Understanding the meaning of words synonymous with U.S. education is the key to appreciating the unique characteristics of the American education plan. We have compiled a list of commonly used terms as a primer for those unfamiliar with the U.S. education plan.

Academic Evaluation: The process by which an academic program is measured and compared against another to determine an approximate educational equivalence.

Academic Year: The period of formal academic instruction, usually extending from late August or September to May or June.

Accreditation: The process of granting official recognition to schools, colleges, and universities that meet the standards of a regional or national association.

Admission: Permission to enter and enroll in a college or a university.

Advanced Placement (AP) Program: Offered by the College Board, a U.S.-based nonprofit educational organization, that allows students to take college-level courses while in high school. Students then take standardized AP exams and those with qualifying scores can earn credit at certain colleges and universities.

Associate degree: The academic certificate or diploma awarded, usually by a community college or junior college, after two academic years of college work. Some universities will also award the Associate Degree after completion of a prescribed two-year program of study.

Bachelor’s degree: The academic certificate or diploma awarded after completion of four or five years of academic study at a college or university.

College: In the U.S., “college” and “university” are loosely interchangeable and sometimes even referred to as “school.” A college may be a degree-granting tertiary institution, or part of a university.

Community College: A publicly supported, two-year college offering both transfer and terminal postsecondary courses which may satisfy the first two years of a bachelor’s degree and pre-professional program requirements.

Course: A regularly scheduled class on a particular subject. Colleges and universities each offer degree programs consisting of a specific number of required and elective courses.

Credit Hour (Semester/Quarter Hour): A measurement of classroom instruction at the college and university level.

Doctorate: The most advanced academic degree offered by institutions of higher education in the United States.

Double Major: A program of study that allows a student to complete the course requirements for two majors (areas of concentration) at the same time.

Dual Degree: Program of study whereby a student is allowed to receive two degrees, at the same time, from the same college or university.

Electives: Optional courses student can choose to study for credit toward a degree, but are not required.

Entrance Criteria: (See “Admission”)

Evaluation: (See “Academic Evaluation.”)

Freshman: A student enrolled in the first year of high school, college, or university.

Full-time study: A student who is enrolled at a college or university and is taking the minimum number of credits required by the institution for a full course load.

Grade: A mark or score indicating a student’s academic performance on a test, exam, paper, or in a course. A “grade” can also refer to which year a student is in while in elementary/primary, middle/junior high, or high school.

Grade-Point-Average (GPA): A measurement of the quality of a student’s overall performance. The GPA is determined by dividing the total number of grade points earned by the number of credit hours attempted, including failures.

Graduate Student: Refers to a student who is enrolled in a program leading to a master’s or doctor’s degree.

High School (Secondary School): Refers to the last six or seven years of statutory formal education. Secondary education is generally split between junior high school or middle school, usually beginning with 6th or 7th grades (age 11 or 12), and high school, beginning with 9th grade (age 14) and progressing to 12th grade (ending at or around age 18).

Junior: A student enrolled in the third year of high school, college, or university.

Lower Division Level: The level of courses studied at the undergraduate level at a college or university; generally taken in the first two years of study and represent introductory, foundation, or prerequisite studies before student can precede to advanced courses in his/her major area/field of concentration.

Major: The area or field of concentration, or academic discipline, or group of disciplines, constituting the primary emphasis of a student’s college or university program.

Master’s degree: The academic certificate or diploma awarded after one or more years of study following the bachelor’s degree.

Private institutions: Colleges and universities that receive little or no direct financial support from government sources.

Professional degrees: A degree representing completion of academic qualifications intended for professional certification in fields such as: accounting, architecture, business, dentistry, engineering, law, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, physical therapy, veterinary medicine, to name a few.

Public colleges and universities: Institutions of higher education that receive substantial financial support for local and state government sources.

Quarter: Refers to an academic period, consisting of about 12 weeks, about two-thirds of a semester. 15 quarter-hour credits equal 10 semester-hour credits. The calendar year under the quarter system is divided into four equal terms.

Regional Accreditation: The process of granting recognition to schools, colleges, and universities by one of six regional accreditation bodies in the United States that set certain educational standards and criteria.

Semester: Refers to an academic period consisting of between 14 and 18 weeks. One calendar year can be divided into two semesters and summer session equal to one-half of a semester.

Semester Hour: A measurement of classroom instruction at the college and university level. Usually one credit hour in a semester system represents one hour each for a semester, or approximately 16 classroom contact hours.

Senior: A student enrolled in the second year of high school, college, or university.

Sophomore: A student enrolled in the second year of high school, college, or university.

Transcript: An official academic record of a student’s coursework, credit hours required and earned, grades with grade point average for each semester, quarter or trimester of study.

Translation: The process by which a document issued in one language is converted, word-for-word, line-by-line, into another language.

Trimester: An academic period considered equal in value to a semester. The calendar year can be divided into three equal trimesters.

Undergraduate: A student enrolled in a college or university program leading to an Associate or Bachelor’s degree.

Upper Division Level: The level of courses studied at the undergraduate level at a college or university; generally taken in the third and fourth years of study and represent advanced and more concentrated studies in the major/field of concentration.

University: A postsecondary institution that typically offers both undergraduate, graduate (master’s and doctoral). “University” is often used interchangeably with “college” and “school”.