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Words to Know for College

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Academic advisor: faculty member in your area of study who will help determine what courses to take when.

Academic probation: when a student’s cumulative grade point average is below 2.00, the student is classified “on academic probation.”

Add/drop period: the timeframe in which a student can add a course or drop a course.

Associate's degree: an academic program completed at the undergraduate level; typically a 2-year program.

Audit: enrolling in a course for no credit; students are required to pay the full course fee, but are not required to take exams or complete homework.



Bachelor's degree: an academic program completed at the undergraduate level; typically a 4-year program.



Campus: the grounds and buildings of a university.

Career Center: a department to help students with internships and career advancement.

Co-curricular: Activities that are not for academic credit but are related to your academic program or utilize skills from your coursework. Example: volunteer work, clubs or hobbies relating to your field of study.

Cohort: group of students with common major or interests.

College vs. University: typically colleges are smaller, undergraduate schools, while universities are often larger institutions with undergraduate and graduate programs. This is not always the case - Illinois Wesleyan University does not offer graduate programs.

Commencement: another word for a graduation ceremony

Continuing education: broad term used for post-secondary, or post-high-school education.

Controller: individual responsible for University finances.

Course Catalog (sometimes called University Catalog): an organized list of all courses and programs that are offered by the University.

Course load: the number of courses a student takes during a semester. If somebody is taking fewer courses, they may say they have a light course load.

Credit hours: a system used at many universities for tracking the credits associated with each course. The number of credit hours is roughly equal to the number of hours per week that the class meets. IWU uses units rather than credit hours.  If you transfer work from a university on the semester system that uses credit hours, 4 credit hours = 1 IWU unit.  

Credits: a general term for how much a course counts towards graduation.

Curriculum: the overall content of a degree, major etc.



Degree: the designation you earn when you complete a program of study at a college or university (e.g. associate's degree, bachelor's degree, master's degree).  

Department chair: the individual in charge of an academic program or department.



Elective: a course not related to one’s major or minor; an optional course.



Faculty: grouping of professors; an individual professor can also be called a faculty member.

Faculty Member vs. Staff Member: faculty members, or professors, teach courses at the University. Staff members work in offices around campus and typically do not teach (although some do).

FAFSA: stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid; this form determines eligibility for financial aid.

Final exam: the last test students take for a course. Sometimes these are comprehensive, testing students on material through the entire course.

Financial aid: funding available to students attending post-secondary institutions (education after high school).

First-generation student: a student whose parent(s) did not complete a four-year college or university degree.

Fraternities and sororities: organizations of people with a common major or interest. Typically, fraternities are groups of men and sororities are groups of women, but there are several co-ed groups that include both.

Freshman (or First Year Student): a student in their first year of college or university. IWU uses First Year Student over Freshman as it is a gender-neutral term.



General education courses (gen eds): required curriculum or courses that provide a base for all University students.

GPA, or Grade Point Average: standardized measurement of student’s academic achievement; typically measured on a 4-point scale. Some scholarships, research opportunities, etc. require a student to have a specific GPA or higher.



Higher education: education beyond high school



Junior: a junior is typically a student in their third year of college; an IWU student who has earned at least 15, but less than 24 course units.



Lab Course: these are supplemental courses and accompany standard lecture courses, typically with smaller groups and that involve hands-on experiences.

Liberal Arts: a curriculum that focuses on general knowledge and develops a student’s rational thought and intellectual capabilities. Encourages students to take courses in a variety of disciplines.



Major: the specific area of study that a student specializes in during college.

Matriculate: to enroll in a college or university

May Term: a month-long experiential learning option where students focus on a single course or topic.

Mentor: an official or unofficial relationship with someone more experienced or knowledgeable in a particular area.

Midterm: an exam halfway through an academic term.

Minor: a secondary area of study that a student specializes in during college; requires less courses in that area of study.



Net price: the actual amount you owe; total tuition minus any scholarships and grants that don’t need to be repaid. 



Orientation: the time/event where new students get acquainted with the University.



Pass-fail course: a grading system where “pass” and “fail” replace traditional letter grades.

Plagiarism: passing off someone’s work or ideas as your own; using someone else’s words without proper citations.  

Post-secondary education: any education after high school, typically encompassing colleges, universities, and trade schools.

Practicum: a course within a major or minor that focuses on supervised practical experience. Whereas internships are arranged on a per student basis, practicums provide hands on experience for a whole class of students.

Prerequisites: requirements in order to take a course; a prerequisite typically provides baseline knowledge in order for students to be successful in a course.

Private college vs. public college: private colleges and universities are funded by student tuition, alumni gifts, and endowments. Public colleges and universities are mainly funded by the state government.

Professional certificate: a designation earned showing adequate completion of a series of courses.

Provost: a senior academic administrator at an institution of higher education. At IWU, the provost is also the Dean of Faculty. This position serves as the chief academic officer of the University, overseeing all academic departments.



Registered Student Organization (RSO): a student organization registered with the Office of Student Involvement.

Registrar: the employee responsible for keeping academic records for the University. The Registrar’s Office is the only office authorized to issue transcripts to students and alumni and to certify the awarding of degrees. They also work with the Associate Dean of Curricular and Faculty Development to evaluate courses for transfer credit.

Registration: signing up for courses for each semester or term.

Residence Hall: a University owned building where students live while on campus. Sometimes referred to as a dorm.

Room and board: lodging and food; often referred to in the context of room and board fee which includes expense for living in a residence hall and having a food plan.



Scholarship: a grant or payment towards your tuition that does not need to be repaid; these are considered gift aid.

Semester: how the academic calendar is split up; usually one of two 18-week periods of instruction that occurs during the year (Fall Semester and Spring Semester).

Senior: Students who have earned at least 24 course units and who have the ability to complete all graduation requirements during the academic year.

Sophomore: Students who have earned at least seven, but less than 15 course units.

Stafford loan: the Stafford subsidized loan is for students with financial need, as determined by the calculations from information reported on the FAFSA. The lender is the U.S. Department of Education.

Student handbook: the official rules, regulations, and policies that students are required to follow.

Subsidized vs. unsubsidized loan: subsidized loans mean the federal government pays the interest as long as half-time enrollment is maintained. Thereafter, payment on the loan interest becomes your responsibility. Unsubsidized loans mean you will be responsible for any interest accumulation during school and after graduation.

Syllabus: an outline of topics, assignments, tests, and policies for a specific course.

Synchronous learning: a learning event that takes place at the same time - whether in-person or online.



Tenure: an indefinite appointment for a professor where they can only be terminated under extraordinary circumstances. Not all professors are tenured or tenure-line.

Thesis: a long essay, typically involving personal research, that is necessary for a college degree. These are more common in graduate programs than undergraduate programs (like what IWU offers).

Traditional vs. nontraditional student: traditional students typically attend college or university the fall after graduating high school. Nontraditional students attend college or university after a gap from graduating or leaving high school.

Transcript: the official record of a student’s academic performance. This includes a list of courses taken and grades earned.

Transfer credits: credits for a course taken at an institution that is not your primary institution; e.g. taking a course at an institution other than IWU and receiving credit towards your degree. These must be approved by the Registrar’s Office in advance.

Tuition: the total amount charged for enrolling in courses. Your bill typically consists of tuition, room and board, residence hall fee, and a Student Senate activity fee.

Tutor: another student who has been successful in a course and now helps a student or small group of students to succeed in the course. Also the verb of a private teacher helping students in this manner.



Undecided or undeclared: indicates that a student has not decided on a major, or not officially declared a major with the Registrar’s Office.

Unit vs. credit: often used interchangeably; an IWU course unit equals 4 semester [credit] hours.



Waitlist: the act of being put on a wait list while registering for a course; typically this means a course is already full and professors have the option to add more spots or decline your request.

Work-study: a program for students to earn money through a part-time job through the University. This is considered part of a student’s financial aid package, but students receive the money earned directly (it’s not automatically applied to student balances).