): the person in charge of a university department – She's dean of the faculty of science at Tokyo University.
defer (verb): to postpone something like a course of study until a later time – Can you defer university and travel for a year instead?
degree (noun): the qualification awarded after completing a university course – I started university but I left before getting a degree.
In USA and some countries (but not UK) a first academic degree awarded by some colleges and universities
AA = Associate of Arts
AS = Associate of Science
also written as A.A., A.S.
There are also some specific associate degrees such as: AGS (Associate of General Studies), ADN (Associate Degree in Nursing)
An undergraduate academic degree awarded by a university
BA = Bachelor of Arts
BSc/BS = Bachelor of Science
also written as B.A., B.Sc./B.S.
There are also some specific bachelor's degrees such as: BArch (Bachelor of Architecture), BEd (Bachelor of Education)
A postgraduate academic degree awarded by a university
MA = Master of Arts
MSc/MS = Master of Science
also written as M.A., M.Sc./M.S.
There are also some specific master's degrees such as: MBA (Master of Business Administration), MDiv (Master of Divinity)
The highest degree awarded by a university
PhD = Doctor of Philosophy
also written as Ph.D.
There are also more specific doctoral degrees such as: DLitt (Doctor of Letters), DPsy/PsyD (Doctor of Psychology)
department (noun): a section of a large organization such as a government, university, corporation, etc – Kim is a lecturer in the sociology department at Trinity College.
dining hall (noun): a large room in a university, school, hospital, etc in which meals are served – What's the food like in the college's dining hall?
diploma (UK noun): a vocational course in an institute of higher education – My boyfriend is doing a diploma in nursing.
dissertation (noun): a long piece of writing on a particular subject that's done as part of a university degree – I'm writing a 25,000 word dissertation on the impact of social media on mental health.
doctoral degree or doctorate (noun): the highest degree a university can offer – My wife can't draw or paint to save her life but she has a doctorate in art history.
dormitory (noun): a room full of beds in which many people can sleep – One guy in the dormitory snores so loudly that people are complaining. (also dorm, an informal abbreviation)
DPhil - see PhD
elective (noun): a subject that you choose to take when doing a course of study – Everyone does the compulsory core units as well as three electives of their choice.
emeritus (often capitalized: Emeritus) (adjective): a word added to the title of someone such as a professor after they stop working – Now that he's retired, Jim's title is Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Toronto University.
enrol (US spelling enroll) (verb): to be accepted into a school or university – Every year thousands of students try to enrol, but we only have places for a few of them.
entry requirements (noun): qualifications or grades needed to enrol in a course of study – What are the entry requirements for studying law at Cambridge?
faculty (noun): a department or group of departments in a college or university – I teach Russian literature in the Faculty of Arts at Melbourne University.
fellow (UK noun): a senior member of a university or college faculty, or a member of an academic or professional organization – Judith is a fellow in the Faculty of Medicine and a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons.
fraternity (informal frat) (US noun): a club for male students at an American college or university – The guys in my fraternity drink way too much alcohol. (Note: a similar club for female students is a sorority)
freshman (US noun): a first-year student at a college or university – I made lots of friends when I was a freshman at university.
fresher (UK noun): a student who has just started his or her first year at a university – Even as a fresher her grasp of theoretical physics amazed her professors.
gap year (UK noun): a year that some young people take off from study in order to travel or work, often between secondary school and university – After spending my gap year exploring Europe, I was ready to start university.
graduate (noun): a person who has a university degree – College graduates have a much better chance of getting well-paying jobs.
graduate (verb): to complete a course of study at a university or college, or (US English only) to finish secondary school – I graduated from Harvard University in 1996.
grant (noun): money given by a government or other organization to help someone pay for something like a degree or a research project – Why don't you apply for one of those grants for students who can't afford college fees?
hall of residence (UK noun) : a building in or near a campus in which students can live while studying – How much is a room in one of the halls of residence? (also dormitory or dorm, mostly US)
higher education (noun): education after secondary school, especially at university or college – We need more universities and other institutes of higher education.
honours (noun): a university degree or course at a higher level than usual – Andrew is getting an honours degree in modern history.
instructor (US noun): a teacher below the rank of assistant professor at a North American university – David's an economics instructor at Yale, but soon he'll be an assistant professor.
Ivy League (US adjective): connected with a group of eight elite universities in north-eastern USA – Getting into an Ivy League college like Columbia, Cornell, Harvard or Yale isn't easy.
junior college (US noun): a US college that offers two-year programmes in vocational subjects or programmes to prepare for study at university – After completing junior college I got a BA at university.
lecture (noun): a talk given in order to teach a particular subject, especially at a university or college – Did you understand that lecture on quantum computing?
lecturer (noun): someone who gives a lecture – Great lecturers can make any subject sound fascinating.
MA (or Master of Arts) (noun): an advanced degree from a university in a humanities subject like a language or history– Anna has a Music Education MA from University College London.
major (noun): the main subject a student studies at college or university – I got a bachelor's degree with a major in anthropology.
major in (phrasal verb): to study something as the main subject of a college or university course – What did you major in at college?
master (UK noun): male head or senior member of a college in a UK collegiate university – My grandfather was a master in one of those colleges at Oxford University.
MSc (or Master of Science) (noun): an advanced degree from a university in a science subject like chemistry or biology – To do technical research, you'll need an MSc degree.
master's degree (noun): a more advanced second degree you can get by studying for one or two years after getting a first degree – Harry's gone back to university to do a master's degree. (also master's)
matriculate (verb, formal): to be officially accepted as a student at a university – I matriculated in 2006 and graduated in 2010.
matriculation (noun, formal): the act of being officially accepted as a student at a university – To enter university you have to satisfy requirements such as passing a matriculation examination.
mentor (noun): an experienced person who helps someone less experienced – Ever since I decided to study jazz, Miles has been my mentor.
minor (noun): a subject that's studied for a shorter time than a main subject or a major – My music major took three years to complete, but my minor in French only took two.
Oxbridge (noun): the two most elite UK Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, when considered together – An Oxbridge education was essential for success in British business or politics.
personal statement (noun): a written account of your achievements and interests that's used when applying for a job or a place at university – In your personal statement you should explain why you'd like to do the course.
PhD (or Doctor of Philosophy) (noun): the most advanced degree a university can offer – Most professors have a PhD. (also DPhil, but only at UK's Oxford University)
postgraduate (adjective): relating to study done after you've graduated with a first or bachelor's degree – I'm going back to university to do a postgraduate course.
postgraduate degree (noun): any university degree more advanced than a first or bachelor's degree – I'm going back to university to get a postgraduate degree.
president (also President) (US noun): the person in charge of a university or college – Who's the President of Harvard University these days?
principal (UK noun): the head of a college or university – Who's the Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of St Andrews in Scotland?
principal (US noun): the head of an elementary or secondary school – Can you remember who your high school principal was?
proctor (noun): a person who watches students who are taking an exam to ensure they have whatever they need, follow the rules, etc. – One of the proctors said she saw me cheat, but I didn't! (also invigilator, mostly UK)
professor (noun): a high-ranking lecturer at a college or university – I know he's a famous professor, but his lectures put me to sleep.
provost (also Provost) (UK noun): the person in charge of a college at a UK university – I earned more as a provost, but doing research was much more interesting.
provost (US noun): a senior official who manages the affairs of a college or university – James is good at all that administrative stuff that provosts do.
rector (UK noun): the head of a university, college or school – I'm going to complain to the rector about this.
registrar (noun): a senior officer who manages the affairs and records of a college or university – The new registrar is putting all our official records online.
research graduate (noun): a university graduate who does research in his or her field of study– I'm going to apply for the position of research graduate.
sandwich degree (also sandwich course) (noun): an academic degree that combines study with work to give students practical experience – Lots of employers prefer applicants with sandwich degrees these days.
scholarship (noun): money given by a school, university, or other organization to help a talented student pay for a course – Kelly was offered several scholarships after getting such high grades.
semester (noun, mostly US): one of two periods of several months that a school or college year is divided into – When does the spring semester start?
send down (UK phrasal verb): to tell someone to leave a college or university due to bad behaviour – Students can still be sent down for smoking marijuana. How ridiculous!
sophomore (US noun): a second-year student in a US college or high school – You have to be a freshman or a sophomore to get into this team.
sorority (US noun): a club for female students at an American college or university – African-American girls couldn't join sororities back then. (Note: a similar club for male students is a fraternity)
students' union (also student union) (noun): an organization at a university or college that provides students with services, meeting places, sports facilities, etc – Joining the students' union isn't free, but it's definitely worth it.
syllabus (noun): a list of subjects taught in a course of study – Most of the subjects on the history syllabus were about royal families and the wars they caused.
term (noun): one of the periods into which the academic year is divided – Have you rented a room for next term yet?
term paper (US noun): a long essay on a particular subject that's done as part of an academic course – Do you choose your term paper's topic yourself?
tertiary education (noun): education after secondary school, esp. at a college or university – Tertiary education used to be free in Australia, and tertiary students even got a government allowance.
tuition (noun): money paid to study at a college, university or private school – Your uncle will pay half your tuition if you go to university. (also tuition fee)
tutor (UK noun): a teacher in a college or university – My tutor said my essays are getting much better.
tutorial (noun): a lesson in which a small group of students discuss a subject with a tutor – Our tutorials on modern art are really interesting.
undergraduate (noun): a student who is studying for their first university degree – Hundreds of undergraduates are protesting against these higher tuition fees.
undergraduate degree (US noun): a degree you can get after high school, such as an associate or bachelor’s degree – After getting an undergraduate degree you can go to graduate school.
unit (noun): one of the parts or sections that make up a course of study – To get a credit for the course, you have to complete all the units.
university (noun): an institute of higher education that awards degrees and does research – After graduating from high school, Jason went to university and got a degree.
varsity (US adjective): related to the main team at a school, college or university, esp. in North America – Christine was thrilled when she got into the varsity basketball team.
warden (also Warden) (UK noun): the head of a college – The Warden of New College at Oxford from 1379 to 1389 was Nicholas Wykeham.
Reference and further resources
- Glossary of UK Educational Terms - for those planning to study in the UK or Ireland, includes essential terms as well as acronyms
- The Ultimate College Terminology Guide - a useful glossary for those planning to study in the USA or Canada
- Glossary of University Terms - a detailed and extensive glossary for those planning to study in Australia
- Oxford Jargon - a fun glossary that mixes official terms with student slang used at Oxford University