Academic Terms, Abbreviations, and Acronyms

Learning the lingo of your new college can sometimes seem like learning an entirely new language. With a little explanation, though, you can quickly master this new “vocabulary” and seem like you’ve known the terms since before you arrived.


Adviser: A person who helps guide a student’s academic and career decisions.


Faculty: The faculty, or a faculty member, is generally anyone who teaches at the college.


GA: A Graduate Assistant or Adviser who helps the professor and is usually a graduate student or upper-class student.

GI: A Graduate Instructor, usually a graduate student assisting in teaching.

GSA: A Graduate Student Assistant or Adviser who helps the professor.

GSI: A Graduate Student Instructor who aids in teaching and administrative tasks.


Instructor: An instructor is often someone who is teaching at a college or university but who does not have a PhD. They often, however, have quite a bit of experience in their fields and are otherwise very qualified. Treat an instructor like a professor, since their roles — and power — in the classroom are often the same.


Office Hours: Professors are usually required to hold office hours on a regular basis throughout the semester, which is when students are able to drop in or make an appointment to meet with them. Often, if you can’t make it to a professor’s office hours, you can work with them to schedule a different time that works for both of you. If you can take advantage of office hours, you should! It can be a great opportunity to get feedback on your papers or other assignments, and a great chance to get to know your professors a little bit better.


Professor: Most students come from high schools where their teachers were called teachers. In college, most of your “teachers” are called professors. This indicates that you are 1) in a college environment, and, more often than not, 2) being taught by someone with a PhD. Drop the “teacher” reference the moment you start unpacking!


TA: A Teaching Assistant or Adviser who assists the professor, usually a graduate student or upper-class student.

Tenure: Tenure is something unique to higher education. A traditional path of someone who wants to teach at a college is to get their PhD and then get a job as a professor on a campus. For the first six years or so that they are teaching, they are usually in a “tenure-track” position. This means that they are focusing on teaching, doing research, getting published, and contributing to the campus community. If all goes well, the professor is then granted tenure. Earning tenure is equivalent to ensuring one’s job on a campus. If you have a tenured professor teaching your class, it means you have someone who has been at the school for a while and been judged, by a committee of their peers and the academic dean, to be an essential member of the faculty and campus community.


Visiting Professor: Just like the “professor” term mentioned above, a visiting professor usually has a PhD. However, a visiting professor is usually someone not normally associated with your college or university. He or she may only be there for one semester or one academic year, and is usually also doing research or other work. It’s hard to gauge what a visiting professor will be like, since you usually can’t check with other students about their experiences with someone who hasn’t taught classes on campus before.