College Terms Defined


Academic Probation: If your grades fall below a certain level, your campus may place you on academic probation. This traditionally means that you need to raise your GPA or face the possibility of being removed from your school for academic reasons.

Adjunct Professor: A professor who is usually part-time or not on campus with a long-term contract (and, consequently, not eligible for tenure).

Alumna: Female graduate or former student.

Alumnae: Female graduates or former students.

Alumni: Male graduates or both male and female graduates.

Alumnus: Male graduate or former student.

Area Coordinator (AC): This person usually oversees an area of your residence hall, or an area of your campus. They have more responsibility, and may sometimes supervise, Resident Advisers (RAs).

Area Director (AD): This is usually just another title for an Area Coordinator (AC).


Board of Directors/Board of Trustees: Most colleges have a board that oversees all parts of the campus. Traditionally, the board hires (and possibly fires) a president; manages the college or university’s finances; and is responsible for all major policy decisions. Many college and university boards comprise alumni, faculty, staff, community leaders, and (sometimes) students.

Board of Regents: Similar to how a Board of Trustees oversees a single college or university, a Board of Regents traditionally oversees a state system of public colleges or universities.


College: In contrast to a university, a college traditionally only offers undergraduate degrees and programs. (There are, of course, some exceptions to this definition.)

Commencement: Usually another name for graduation.

Convocation: On some campuses, each year starts with a convocation ceremony where the new class is officially welcomed and the academic year formally begins.


Dean: A Dean is someone traditionally in charge of a major area of a college. For example, there may be a Dean of Students, a Dean of the Faculty, and a Dean of Arts & Sciences.

Discipline: On a college campus, a discipline is often synonymous with a major. It usually refers to a field of study. (Of course, if you are charged with violating campus or community rules, you may be required to have a disciplinary hearing…and that definition is more traditional!)

Discourse: A conversation, exchange of words, or dialogue, usually incorporating a wide range of views and opinions.


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

FAFSA: The Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This form is required for any student who wants to be considered for federal aid of any kind. Make sure you get your form in by the deadline!

Fees: Fees can be charged for anything from seeing a doctor in the campus health center to returning your library books late. Additionally, you may see something listed as “student fees,” which cover some student services that the school provides and/or may be the basis for the student government budget.

Financial Aid: Anything related to the way you are paying for school. Loans, scholarships, grants, work awards, and any other resource you use are all considered part of your financial aid.


Graduate Assistant/Graduate Adviser (GA): A GA is often the same thing as a Graduate Student Instructor (GSI).

Graduate Instructor (GI): A GI is often the same thing as a Graduate Student Instructor (GSI).

Graduate Student Instructor (GSI): A GSI is often a graduate student who helps out in your classes. They may grade papers, lead seminar discussions, and sometimes teach classes.

Grants: Similar to scholarships in that you don’t need to pay them back. Some grants may be connected to your course of study or allow you to do research while still having your financial needs taken care of. (For example, you may earn a grant to cover your room and board while you do summer research with a professor.)


Hall Coordinator (HC): A hall coordinator is typically in charge of your entire hall and oversees Resident Advisers (RAs).

Hall Council (HC): A Hall Council is a small governing body that serves as a student voice and helps make decisions and plan programs for your hall community; frequently the same thing as a Residence Council.

Hall Director (HD): Hall Directors are often the same things as Hall Coordinators (HCs).


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.


Living-Learning Community (LLC): These are becoming more and more popular on college campuses. An LLC is a community where students who live together also take one or more classes together. There are often events in the hall that connect to what is being covered in everyone’s coursework.

Loan: Money your school (or a bank, or even a relative) is giving you but that you must pay back at some point. Some loans have no interest; some loans don’t collect interest until you graduate; some loans have terms that are connected to your plans after graduation (loans that are forgiven over time for teachers, for example).


Mortarboard: The term “mortarboard” usually refers to the academic cap worn during graduation and other ceremonies. Additionally, at a college or university, “Mortar Board” may refer to a national student organization that recognizes the highest academic achievers on campus.


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.


Pedagogy: A theory about, or style or method of, teaching.

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!

Provost: A provost is one of the highest-ranking people on campus. The provost traditionally serves as the Chief Academic Officer of a college or university. Typically the #2 person on campus, a provost is in charge of many aspects of an institution.


Room and Board: The cost of having a place to sleep (room) and food to eat (board) while at school. If you choose to live on-campus, this is usually a preset fee. If you choose to live off-campus, this may be an estimate. This may also change a bit, depending on which meal plan you select.

Resident Adviser (RA): Usually an undergraduate student, an RA is in charge of smaller sections of a residence hall. You can go to them for help with adjusting to college, problems with your roommates, and advice on just about anything.

Residence Council (RC): A small governing body that serves as a student voice and helps make decisions and plan programs for your hall community; a Residence Council is frequently the same thing as a Hall Council (HC).

Residence Hall Association (RHA): This is typically the same thing as a Hall Council (HC) or Residence Council (RC).

Resident Coordinator (RC): This term is a bit more fluid than the other titles you’ll see in your residence hall, and can mean someone similar to a Hall Coordinator (HC) or an Area Coordinator (AC). They usually oversee an area of your residence hall, or an area of your campus. They have more responsibility than, and may sometimes supervise, Resident Advisers (RAs).

Resident Director: Resident Director is often the same as a Resident Coordinator (RC).


Scholarship: Money being given to you for your studies. You usually do not need to pay scholarship monies back. Scholarships can come from your school, an organization, or a contest.

Service Learning: Service Learning is an approach to learning (i.e., classroom learning) that is often complemented by experiential learning (i.e., volunteering, immersion programs).


Teaching Assistant (TA): Often the same thing as a Graduate Student Instructor (GSI), a TA is often a graduate student who helps out in your classes. They may grade papers, lead seminar discussions, and sometimes teach classes.

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.

Tuition: The cost of your classes. Some schools charge tuition based on how many units you are taking, while others charge a base rate per semester as long as you stay within a certain range of units.


University: In contrast to a college, a university traditionally offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees and programs. (There are, of course, some exceptions to this rule.)


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.


Work Award: Another name for work study.

Work Study: This is basically a “job” that you will have as part of your financial aid package. (Note, however, that you still need to go out and find a job yourself; this just provides funding for it.) Most students work on campus but some work study jobs can be set up off-campus. You are usually not allowed to make more money in your work study job than has been allocated in your financial aid package.