The U.S. higher education system uses some specialized terms. Our listing will help familiarize you with them.

academic adviser (AA): Universities provide their students with academic advisers who support them in the planning and implementation of everyday academic life. In the ideal case, an interactive relationship develops between advisor and student that contributes to the improvement of self-confidence and academic performance.

academic year: Students usually visit the university between September and May to attend lectures. This period is divided into semesters, trimesters or quarters.

accreditation: Accreditation is a procedure for quality analysis of universities. Accreditation is carried out by industry experts on the basis of transparent measurement and assessment criteria.

ACT: The American College Testing Program, or American College Test, is an American performance test used to determine university entrance qualifications. Most colleges and universities use the written multiple-choice entrance examination to make standardized admission decisions.

advance registration: A period of time during a regular semester (autumn or spring semester) that enables currently enrolled students to register for the next regular semester.

affidavit of support: An official document that documents that the issuing person or organization is financially supporting another person for the period of study, for example.

assistantship: A type of student job; usually related to a teaching position (as laboratory supervisor) or research position (as research assistant).

associate degree: A degree awarded after two years of study or obtained as part of a longer four-year program (the first two years of a bachelor’s degree).

attestation: The act of certifying that a certificate or transcript is genuine.

audit: A student who takes courses out of pure interest and does not receive credits. He is therefore not obliged to take the tasks, tests or examinations normally required for the course.

authentication: Act of verification within the application procedure for a study program in the USA whether a student’s previous certificates, transcripts or diplomas are genuine.

bachelor’s degree: The first academic degree awarded to a person who has successfully completed three or four years of full-time study.

campus: A campus is traditionally the site on which a university or college and the associated institutional buildings are located.

class rank: Class rank is a measure of how a student’s performance compares to that of other students in his or her year. This ranking is usually based on the average grade.

coed: A university that admits both men and women to study. Often this term is also used to express that both sexes are accommodated in the same building / dormitory.

college: A post-secondary institution that awards academic bachelor’s degrees and, in some cases, Master’s degrees. In the US, the term is often used synonymously for universities or to separate subjects such as College of Business.

college catalog: A university’s annual catalog containing information on academic programs (faculty and prerequisites), facilities (labs, dormitories, etc.), and campus events.

community college: Educational institution offering two-year programs, degrees and certificates. Also known as Junior College. The two-year courses can either be credited to a four-year university program or lead to an independent associate degree.

core course: Such courses form the basis of a course of study and must be successfully attended and completed by all students seeking a degree. Also known as a compulsory, mandatory or required course.

course: Definition of a teaching unit, which is a sequence of educational activities in a certain area that takes place over an entire semester. As a rule, a teaching unit consists of one to five consecutive lessons (or more) per week.

credits: The academic weight assigned to a teaching unit. At the same time, credits serve to indicate that a student has completed and passed courses required for a degree. The total number and type of credits required to obtain a degree are defined individually by each university.

day student: A student who does not live on campus or in university-managed accommodation.

degree: An academic title awarded after successful completion of university courses (Bachelor, Master or PhD).

department: An operational unit of the university that covers teaching in a specific subject area. Each Faculty or School is usually made up of several departments. For instance, the Faculty of Science has the Department of Chemistry, the Department of Biology and the Department of Physics and more

dissertation: A written dissertation on a research topic written by a doctoral student to obtain a doctorate (Ph.D.).

doctoral degree (Ph.D.): The highest academic degree awarded to students by a university. An award conferred after the successful completion of a research project that provides a significant gain in knowledge within a subject area.

dormitories: Student dormitories of a university. As a rule, these buildings are located on campus and reserved exclusively for students.

electives: Electives are courses that students take to earn credits for their planned degree. However, they also offer students the opportunity to attend courses that correspond to their individual interests.

extracurricular activities: Optional activities, such as art, sports or music, in which students can participate outside of academic instruction.

faculty: The faculty comprises the professors, associated professors, assistant professors and lecturers of a university and thus all persons involved in teaching.

fees: An amount billed by the universities in addition to tuition to cover the costs of institutional services.

fellowship: A form of support for doctoral students to support their education. Some scholarships include a tuition exemption or a payment to the university instead of tuition fees.

final exam: An exam taken at the end of a year or a course in a subject.

financial aid: The generic term for all funds offered to students to cover the costs of studying (tuition fees, fees and living expenses).

fraternities: Male social, academic and philanthropic organizations in the Anglo-American tradition.

freshman: Students who have completed less than 30 hours of study are referred to as freshman. As a rule, they are first semesters at a secondary school, university of applied sciences or university.

full-time student: Student who is enrolled in a course of study whose planned academic performance accounts for at least 75% of the normal annual full-time workload.

Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT): A standardized aptitude test required for admission to most MBA and Business School programs in the United States.

grade/grading system: The assessment of a student’s academic performance based on defined criteria and standards.

grade point average (GPA): The student’s grade average for all academic achievements. A point value is assigned to each individual grade and a weighted arithmetic mean, the Grade Point Average, is calculated from these point values. Based on a 4.0 GPA scale, grades in the USA are assigned in letters.

Grade GPA

  • A 4.0 (excellent)
  • B 3.0 (good)
  • C 2.0 (satisfactory)
  • D 1.0 (needs improvement)
  • F 0.0 (fail)

graduate: A pupil/student who has successfully completed an educational program during the school year or academic year.

Graduate Record Examination (GRE): The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is a standardized test to measure the academic ability of prospective master’s and Doctoral students. It tests skills in Analytical Writing, Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning.

high school: A secondary school attended by students between the ages of 13 and 18.

higher education: usually refers to education beyond grammar school, often at colleges or universities.

honors program: A particularly challenging program for very good students with a high level of achievement. Many of the large state universities attract high-performing students with an honors college.

institute: an institution that often conducts scientific research as part of a university or offers special courses of study in a specific subject area.

International English Language Testing System (IELTS): A test of the English language skills of applicants whose native language is not English. It measures the ability to understand all four language skills – listening, reading, writing and speaking.

International student adviser (ISA): A professional employee employed at most universities to help international students. The person is responsible for advising on government regulations, visas, insurance, academic regulations, social customs, language, accommodation, etc.

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

language requirement: Defines the basic reading and writing skills of a language to be able to participate in an academic program (as a foreign student) or to obtain a degree in a special program (in some graduate programs).

Law School Admission Test (LSAT): The LSAT is a standardized test for prospective lawyers and is used by many universities to select applicants. Applicants are tested in three areas of competence – Reading Comprehension, Analytical Reasoning and Logical Reasoning.

lecture: Common teaching method in colleges and universities. The speech/lecture usually takes place in front of a large number of students and is often less interactive.

liberal arts and sciences: Liberal Arts and Sciences is one of the oldest fields of study. Because the study of the liberal arts (lat.: artes liberales) already originated in antiquity. The aim of the course is to develop the oral, written and logical skills of the students.

living expenses: The cost of living is a cost that is regularly incurred in order to support the student’s everyday life. This includes expenses for board and lodging, books, transport, personal expenses, health insurance, etc.

major: A specific field of study in a field of academic or professional specialization within a degree program. The main areas of study require that the students take defined courses with corresponding credits. Most students take a specialization. However, there are also students who specialize in several subjects.

major professor/thesis adviser: A professor who accompanies a student or doctoral candidate during his or her thesis or doctorate. He helps with the planning and implementation of the research work.

master’s degree: A degree that requires two or more years after the bachelor’s degree. As a rule, it includes carrying out research and writing a thesis, an internship or a practical learning experience.

Medical College Admission Test (MCAT): A computer-based, standardized exam for prospective medical students in the USA. It examines how to solve problems, think critically and what previous knowledge of scientific concepts and principles is available.

midterm exam: An exam that is taken at the end of half of the academic semester.

minor: In addition to the major, students can also take minor subjects. In the minor subjects, students usually complete fewer study units than in a major subject, but this allows them to include an additional field of study in their degree.

national universities: The “national universities” offer the most comprehensive range of bachelor’s and master’s programs. However, they place the greatest focus on excellent research results. As a rule, national universities are founded and financed by the state. However, these institutions are administered autonomously and without direct state control.

national liberal arts colleges: “national liberal arts colleges” concentrate almost exclusively on teaching. 50% of their degrees are bachelor’s degrees in the humanities and natural sciences. Students will acquire broad general knowledge and general intellectual skills.

Notarization: For admission to a university, the documents required and submitted must be genuine. To guarantee this “authenticity”, the documents must be authenticated and true by an official (in the United States by a “notary”).

Optional Practical Training (OPT): The Optional Practical Training (OPT) are voluntary internships to gain practical work experience and take place before or after the end of the course of study. In order for students to complete an internship during their major studies, they will need a work permit issued by the respective school official and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE): A computer-based academic English language test designed for non-native speakers who wish to study abroad. It tests reading, writing, listening and speaking skills. Often two skills are tested at the same time in one question, such as listening and reading or reading and speaking. In terms of content, the questions reflect the real situation.

placement test: A test to determine specific knowledge and skills in different subjects, as part of the enrolment process. In particular, the academic abilities of a future student are tested in order to be able to put together a suitable course program for him. In some cases, a student may receive academic recognition for his or her previous achievements based on the results of the placement test.

plan of study: A detailed description of the program for which a student is applying. The “plan of study” indicates when the planned subjects are to be studied. It shows the subjects which have already been completed, which are attended in the current semester and which are still to be taken in the future. It also shows the subjects for which the student has been credited and thus placed in a higher semester.

post doctorate: Study offer for doctorates.

postgraduate: Continuing academic education that is carried out after completion of a bachelor’s program. The Bachelor’s degree is usually followed by a master’s degree (e.g. MA). Other postgraduate or postgraduate degrees are, for example, MPhil and PhD.

prerequisites: Programs or courses that a student must complete before enrolling in a postgraduate program or course. For example, a Level I MATH course must be passed before the student can enroll in a Level II MATH course. These requirements are published in the course catalogue and/or in the university catalogues and checked at registration.

qualifying examination: In many graduate faculties, an examination is required in order to begin or continue a course of study. An aptitude test can be oral, written or written and oral.

registration: Systematic process by which students select courses to be taken during a quarter, semester or trimester. Registration deadlines and administrative processes must be considered.

regional universities: A “regional university” is designed to train students from the immediate vicinity. They are more education-oriented than research-oriented, and students will most likely find a job in the surrounding region. However, as a “national universities”, bachelor and master programs are also offered. Due to the lower research focus, however, PhDs are seldom offered. programs can be found.

regional colleges: A “regional college” is also designed to train students from the immediate vicinity, but in contrast to “national universities” it is mainly limited to Bachelor programs. This category also includes educational institutions that offer two-year associate programs.

residency: Residence or postgraduate education is a level of graduate clinical medical education in a selected subject area.

resident assistant (RA): A person who helps the director of the dormitory in campus dormitories and is usually the first point of contact for students who need help or have questions about campus life. They are often divided between the higher semesters and the floors of the dormitories. They are often available to younger students in shifts to build a sense of community. In return, they usually receive free accommodation in return for their services.

Responsible Officer (RO): Within each exchange program, there is an official employee who collects and reports the necessary information about exchange visitors in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). In addition, it supports exchange students with questions about the visa procedure.

rolling deadline: An admission procedure that is practiced at many universities in the USA for the admission of freshmen. During a certain, very large time window, applications for a study place are possible at any time. The universities accept students until all available places in a study program are filled.

sabbatical: A paid holiday that allows a faculty member to take a longer break for concentrated scientific or creative work. As a rule, a sabbatical is approved for one semester or an entire academic year.

SAT: Stanford Achievement Test. A test that measures critical reading, writing, and mathematical skills. This test is very often required for admission to accredited two- or four-year colleges and universities in the United States.

SAT subject test: A multiple-choice test that measures students’ knowledge in specific subject areas. Many universities use the SAT subject test for general admission, placement in a course or to advise students on course selection.

scholarship: A study grant that is usually granted at the level of the bachelor’s program to support the financing of their education. Most scholarships are limited to paying all or part of the tuition fees. However, there are also scholarships that cover the costs of board and lodging. As a rule, scholarships do not have to be repaid. However, often only students of certain courses of study or with academic, sporting or artistic talent have the chance to receive scholarships.

school: Mainly refers to educational institutions that are located below the academic institutions, such as primary, middle or secondary schools. However, the term “school” is used to define a department within a university or college, e.g. Law School.

semester: The part of an academic year that is divided into two halves/semesters for teaching and examination purposes. One semester lasts from 15 to 16 weeks.

seminar: A course taught by a lecturer. Up to 35 students practice and discuss in one seminar. Thus, the format is similar to tutorials, but involves more students.

senior: A student in his fourth year of study at a technical college or university who has not yet obtained a bachelor’s degree.

Social Security Number (SSN): The unique nine-digit number assigned by the Social Security Administration. Everyone who works regularly must receive a Social Security Number. Many institutions use this number as an identification number for the student.

sophomore: The term “sophomore” is used to describe a second-year student.

sororities: A social organization for female students at some U.S. universities.

special student: A student who attends courses but is not enrolled in a degree program.

Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS): A web-based database that collects and stores accurate and up-to-date information about foreign students, foreigners, and their families. It is part of the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

syllabus: An overview of the topics covered in an academic course. The topics are listed in the order in which they are to be discussed in class. In addition, the necessary tasks and bibliographical references are usually given.

subject: Course in an academic subject offered by the faculty of a university as part of a degree program.

teaching assistant (TA): A student who supports a lecturer in teaching is a teaching assistant. As a rule, a master’s student or doctoral student assist within the framework of a bachelor’s program in his or her field of specialization. In return, they receive financial support from the university.

tenure: The guarantee of a permanent position granted by an academic institution to a member of the faculty after a certain number of years of service for a satisfactory performance. This guarantee is granted to faculty members who have a dignified research and publication record.

Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL): An internationally recognized test to determine the English language proficiency of applicants whose native language is not English.

thesis: A written paper written by a student as part of a university degree on the basis of his or her own research on a specific topic.

transcript: A certified copy of an official document. As a rule, an applicant’s school reports must be certified.

transfer program: Associated program that allows the student to move into the third year of a four-year bachelor’s program.

tuition: A fee for the teaching activity that a university charges to its students per semester, per course or per credit. Course fees do not include student activity or special usage fees.

withdrawal: The administrative procedure for terminating a course of study or leaving a university is referred to as “withdrawal”. Withdrawal from a university means that the student has decided to cancel the semester or course. Depending on the date of termination, the student may be entitled to a refund.

zip code: The sequence of numbers in the postal addresses indicates the postal districts in the United States.