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Glossary of Terms

A

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

Academic year:
Annual period during which a student attends and receives formal instruction at a college or university, typically from August or September to May or June. The academic year may be divided into semesters, trimesters, quarters, or other calendars.

Accredited:
Official recognition that a college or university meets the standards of a regional or national association. Although international students are not required to attend an accredited college or university in the United States, employers, other schools, and governments worldwide often only recognize degrees from accredited schools.

ACT (American College Test):
A standardized college entrance exam administered by the American College Testing Program. Four separate, multiple-choice tests measure knowledge of English, math, reading, and science, and one optional writing test measures essay planning and writing skills. Most students take the ACT during their junior or senior year of high school, and most colleges and universities accept scores from either the ACT or SAT. Some schools may recommend, but not require, international students to take the ACT or SAT. (See the U.S. News college test prep guide for more information.)

Advanced Placement (AP) Program:
The AP program provides students the opportunity to take college-level courses in high school. Individual high schools determine which AP courses and exams they will offer. Students who take and score well on AP exams often earn college credit or advanced standing once they enter a college or university. These courses are offered at no cost to the student, however, there are fees associated with the exams. For students who qualify, fees may be waived or reduced. Learn more about the AP program.

Associate's:
An undergraduate degree awarded by a college or university upon successful completion of a program of study, usually requiring two years of full-time study. An associate's is typically awarded by community colleges; it may be a career or technical degree, or it may be a transfer degree, allowing students to transfer those credits to a four-year bachelor's degree-granting school.

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B

Bachelor's:
An undergraduate degree awarded by a college or university upon successful completion of a program of study, typically requiring at least four years (or the equivalent) of full-time study. Common degree types include bachelor of arts (B.A. or A.B.), which refers to the liberal arts, and bachelor of science (B.S.). A bachelor's is required before starting graduate studies.

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C

Career/Technical Education (CTE):
Career and technical education courses teach both technical skills and academic concepts used in the work place. Many high school career and technical education programs are designed to be the first part of a program of study that continues for up to two years beyond high school at a state technical or community college. These courses are available through concurrent enrollment at some high schools. Learn more about Career and Technical Education (CTE).

Campus:
The grounds and buildings where a college or university is located.

College:
A postsecondary institution that typically provides only an undergraduate education, but in some cases, also graduate degrees. "College" is often used interchangeably with "university" and "school." Separately, "college" can refer to an academic division of a university, such as College of Business. (See U.S. News's rankings of Best Colleges.)

Commencement:
A graduation ceremony where students officially receive their degrees, typically held in May or June at the end of the academic year, though some colleges and universities also hold August and December ceremonies.

Common Application:
A standard application form that is accepted by more than 450 member colleges and universities for admissions. Students can complete the form online or in print and submit copies to any of the participating colleges, rather than filling out individual forms for each school. However, international students will typically need to submit additional application materials unique to each college.

Community college:
A public, two-year postsecondary institution that offers the associate degree. Also known as a "junior college." Community colleges typically provide a transfer program, allowing students to transfer to a four-year school to complete their bachelor's degree, and a career program, which provides students with a vocational degree.

Concurrent Enrollment (CE):
In Minnesota, concurrent enrollment courses are college courses offered at the high school usually taught by a trained high school teacher. These are offered in partnership with a college or university. Students who successfully complete these courses generate both high school and college credit from the partnering postsecondary institution. Many people refer to these courses as College in the High School. There is no cost to participate in these courses. Learn more about the Concurrent Enrollment program.

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.

Core requirements:,
Mandatory courses that students are required to complete to earn a degree.

Course:
A regularly scheduled class on a particular subject. Each college or university offers degree programs that consist of a specific number of required and elective courses.

Credits:
Units that a school uses to indicate that a student has completed and passed courses that are required for a degree. Each school defines the total number and types of credits necessary for degree completion, with every course being assigned a value in terms of "credits," "credit hours," or "units."

Culture shock:
Feelings of uncertainty, confusion, or anxiety that can occur when adjusting to a new country and culture that may be very different from your own. International students may also experience "reverse culture shock" upon returning to their home country, after they have become accustomed to the new country and culture.

Curriculum:
A program of study made up of a set of courses offered by a school.

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D

Dean:
The head of a division of a college or university.

Deferral/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.

Degree:
A diploma or title awarded to students by a college or university after successful completion of a program of study.

Dissertation:
An in-depth, formal writing requirement on an original topic of research that is typically submitted in the final stages before earning a doctorate (Ph.D.).

Doctorate (Ph.D.):
The highest academic degree awarded by a university upon successful completion of an advanced program of study, typically requiring at least three years of graduate study beyond the master's degree (which may have been earned at a different university). Ph.D. candidates must demonstrate their mastery of a subject through oral and written exams and original, scholarly research presented in a dissertation.

Dual Credit:
“Dual Credit” refers to all courses that allow students to earn high school and college credit at little to no cost to the student. These programs provide quality academic preparation for both college and career. Learn more about these dual credit programs: Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), Concurrent Enrollment (CE), Career/Technical Education (CTE), and Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO).

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E

Early decision:
A program offered by some colleges and universities that allows students to submit an application to their top-choice school early, typically in November or December, and receive the decision early, 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.

English as a Second Language (ESL):
A course or program of study used to teach English to non-native English speakers.

Extracurricular activities:
Optional activities, such as sports, that students can participate in outside of academic classes.

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F

Faculty:
A school's teaching and administrative staff who is responsible for designing programs of study.

FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid):
Application used by U.S. citizens and permanent residents to apply for financial aid from U.S. federal and state governments. International students are not eligible for U.S. government aid, but schools may ask international students to submit a FAFSA to determine financial need. (Note: A social security number is required to complete the FAFSA.)

Financial aid:
All types of money offered to a student to help pay tuition, fees, and other educational expenses. This can include loans, grants, scholarships, assistantships, fellowships, and work-study jobs. (See the U.S. News paying for college and paying for grad school guides for more information.)

Freshman:
A student in the first year of high school or college / university.

Full-time student:
A student who is enrolled at a college or university and is taking at least the minimum number of credits required by the school for a full course load.

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G

GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test):
A standardized graduate business school entrance exam administered by the nonprofit Graduate Management Admission Council, which measures verbal, quantitative, and analytical writing skills. Some business schools accept either the GMAT or GRE. In June 2012, the GMAT will incorporate an integrated reasoning section designed to assess how applicants analyze different types of information at once. (See the U.S. News business school test prep guide for more information.)

Grade:
A score or mark indicating a student's academic performance on an exam, paper, or in a course. A "grade" can also refer to which year a student is in while at elementary, middle, or high school, but that usage typically does not apply at the college or university level.

Grade point average (GPA):
A student's overall academic performance, which is calculated as a numerical average of grades earned in all courses. The GPA is determined after each term, typically on a 4.0 scale, and upon graduation, students receive an overall GPA for their studies.

Graduate school:
The division of a college or university, or an independent postsecondary institution, which administers graduate studies and awards master's degrees, doctorates, or graduate certificates. (See U.S. News's rankings of Best Graduate Schools.)

Grant:
A type of financial aid that consists of an amount of free money given to a student, often by the federal or a state government, a company, a school, or a charity. A grant does not have to be repaid. "Grant" is often used interchangeably with "scholarship."

GRE (Graduate Record Examination):
A standardized graduate school entrance exam administered by the nonprofit Educational Testing Service (ETS), which measures verbal, quantitative, and analytical writing skills. The exam is generally required by graduate schools, which use it to assess applicants of master's and Ph.D. programs. Some business schools accept either the GMAT or GRE; law schools generally require the LSAT; and medical schools typically require the MCAT. Effective August 2011, the GRE will incorporate key changes in the content, length, and style of the exam. (See the U.S. News GRE guide for more information.)

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H

High school:
A secondary school that offers grades 9 to 12.

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

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I

Independent study:
An academic course that allows students to earn credit for work done outside of the normal classroom setting. The reading or research assignment is usually designed by the students themselves or with the help of a faculty member, who monitors the progress.

International Baccalaureate (IB) Program:
The IB Diploma Program (DP) offers a demanding two-year curriculum during students’ 11th and 12th grade years. Students who score well on IB exams can qualify for academic credits or advanced placement at a 4-year college. In Minnesota, these courses are offered at no cost to the student, however, there are fees associated with the exams. For students who qualify, fees may be waived or reduced. Learn more about the IB program.

Internship:
An experience that allows students to work in a professional environment to gain training and skills. Internships may be paid or unpaid and can be of varying lengths during or after the academic year.

Ivy League:
An association of eight private universities located in the northeastern United States, originally formed as an athletic conference. Today, the term is associated with universities that are considered highly competitive and prestigious. The Ivy League consists of the highly ranked Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, and Yale University.

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J

Junior:
A student in the third year of high school or college / university.

Junior college:
A two-year postsecondary institution that offers the associate degree. (See "community college.")

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L

Letter of recommendation:
A letter written by a student's teacher, counselor, coach, or mentor that assesses his or her qualifications and skills. Colleges, universities, and graduate schools generally require recommendation letters as part of the application process.

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. The majority of liberal arts colleges have small student bodies, do not offer graduate studies, and focus on faculty teaching rather than research. (See U.S. News's rankings of Best Liberal Arts Colleges.)

Loan:
A type of financial aid that consists of an amount of money that is given to someone for a period of time, with an agreement that it will be repaid later. International students are generally not eligible for U.S. federal government loans and will typically require an American cosigner to apply for a private bank loan.

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M

Major:
The academic subject area that a student chooses to focus on during his or her undergraduate studies. Students typically must officially choose their major by the end of their sophomore year, allowing them to take a number of courses in the chosen area during their junior and senior years.

Master's:
A graduate degree awarded by a college or university upon successful completion of an advanced program of study, typically requiring one or two years of full-time study beyond the bachelor's degree. Common degree types include master of arts (M.A.), which refers to the liberal arts; master of science (M.S.); and master of business administration (M.B.A.).

Matriculate:
To enroll in a program of study at a college or university, with the intention of earning a degree.

M.B.A.:
A master of business administration degree.

Merit aid/merit scholarships:
A type of financial aid awarded by a college or university to students who have demonstrated special academic ability or talents, regardless of their financial need. Most merit aid has specific requirements if students want to continue to receive it, such as maintaining a certain GPA.

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N

Need-based financial aid:,
Financial aid that is awarded to students due to their financial inability to pay the full cost of attending a specific college or university, rather than specifically because of their grades or other merit.

Net price calculator:
An online tool that allows students and families to calculate a personalized estimate of the cost of a specific college or university, after taking into account any scholarships or need-based financial aid that an applicant would receive. By Oct. 29, 2011, each higher education institution in the United States is required by law to post a net price calculator on its respective website.

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O

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.

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P

Part-time student:
A student who is enrolled at a college or university but is not taking the minimum number of credits required for a full course load.

Ph.D.:
A doctor of philosophy degree. (See "doctorate.")

Plagiarism:
The use of another person's words or ideas as your own, without acknowledging that person. Schools have different policies and punishments for students caught plagiarizing, which tends to occur with research papers and other written assignments.

Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO):
The PSEO program allows Minnesota high school juniors and seniors to take college courses on a college campus. Students may apply to over 80 colleges and universities in Minnesota who participate in this program. Students earn both high school and college credit for courses they successfully complete. There is generally no cost to participate in these courses. Learn more about Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO).

Prerequisite:
A required course that must be completed before a student is allowed to enroll in a more advanced one.

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

PSAT:
The Preliminary SAT, a standardized practice test cosponsored by the nonprofit College Board and the National Merit Scholarship Corp., which measures reading, writing, and math skills, giving students experience with the SAT. Students usually take the PSAT in their junior year of high school, and U.S. citizens and permanent residents can submit their scores to qualify for National Merit scholarships. (See the U.S. News college test prep guide for more information.)

Public school:
A postsecondary institution that is supported mainly by public funds and whose programs are operated by publicly elected or appointed officials. The University of California—Berkeley, for example, is a public school.

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S

SAT:
A standardized college entrance exam administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) on behalf of the nonprofit College Board, which measures reading, writing, and math skills. Most students take the SAT during their junior or senior year of high school, and most colleges and universities accept scores from either the SAT or ACT. In addition, students may choose to take the SAT Subject Tests in English, history, languages, math, and science to demonstrate their knowledge in specific academic areas. Some schools may recommend, but not require, international students to take the SAT or ACT. (See the U.S. News college test prep guide for more information.)

Scholarship:
A type of financial aid that consists of an amount of free money given to a student by a school, individual, organization, company, charity, or federal or state government. "Scholarship" is often used interchangeably with "grant." (See the U.S. News scholarship guide for more information.)

Semesters:
Periods of study that divide the academic year into two equal segments of approximately 15 to 18 weeks each. Some schools also offer a shorter summer semester, beyond the traditional academic year.

Senior:
A student in the fourth year of high school or college / university.

Social Security number:
A nine-digit number issued by the U.S. government to people who are 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 who are 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.

Sophomore:
A student in the second year of high school or college / university.

Sorority:
A student organization for women formed for social, academic, community service, or professional purposes. A sorority is part of a college or university's Greek system.

Standardized tests:
Exams, such as the SAT, ACT, and GRE, which measure knowledge and skills and are designed to be consistent in how they are administered and scored. Standardized tests are intended to help admissions officials compare students who come from different backgrounds.

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T

TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language):
A standardized exam administered by the nonprofit Educational Testing Service (ETS), which measures English-language proficiency in reading, listening, speaking, and writing. Many U.S. colleges and universities require non-native English speakers to take the TOEFL and submit their scores as part of the admissions process.

Transcript:
An official record of a student's coursework and grades at a high school, college, or university. A high school transcript is usually one of the required components of the college application process.

Transfer credit:
Credit granted toward a degree on the basis of studies completed at another college or university. For instance, students who transfer from a community college to a four-year college may earn some transfer credit.

Tuition:
An amount of money charged by a school per term, per course, or per credit, in exchange for instruction and training. Tuition generally does not include the cost of textbooks, room and board, and other fees.

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U

Undergraduate student/undergraduate studies:
A student enrolled in a two-year or four-year study program at a college or university after graduation from high school, leading to an associate or bachelor's degree.

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

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W

Wait list:
A list of qualified applicants to a school who may be offered admission if there is space available after all admitted students have made their decisions. Being on a wait list does not guarantee eventual admission, so some students may choose not to remain on the list, particularly if the school is not their first choice.

Work-study:
A financial aid program funded by the U.S. federal government that allows undergraduate or graduate students to work part time on campus or with approved off-campus employers. To participate in work-study, students must complete the FAFSA. In general, international students are not eligible for work-study positions.

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