College Terms and Definitions to Know Before Your First Semester

Posted: June 29, 2021 | Author: Southern Utah University | Read Time: 8 minutes

College Terms and Definitions to Know Before You EnrollOne of the most intimidating parts of going to college is learning the terminology and language of your campus. To help you understand some of the lingo, here are some college terms you should know before you enroll.

Higher Education Terms

Higher education is a term that refers to colleges, universities, and any education beyond high school that leads to a certificate or a college degree. Higher education is also referred to as post-secondary education or higher ed.

Community College

A community college is a two-year college that serves the residents of a local or regional area. Community college students receive an associate degree after two years of successful full-time study and often technical programs of study are taught at these colleges. 


A university is an institution of higher learning that offers both undergraduate and graduate programs. Compared to colleges, universities are usually larger, offer more courses and majors, and have more research facilities.

Applied Technology College

Applied technology colleges are colleges that prepare technically skilled workers in specific occupations that generally do not require an associate or advanced degree. ATC students can earn certificates that prepare them directly for employment in a few months to a little more than a year. 

Colleges and Schools Within a University

Universities may be divided into a number of “colleges” or schools. Within Southern Utah University, there are six different colleges. These colleges house the different departments at SUU and each is run by a dean, who is responsible for overseeing all of the students and professors within each college. 

Each individual department also has its own department chair. If you need help or advice from the head of a particular program, these department chairs will be your best resource for guidance.

At SUU, colleges are usually referred to by a two to four letter abbreviation. Here are the different colleges and schools at SUU:

  • BUS - This abbreviation indicates the Dixie L. Leavitt School of Business, which offers programs in accounting, economics, entrepreneurship, finance, HRHM (hotel, resort, and Hospitality Management), management, marketing, as well as several master’s degrees.

  • CECS - This abbreviation indicates the College of Engineering and Computational Sciences. This college offers programs in aviation, computer science and information security, engineering and technology, and mathematics.

  • CHS - This abbreviation indicates the College of Health Sciences, which offers programs in nursing, agriculture, exercise science, nutrition, outdoor recreation, physical education, and two master’s degrees in both sports conditioning and athletic training.

  • COS - This abbreviation indicates the College of Sciences, which offers programs in biology, geosciences, and physical science. 
  • CPVA - This abbreviation indicates the College of Performing and Visual Arts. Within this college you will find the programs of art and design, music, and theatre, dance, and arts administration.
  • ED - This abbreviation indicates the Beverly Taylor Sorenson College of Education and Human Development. Within this college, you’ll find programs in teacher education, family life and human development, and graduate degrees in education.
  • HSS - This abbreviation indicates the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. This college offers programs in communication, English, history, philosophy, political sciences, psychology, and interdisciplinary studies.

Post-Secondary Degree Terms


A certificate is generally a one-year program that leads directly to entry level employment in a specific occupation.

Associate of Applied Science

The associate in applied science (A.A.S.) degree program is designed to meet the needs of mid-career adults in a wide range of applied fields. The in-depth knowledge and skills acquired in an A.A.S. degree prepare students for employment in a career track with advancement opportunities.

Associate Degree

An associate degree (A.A. or A.S.) is an undergraduate academic degree awarded by colleges and universities upon completion of a course of study lasting two years.

Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor's degree is a four-year program that provides in-depth, specialized knowledge in a major or field of study. Bachelor’s degrees prepare students for employment in fields ranging from accounting to theatre. The undergraduate degree can also be used to prepare for future studies at the graduate level.

Master’s Degree

A master’s degree is a graduate-level program, earned after a bachelor’s degree. A master’s degree prepares students for occupations from business to cybersecurity, or prepares students for a doctoral program.

Doctorate Degree

A doctorate degree, also referred to as a PhD, provides further training in a more specialized area.

Choosing Your Degree

Bachelor’s of Science vs Bachelor’s of Arts

During your first four years of college, you will be pursuing your undergraduate degree, which is a general term for any four year degree from a university program. Within your undergraduate, you will likely earn either a bachelor’s of science (BS) or a bachelor’s of art (BA).

The main difference between these two degree types is general courses. Within a BS, you’ll take an additional six credits of science courses including a lab, while with a BA you’ll be taking six credits of foreign languages.

There are other options for bachelor’s degrees at SUU, including a bachelor’s of fine arts (BFA), bachelor’s of general studies (BGS), bachelor’s of interdisciplinary studies (BIS), and bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN). These degrees are less common and offered in particular departments. For questions about these types of degrees, contact your academic advisor.

Minor vs Major

Once you enroll in college, you will be asked to pick a major and offered the opportunity to pick a minor.

Your major is your primary focus of study and will help determine the main classes you will take. For many students, their time in college is shaped around their major. Contrastingly, your minor is your secondary focus of study and serves as a separate area of interest that can be used to either enhance your major or to allow a student to explore a different focus area.

Deciding on your major in college can be an overwhelming decision, which is why SUU provides students with several resources including academic advisors, career counselors, and a variety of blog posts that will help you to find your perfect match.

College Course Terms

General Education 

Your general education courses (or generals) are the introductory courses you must take to begin your education in college. As you begin to sign up for courses, your advisor will be able to guide you through how to pick and order your general education courses in order to prepare you for the rest of your time in college.

Prerequisite vs Corequisite

In college, a prerequisite (or prereq) is a course that you must take before another course. As you continue your college education, you’ll find most of your upper division courses require that you have taken more general education courses before taking an upper division course. Alternatively, a corequisite (or coreq) is a course you must take alongside another course. For those interested in taking lab courses, you’ll find most labs have a corequisite course to prepare you for the lab.

Credit hour

A credit hour is a unit used to measure the amount of schoolwork a student has enrolled for or completed. A normal load for undergraduate studies is 15 credit hours. By taking 15 credit hours each semester, students should graduate in four years, varying on their area of study.


Tuition is the charge for attending a college or university class. Tuition prices vary depending on if you are an undergraduate or graduate student. Prices also vary depending on if you are a Utah resident, non-resident, or international student.


A transcript is an official copy of a student’s educational record. Both official and unofficial transcripts contain the same information. An official transcript is on high-quality paper with the institution’s watermark and sealed in an envelope. An unofficial transcript is printed on regular paper.


A semester is an academic time period in which classes are in session. Typically, a college semester is around 14-18 weeks and makes up half of the full academic year (fall and spring semesters combined make the full academic year). At SUU, semesters are 14 weeks of instructional time with one week of finals and a few breaks. 

Financial Aid Terms

Financial Aid is money awarded to students to help them pay for education. Aid is given as loans, grants, scholarships, or work-study. Some forms of financial aid are required to be repaid after graduation.


The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a free financial aid application used to determine eligibility for federal financial aid. Students should apply during their senior year of high school and every year they are in college.


A scholarship is a form of financial aid that does not have to be repaid or earned through employment. Scholarships usually refer to awards based on academic merit; however, scholarships are also awarded for performing community service, leadership, talent, etc. Financial need may also be required.


A grant is a form of financial aid that does not have to be repaid or earned by working. Grants are usually based on financial need; however, academic merit may also be considered.


A loan is money you borrow and must pay back with interest, so be sure you understand your options and responsibilities.

Work Study

Work study is money that you can earn throughout the semester by being employed on campus with an approved employer. The student receives a paycheck for hours worked. This money may be used toward tuition, fees, books, or any living expenses you may have.


Learning all the words associated with college life can feel like learning a second language, but at SUU you are never alone. For any questions or concerns, feel free to contact your advisors, including ACES, and you’ll have the college terms down in no time. 

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