Glossary of College Terms: 25+ Important University Words to Understand

In this college glossary of vocabulary terms, we go over the most common university words, phrase, jargon, and lingo, along with their meanings and definitions. Scroll down to learn them all!

About to enter university or just overwhelmed with the amount of college words, academic terminology, school-related terms, and other jargon used on campus?

Not to worry!

In this college glossary of vocabulary terms, we go over the most common terms and their definitions. From lingo related to college entry to phrases referencing your student accommodations, this glossary of university terms has got what you’re looking for!


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So, without further ado— 

Here is our glossary of college terms and university vocabulary to know:

Adult Learner – Usually an adult learner implies a person who returns or begins school later than the typical undergrad population, perhaps after gaining some experience in the workforce.

Alumna / Alumnus – An alumna (female) or alumnus (male) is a former student of a college or university. Most often, these are students who graduated and earned degrees, but one may be an alumna or alumnus of a college by just having attended the school in the past. The plural is alumnae (group of women) or alumni (group of men or mixed groups).

CampusCampus refers to a school’s buildings, grounds, and other real estate properties and facilities.

Chancellor – A university chancellor is the highest-ranking person in a university’s administration. A university chancellor may also be called a president or a rector

Co-Ed –  Short for co-educational, co-ed originally referred to education where males and females were taught in the same group. Since this is the standard nowadays, co-ed now usually refers to facilities which accommodate all genders together, such as a co-ed bathroom or a co-ed dormitory. 

College – A college is a school, usually referring to one offering tertiary education (education after high school). However, it varies in different countries and languages, and sometimes college can be used synonymously with university. Read about the differences between college and university

Related Read: 25+ Books for University Students to Read in College

College Fair – A college fair is an event where representatives from many different colleges and universities set up booths to entice students to apply at their schools or provide more information on doing so. 

Commencement – A commencement is a ceremony which celebrates college and university students for completing and earning a degree. 

Community College – A community college is a local school offering higher education classes, often at a price much more affordable than those at “name-brand” colleges and universities. Most community colleges offer Associate’s degrees, and students can afterward transfer to a 4-year university to continue their education and earn a bachelor’s degree.

First-Generation Student – A college student who is among the first generation of their family line to attend university.

Higher EducationHigher education usually refers to education which happens after high school, such as college, university, technical school, or a trade school.

MatriculationMatriculation refers to a student’s formal process of applying and entering a university or college. While most often there is no fanfare, in some cases, there can be a formal matriculation ceremony.

Related Read: 15+ Easy Ways on How to Save Money in College

Postsecondary Education – See Tertiary Education.

President – A university president is the highest-ranking person in the university’s administration. A university president may also be called a rector or a chancellor

Provost – In North America, a provost is the most senior academic administrator and usually second in command at the school after the president; In the UK, Australia, Ireland, and several other countries, a provost may be the head of the entire college.

Rector – A university rector is the highest-ranking person in a university’s administration. A university rector may also be called a president or a chancellor

Scholarship – A scholarship is a financial award granted to a student to help pay all or part of their college tuition, fees, and other expenses. Scholarships may be given based on merit, achievements, or for other reasons.

Related Read: Scholarships 101: Everything Students Need to Know About Getting a Scholarship

Secondary EducationSecondary education is the term used to describe the few years of formal education before applying for college (which is tertiary education). In the United States, secondary education includes middle school, junior high, and high school. 

Semester – A semester is usually half of an academic year. Most often, a school year is divided into the fall semester and the spring semester

SFH – The acronym for the term “study from home.” SFH programs increased in popularity during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Student Assistant – A student assistant may refer to a teaching assistant who is a member of the student body. In some cases, student assistants may also refer to resident assistants (RAs).

Tertiary Education – This is education completed after secondary education, which is to say education after high school. Tertiary education usually includes study in technical schools, universities, colleges, and trade schools. Tertiary education is also called postsecondary education.

University – A university is a higher education institution which awards degrees in a range of academic disciplines.

Valedictorian – In most countries where the title is used, the valedictorian is the student chosen to give the closing speech at the graduation ceremony. Often, the valedictorian is the student who has the highest grade point average (GPA) in their class, though the person may also be picked based on non-grade factors, such as their extracurricular activities.

Well, that’s all for now on our university glossary of terms, and we hope it helps you navigate your way through school! Got any questions, feedback, or other college vocabulary terms to add to our list? Let us know below in the comments, and thanks for reading!

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Christian Eilers
Written By Christian Eilers
is a writer and expert on the topics of education, entrepreneurship, career advice, travel, and culture. On the Goodwall Blog, he covers topics including self-improvement, social impact, college preparation, career development, climate action, and more. Christian is originally from New York City and now resides in Warsaw, Poland. At his desk, you're sure to find Pickwick, his Devon Rex cat, either attacking his fingers as he types or the monitor as the mouse pointer moves around.

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