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Understand top college terms before you start your undergraduate program.

Top College Terms You Should Understand Before Starting Your Program

If you’re looking at colleges, you’ve probably got a lot on your mind. There’s a multitude of choices, and chances are, a multitude of terms you’re not quite familiar with.

We get it. To help, we’ve constructed some simple explanations for terms you need to know when eyeing potential colleges and universities.

Here are the top college terms:

Associate, Bachelor’s, Master’s

These are the three most common levels of degrees. Each consists of a different amount of credits and requires varying commitments of time to complete; typically, two years for an associate degree, four for a bachelor’s, and about two to three for a master’s, which can only be earned following successful completion of a bachelor’s program. Increasingly, colleges are offering certain “4+1” degrees that combine bachelor’s and master’s coursework to help you earn a higher degree faster.


This term encapsulates the bachelor’s and associate degrees. Undergraduate programs are the base-layer for a college education


Graduate programs and degrees range from master’s to doctoral and (except in the case of some bachelor’s-to-master’s hybrid programs) you can only pursue them after you’ve completed an undergraduate degree. Not only necessary for certain fields of work and careers, graduate degrees help you hone your knowledge and education in a specific discipline or area of study.


This one is pretty straightforward. It’s is the door you must walk through to get into any college or university. Although each varies from school to school, it essentially showcases your grades and college entrance test scores (more on that later). In most cases, the basics of a bachelor’s application will involve little more than your high school transcripts, standardized test scores, credits from any previous college, and perhaps, a short essay on why you want to attend the institution you’re applying to.

Make sure you put effort into this step — universities’ admission offices use it to determine whether you’ll be accepted. You may also be asked to complete a brief interview.


Your transcript is an official record of the grades you earned as a student — specifically your cumulative grade point average (aka, GPA). Both undergraduate and graduate programs require that you include it with your application. Graduate programs may also require submission of other post-college programs, such as the U.S. Military’s Officer Candidate School (OCS).


The registrar is a department or office within a college or university that maintains accurate, updated student records, including transcripts. They also clear and register you to graduate and handle all those last-minute orders for caps and gowns and other such regalia.


Meet the folks who are helping admit you into college. Someone from this office reviews your application, and if you’re accepted, will typically reach out and serve as your point of contact, providing you necessary information and steps for you to to proceed further. Armed with a plethora of information and the friendliness of a tour guide, they’ll get you in touch with the right people who’ll help you take further steps toward attending.


FAFSA, officially known as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is a form you fill out so the government can calculate how much federal financial aid you’re eligible for (through grants and loans). Even if you don’t think you’re eligible for grants, don’t miss this important step and the potential aid you might be surprised you qualify for.


Ahh, these might be viewed as the mean kids on the block; or so they may seem.

Some of these standardized test acronyms may be familiar to you, and though they may invoke fear and trembling, there’s really nothing to be scared of if you’re prepare and have study thoroughly.

The first two, the SAT and ACT, are college entrance exams universities use to determine aptitude and in turn, acceptance. Students can also use their scores from these to apply for scholarships.

LSAT is for prospective law students. The MCAT serves a similar function for hopeful medical students, and the GRE is the test often required for those hoping to make it into a variety of other graduate degree programs. The GMAT, which focuses on management knowledge, may be required for business programs, in place of the GRE

Each has unique challenges but fret not — you got this. Just study; always study.

Dual Enrollment

Students enrolled in both college and high school classes are considered dually enrolled. They’re pre-college age, chipping away at their courses, while simultaneously working towards attaining their high school diploma. The term “early college” is sometimes used in place of “dual enrollment.” Many high school programs accept certain foundational college courses (like English and government) in place of the high school requirement. One course, double credit on successful completion. You can’t beat that!


Having trouble remembering this acronym amidst the bounty of others? Well, just think clip, because a CLEP test clips away at your workload with extreme proficiency. A CLEP test is an exam that, if you pass, provides you the credits for an entire course; an entire course that could normally go 8 or 16 weeks, condensed into a test no longer than an afternoon. Get down some good study habits, and you’ll be clipping away at your course load in no time.

Courses and Credit Hours

You earn credit hours by taking a class, which is called a “course” in the world of higher education. You need a certain amount of credit hours to complete a degree and will earn about three or four of them per course you take.

Online Courses

Simply put, courses that require no more than a laptop and a Wi-Fi connection to attend. The homework, teaching, and discussions are managed through a virtual Canvas by real professors and alongside other students who may be completing their courses from around the world. Most online coursework follows structured weekly deadlines but students log in at their convenience and complete assignments without structured classroom times.


This is where the rubber meets the road, and you begin the exciting adventure of choosing courses and planning your schedule. Simply put, registration is the act of signing up for classes. You’ll have an academic advisor to walk you through it the first few times so that you’re set up for success.


This is a special sort of course in which students get to put their education and skill to the test in a workplace or volunteer role pertaining to their degree or field of study.

Residency (sometimes called a “Modular”)

Certain graduate degrees, specifically doctoral ones, require students to spend a set amount of time on-campus, with their cohort — a term synonymous with “classmates”— in classes, seminars, and workshops. The frequency and length of these residencies vary program to program, taking anywhere from a weekend to weeks, and going as far as years in the case of some medical programs.


The faculty of a university is better known as the group of professors or instructors. Faculty who have earned their doctoral degree (Ph.D., Ed.D., D.Min., etc.) are addressed as “Dr.” Those who are professionals in residence or who are teaching with their master’s degree are referred to as “Professor.”

Congrats for making it through. Hopefully you better understand the tangle of higher education terminology. Schools will have your back throughout the various stages of your education, so if you aren’t sure of a term or a next step, just ask. At Regent University, both student advisors and success coaches — staff members there to help you understand what you need — are ready and waiting to walk you through your educational journey. It’s their hope, and ours as well, that your next steps are filled with confidence and a better understanding of how to reach the opportunities ahead through the incredible gateway of education.