College Terminology Guide

College Terminology

No matter what you choose to study at school, you’ll benefit from our guide to college terminology! We’ve assembled a list of terms commonly used in higher education that are not so common to the rest of the world. A quick review will give you the knowledge you need to navigate your academic journey.

College Terminology Defined

Articulation Agreement

An articulation agreement is a formal agreement between two or more academic institutions that establishes a transfer pathway for specific programs of study.

Asynchronous Courses

Asynchronous courses are online courses that do not meet at a scheduled time. You can complete assignments at your own pace, with lectures, assignments and discussions posted at the beginning of each week.


The course catalog lists and describes the courses offered at a university for each program, including required and elective courses and whether students must complete prerequisite courses.


A certificate is a short program of study and an academic credential that verifies you’ve completed a course of study. Certificates and certifications are not the same. Certification often involves passing an exam.


Commencement is the formal graduation ceremony.


Some degree programs offer targeted areas of study called concentrations. Declaring a concentration may help you stand out to employers interested in candidates with advanced knowledge or a developed skillset in a specific field of study. Concentrations need to be declared and will appear on your transcript.

Core Curriculum Requirements

The Core Curriculum provides students with a well-rounded and balanced education by requiring them to complete a wide breadth of courses outside the student’s major area of study.

Credit Hours

Credit hours, also known as credits, are the hours per week spent in class receiving instruction. However, if your class is 3 credits, you will spend additional time outside of class completing course work each week.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

CPT provides international students with off-campus work experience within their field of study. The purpose of CPT is to bring the learning that would otherwise take place in a traditional classroom setting to an on-site workplace. The degree to which the work experience is curricular must be evaluated and assessed by a faculty advisor.

Directed Study

Directed studies allow students to engage in independent and advanced study under the supervision of a department member. Students often receive the same credits for directed studies as traditional courses.


An elective is a course you can choose to complete to meet your credit requirements.

Experiential Learning

The goal of experiential learning is to connect what you learn in the classroom to the real world. Experiential learning opportunities may include internships, co-ops and much more.


The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is an application that determines your eligibility for financial aid, scholarships and grants.


The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law that protects student records’ confidentiality and informs schools with whom they can share students’ information.

Focus Area

Like concentrations, focus areas are targeted areas of study within a program. Focus areas allow you to deepen your knowledge and skillset according to your interests and may give you an edge when you apply for future jobs. Unlike concentrations, focus areas do not need to be declared through paperwork and will not appear on your transcript.

Hybrid Courses

Hybrid courses combine online and on-campus instruction. The amount of learning that is conducted online or on campus can vary by course.


Intersession occurs during winter break, between the Fall and Spring semesters, and enables students to complete 3-credit courses in three weeks.


Your major is your primary academic discipline of study. You may declare more than one major.


A graduate or undergraduate student officially accepted into a program and registered for courses is a matriculated student.


Minors are academic disciplines secondary to your major and require fewer courses to complete. Depending on your program, you may be able to complete multiple minors. Declaring a minor may increase your job opportunities or allow you to change your future career path. Like concentrations, minors must be declared.

Non-Degree Student

Non-degree students take classes at a college or university without applying or being accepted or matriculated in a program.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Similar to CPT, OPT is designed for international students and is defined as “temporary employment for practical training directly related to the student’s major area of study.”


Prerequisites are courses that provide foundational knowledge that students must have to succeed in more advanced courses that will require or build on the knowledge gained in the prerequisite course.


The Student Information System (SIS) is a portal to check your grades, academic requirements, financial aid and more.

Synchronous Learning

Synchronous learning refers to courses that are taken online or on-campus that meet at specific times. You can expect real-time interaction between the instructor and the students in synchronous courses.

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