What You Need to Know: Common Academic Phrases at U. S. Colleges


Language is a huge factor in transitioning to a new location, no matter where you are from, and attending a university is no different. Each country has a unique educational system and with this comes commonly used terms and phrases that are extremely useful to know. A clear understanding of these terms will lower the stress of adjusting to a new environment.  The terms that follow are some of those commonly used by universities, professors and students at Truman State University.

  • Course Catalog: an online resource for viewing available classes. This is most useful when preparing for an upcoming semester and trying to decide which courses best fit your schedule.
  • Course Syllabus: a document provided by the teacher on the first day of class which describes the expectations concerning behavior, attendance, and schoolwork. The teacher will often refer to the syllabus for rules about late homework, grading, and testing.
  • Enrollment: Signing up for classes in advance; online registration.
  • Extra Credit: opportunities offered by teachers to improve one’s grade through extra effort or participation in specific events. Not all classes offer extra credit opportunities; take advantage of them when they appear!
  • Finals: the last few weeks of the semester, usually in which larger assignments are due and professors administer final exams.
  • GPA: Grade point average, such as 4.0 for an A and 3.0 for a B letter grade. Most American universities operate using a 4-point GPA system.
  • GRE: the Graduate Record Examination, often required by graduate schools upon application, that tests communicative and intellectual skills. Some graduate programs require students to take a GRE test with questions based on one academic major.
  • GMAT:  the Graduate Management Admission Test, often required by graduate programs in business instead of the GRE.
  • LSP requirements: classes taken to fulfill the Liberal Studies Program, Truman’s common core of classes all students must take and which covers a broad range of subjects to increase students’ diversity of knowledge.
  • Open book test: an exam where textbooks or previous research are allowed during testing.
  • Pass-fail: a grading system that does not use letter grades; students either pass the class or fail it. The class will not influence the student’s GPA but will be counted only as elective credits.
  • Plagiarism: Using another person’s words without giving them credit. Read the article we wrote about plagiarism here to learn more about the negative impacts this can have on one’s academic career.
  • RateMyProfessors.com: an online resource where students describe experiences with certain teachers to help other students choose which classes to take.
  • Registration: choosing which courses to take and planning a class schedule. At Truman, students are assigned a date and time to register based on the number of credit hours they have completed.
  • Scholarship: money offered to students in aid of pursuing an education. Many scholarships are awarded based on academic merit or individual achievements and goals.
  • Waitlist: a list of students who have attempted to enroll in a course which has exceeded its class size limit. These students will be the first ones notified if extra space opens up in the class roster.
  • Withdrawal: Dropping out of a course early in the semester to avoid a poor grade on transcripts. Many universities limit the number of courses international students are allowed to withdraw from while remaining in good status, so think carefully before choosing to pursue this option.
  • Cramming: waiting until the day or night before a test to study and prepare (Not recommended!)
  • All-nighter: a term used when staying up all night to complete an assignment or study for a test.  (This is not recommended!)
  • Time Management:  the skill of planning how to use your time most effectively, very important in college.
  • Dorms: dormitories, apartments on campus where students live. At Truman, we call them Residence Halls.
  • Greek Life: a term for involvement in social organizations called fraternities or sororities and which are named using letters from the Greek alphabet.
  • Frat house:  living quarters near campus where frat (which is short for fraternity) members reside or host events.

These and other terms are further described in a great resource here.  Despite the challenges of attending school in a new place, it will be a learning adventure full of exciting opportunities and experiences! Familiarizing yourself with terms like these before you travel can make a surprising difference in your early weeks of classes!

Share Button

This is the official blog of the Truman State University Center for International Students.