Before you begin: Define your terms

Define your termsWhen looking for answers to questions, depending on who you ask you might get several different responses. Many times we may not realize the questions we ask may contain terms that are not universally understood by the people you ask. For example, many international students come from countries where “colleges” are actually secondary schools. In the United States a “college” typically refers either to an undergraduate post-secondary institution, or a division of a university, e.g. the College of Engineering at “x” university. So, before you begin your “college” search, let’s spend some timing defining the important terms you will be hearing.

Our partners at EducationUSA, the U.S. Department of State’s network of over 400 advising centers in 170 countries, have compiled an outstanding glossary of terms that helps you get a firm foundation for your journey ahead. Also check out US News & World Report’s Education section for international students that contains a useful glossary as well.

EdUSA Study in the USA video

Here are the top 10 “Need to Know” terms you’ll encounter most often as you begin your college/university search (definitions courtesy of EducationUSA).

  1. Class rank: A number or ratio indicating a student’s academic standing in his or her graduating class. A student who ranks first in a class of 100 students would report his or her class rank as 1/100, while a student ranking last would report 100/100. Class rank may also be expressed in percentiles (for example, the top 25 percent, the lower 50 percent).
  2. Grade point average (GPA): The combined average of a student’s grades for all academic coursework completed. In the United States, grades are usually assigned in letters and are based on a 4.0 GPA scale (4.0 = A, B = 3.0, C= 2.0, D 1.0, F= 0.0)
  3. Liberal arts and sciences: Academic studies of subjects in the humanities, the social sciences, and the physical sciences with the goal of developing students’ verbal, written, and reasoning skills.
  4. Major: The student’s field of concentration. Major courses represent 25-50% of the total number of courses required to complete a degree. Most students pursue one major, but some pursue double majors.
  5. School: A term that usually refers to elementary, middle, or secondary school. Also used in place of the words “college,” “university,” or “institution,” or as a general term for any place of education; for example, law school, or graduate school.
  6. semester: Period of study lasting approximately 15 to 16 weeks or one-half the academic year.
  7. Associate degree: A degree awarded after a two-year period of study; it can be either terminal or transfer (the first two years of a bachelor’s degree).
  8. Bachelor’s degree: A degree awarded upon completion of approximately four years of full-time study.
  9.  Post-graduate: Usually refers to studies for individuals who have completed a graduate degree. May also be used to refer to graduate education.
  10.  Extracurricular activities: Non-academic activities undertaken outside university courses.

Get step-by-step advice to prepare for college at CollegeWeekLive.