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Higher Education Terminology Glossary

Liz Heintz

Written By: Liz Heintz

Published: 9/19/2022

Navigating college already comes with its challenges, but trying to learn all the jargon can make things more difficult. To make it easier, we've created this glossary to help you make sense of your college experience. In addition, we've included college terms you need so you can learn the language of higher education and understand the difference between confusingly similar terms.

Liz Heintz

Written By: Liz Heintz

Published: 9/19/2022

Navigating college already comes with its challenges, but trying to learn all the jargon can make things more difficult. To make it easier, we've created this glossary to help you make sense of your college experience. In addition, we've included college terms you need so you can learn the language of higher education and understand the difference between confusingly similar terms.

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Common Higher Education Terms and What They Mean

We've identified numerous terms that may confront you as you complete your journey through college or any academic program.

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S |T | U | V


American College Testing (ACT)

The ACT is the standardized test many schools use for undergraduate college admissions. It tests students in four areas: English, math, reading, and scientific reasoning. The ACT helps colleges with recruitment, retention, placement, and advising. Students in the 10th, 11th, and 12th grades may take the ACT. A perfect composite score is 36, and the average score was 20.3 in 2021.

Accelerated Degree

An accelerated degree is a program where courses are condensed into five- to ten-week terms, instead of eleven to sixteen weeks, for traditional quarter and semester courses. In addition, classes are offered year-round and are often self-paced and online. As a result, you can typically complete an accelerated degree program one to two years faster than a traditional program.


Accreditation is a process through which an independent accrediting body evaluates a school's programs and curriculum to ensure they meet quality standards for education. Institutional accreditation is a voluntary process through which schools are peer-reviewed. Programmatic accreditation is a process through which an industry association reviews program curriculum and outcomes to make sure programs deliver education that meets industry standards.

Admission Requirements

The first step to starting college is applying for admission. Admission requirements may include your transcripts, a completed application, the submission of college entrance exam scores, an essay, and any transfer credits you may have from another institution. You can enroll in a program and classes once a college admits you.


Advisors are located throughout college campuses, each performing a distinct role. An admissions advisor can help you submit your college application. An enrollment advisor can help you choose and enroll in a program once admitted. A program advisor has specific knowledge in your field of study and can help you choose classes and ensure you are on track to graduate. A financial aid advisor can help walk you through your offer letter and explain the funding process.


An application is what you fill out when you first apply to school before you can enroll. It's part of the application process, which generally includes submitting your high school, college, and military transcripts; letters of recommendation; an application essay or statement of intent; a resume; standardized test scores; and an application fee that's usually about $50.

Associate Degree

An associate degree is a two-year degree you can earn at a two-year school or community college. It generally requires completing a minimum of 90 quarter or 60 semester credit hours. 


If an online course is asynchronous, it means you can participate at any time. For example, an instructor may record their lecture and post it online for you to view as your schedule allows. You may then have a certain amount of time to watch the video, respond to it in an online forum, and submit your assignment.


Bachelor's Degree

A bachelor's degree is a four-year degree you usually earn at a four-year college or university, though some community colleges offer bachelor's degree programs as well. It generally requires the completion of 180 semester or 120 quarter credit hours, including a senior capstone, practicum, internship, or other final projects to graduate.


Bursars maintain students' financial accounts, and a primary responsibility is to process payments. In addition, they are responsible for collecting student tuition and fees, as well as any other student expenditures. Bursars may also be responsible for accounts payables and invoicing.



Completing a capstone project means you are nearing the end of your degree program and must apply the skills and knowledge you've gained in one final assignment in your field of study. It may include a research paper, essay, group project, or presentation.


You may earn a certificate upon completion of a non-degree program. Certificates are typically earned in trade or vocational programs that don't award degrees. However, a certificate does not demonstrate competency. 


Certification demonstrates competency in your field. Industry associations may offer certification programs at varying levels depending on your career goals. Certifications usually require completing various modules of a program and passing an exam. In addition, certification may be required for licensure in specific fields, such as accounting, nursing, and medical billing and coding.


A cohort is a group of students who enroll in and progress through a program together with the same anticipated completion date. For example, you were in a cohort when you were in high school because your class started and graduated high school together. Cohorts are common in higher education in accelerated degree programs, graduate school, and some speciality programs.

Community College

A community college is a public, two-year postsecondary institution, where you can earn undergraduate certificates, diplomas, associate degrees, and in some cases, bachelor's degrees. Tax dollars fund community colleges. The benefits of attending community colleges include affordability, gaining job skills, and earning credits to transfer to a four-year university.

Continuing Education Unit (CEU)

A CEU is a unit of measurement given to courses that help you maintain professional licensing and certification requirements. The International Accreditors for Continuing Education and Training (IACET) designates which courses qualify as CEUs. One CEU is worth ten contact hours of participation. Professional organizations often offer opportunities to complete CEUs for their members.


Core refers to classes or a curriculum that a school requires to ensure all students, regardless of their major, learn specific material at various degree levels. Core courses may include writing and composition, math, science, and studies in the humanities. Completion of core courses is a graduation requirement.  


A credential is something you may earn after passing a certification exam. It shows that you are professionally qualified and have the expertise required to do your job. Initials often identify a credential after your name. For example, PMP for project management professionals and CPA for certified public accountants are standard credentials.


A curriculum is a course of study. It includes instruction, lessons, and other academic activities and content. A program's curriculum is designed to ensure that content meets academic standards and the proper assessments are in place to ensure students meet learning objectives.



A degree is an academic qualification awarded once you complete requirements and graduate from a higher education course of study at the associate, bachelor's, master's, or doctoral level. It typically takes two or more years to earn a degree at a community college or four-year university. 


Diplomas are often awarded in programs that may be more technical, showing that you completed between 30 to 70 credit hours, as required. A diploma shows you have the hands-on skills and are job-ready in that field.


A dissertation is the final step to completing a PhD program. It is a long-form piece of writing that demonstrates your research and analytical skills as well as your understanding of the subject matter you've been studying.

Distance Learning

Distance learning refers to any education delivered online or through correspondence. When there is no need to attend in person to complete assignments, distance learning enables you to participate in education regardless of where you live.

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

A PhD is a type of doctoral degree. It is what you will most likely need to teach at the postsecondary level or conduct scientific research. Therefore, a PhD is considered a research degree. You complete a dissertation to graduate, and PhD graduates may use the title "Dr." before their name (though it is not the same as being a medical doctor). Examples of PhDs include clinical psychology, mathematics, and engineering. 

Doctoral Degree/Doctorate

A doctoral degree is the highest degree you can earn. There are two kinds of doctorates: a PhD and a professional application doctoral degree. Professionally-applied doctorates include a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), a Doctor of Education (EdD), and a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA).

Double Major

A double major is an undergraduate degree option to complete two majors that may help with career growth, even if the two majors don't seem to be related. When you graduate with a double major, you earn one degree with two specializations. An example would be earning a business and art double major because you want to open and operate an art gallery.

Dual Degree

A dual degree is an undergraduate or graduate degree option where you earn two degrees simultaneously. They are often related to each other. When you graduate, you are presented with two distinct degrees. For example, you may earn a master's in business administration (MBA) and a degree in engineering because you want to work in operations or administration in an engineering firm.



An elective is a course you choose to take that may or may not be in your major area of study. You usually complete several elective courses to graduate with an undergraduate degree.


You complete enrollment in college once you have applied and are accepted. Enrollment includes choosing your course of study and registering for classes.


An externship is an experiential learning experience similar to job shadowing, where you follow a trained professional during their day on the job. However, you don't perform any of the work yourself. Instead, you observe someone else doing their work. You may have to complete an externship to graduate from some programs.


Federal Work-Study Program

A federal work-study program may help you earn money for college. If you are eligible, you may obtain part-time employment at your school through the program you're enrolled in and earn a paycheck that you can use to help pay your tuition. For example, students often work in the school library, computer lab, or writing center as part of their work-study experience.

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

Completing a FAFSA is usually the first form you fill out when applying for college because it determines what federal financial aid you may qualify for before applying for private funding. This funding is awarded through grants, scholarships, and low-interest federal student loans. 


A fellowship is similar to a scholarship. However, it is a merit-based monetary award granted to students pursuing advanced-level studies and doesn't require repayment. 

Financial Aid/Gift Aid

Financial aid or gift aid is any assistance you receive to help pay for college. It can be in the form of federal or private loans that require repayment. Financial aid also includes scholarships and grants that don't require repayment.

For-Profit School

A for-profit school is a private institution that awards certificates and degrees. However, unlike a nonprofit college or university, whose primary purpose is to offer quality education, a for-profit school's primary purpose is to increase revenue and make a profit to turn back over to stakeholders. 


GI Bill

The GI Bill is a group of benefits offered to U.S. military veterans and their families to help pay for postsecondary education through the U.S. Veterans Administration. 

General Education Development (GED)

GED — a type of high school equivalency — is a credential earned instead of a high school diploma. Testing proves your high school-level competency in science, math, social studies, and reading compared to graduating seniors. 

General Education Courses (GE)

GE courses are courses you take, as required, to earn an undergraduate degree. These are usually English, math, social science, humanities, and liberal arts courses. You typically need 40-60 GE credit hours to graduate.

Grade Point Average (GPA)

A GPA is an averaged calculation that determines how well you do in your courses. It is calculated on a scale of one to four and may have a corresponding letter grade for each point. For example, an F doesn't receive any points, a D receives 1, a C receives 2, a B receives 3, and an A receives 4. Therefore, the higher the GPA, the higher your grades.

Graduate Degree/Postgraduate

A graduate degree is an advanced degree awarded once you've earned a bachelor's degree. A master's, doctorate, and PhD are examples of graduate degrees. Coursework in a graduate degree program focuses specifically on your area of study without the need for additional general education or elective requirements. The terms graduate and postgraduate are interchangeable.

Graduate Management Assessment Test (GMAT)

You take the GMAT as an entrance exam if you want to apply for admissions into an MBA program. It tests analytical, quantitative, verbal, and reading skills. Scores between 650-690 are considered average, with scores above 700 considered better than average and desirable.

Graduate Record Examinations (GRE)

The GRE is an exam you take when applying for admissions to a master's degree in a subject area other than business. It tests for verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking, and analytical writing skills. Scores higher than 300 are considered average and those above 329 are considered above average.


A grant refers to money that is usually funded through the federal or state government to help pay for college, and it's awarded based on a student's financial need. Similar to scholarships, grants do not require repayment. Common federal grants include the Pell grant, TEACH grant, and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunities Grant (FSEOG). 


Higher Education

Higher education refers to postsecondary and graduate education beyond high school.


Industry Standards

You may see a curriculum referred to as meeting "industry standards," which generally means that an industry organization has programmatically accredited a degree program to ensure students graduate with the skills employers are looking for.


Interdisciplinary is an approach to education that enables you to integrate the study of two or more different subjects into one degree. Some schools allow for you to create your own interdisciplinary degree, which can foster greater comprehensive understanding of several subjects and how they may intersect.


An internship is an experiential learning experience where you work under the supervision of a trained professional while you perform tasks related to your field of study. Completing an internship is often a graduation requirement.


Learning Management System (LMS)

An LMS is a web-based platform that delivers education online. It is a secure application where you can receive instruction, communicate with your instructors and peers, and submit assignments. Typical platforms include Canvas, Blackboard, Moodle, and Google Classroom.


A license is what a state may require of professionals to work legally in their practice. Simply put, it means you have formal permission to do your job. Professional licenses require that you complete a specific academic program and possibly certification before you are eligible to apply for licensure. In addition, licenses require periodic renewal to remain active. Teachers and nurses are just two of many professionals who hold licenses to work.

Lower Division

Lower-division courses are courses you take at the community college level or during your first and second year of a bachelor's degree program. They often are labeled as 100- or 200-level courses.



A major is what you declare when you enroll in a degree program. It is your primary area of study and focus in which you'll complete most of your classes. 

Master's Degree

A master's degree is a graduate-level degree that usually takes two years to complete. You must earn a bachelor's degree first unless you enroll in a dual or accelerated degree program. You generally need to complete 36 to 54 credits and maintain a 3.0 GPA at minimum to graduate. You usually have to complete a research paper to graduate as well.

Master's in Business Administration (MBA)

An MBA is a popular graduate degree. It focuses on areas such as accounting, human resources, finance, healthcare management, and marketing. They typically take two years to complete, though an accelerated MBA program may enable you to complete your degree in a year.


A minor is a collection of approximately 16 to 30 credit hours you complete in a specific area or concentration while earning a degree. It may or may not be related to your major.. You usually do not need to declare a minor to graduate, but some students choose to do so to gain additional skills in a specific area. 


Nonprofit School

A nonprofit school refers to an institution whose first consideration is to provide education rather than make money. The majority of U.S. colleges and universities are nonprofit. They include state schools and many private schools.

Nontraditional Student

A nontraditional student is usually over 24, did not enroll in college right after high school, and may have a GED instead of a diploma. They may also have work experience and possibly the responsibility of a full-time job and/or a family. 


Open Educational Resources (OER)

OER are teaching, learning, and resource materials that either exist in the public domain or are released through copyright under an open license. They are available to the public for free. 



The PSAT — also known as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT) —  is a preliminary test to practice taking the SAT. The PSAT is scored the same as the SAT, so your scores will indicate areas where you excel and where you need to hone your skills. The PSAT/NMSQT is also used to identify National Merit Scholars to award merit scholarships.


Postsecondary refers to education after high school.


A practicum is field experience where you work a certain amount of hours under the supervision of a trained professional in a real-life setting. A degree program may require you to complete a practicum to graduate, and you may need hours for licensure and credentialing. Counseling and nursing programs typically require practicums.


A prerequisite is experience, training, or coursework required before taking a class or starting a degree program. For example, writing and computer literacy are often prerequisites for other courses in a degree program, or a lower division course may be a prerequisite for its upper division counterpart.

Prior Learning Assessment (PLA)

A PLA is a test you can take or a paper you can write to show how you have applied knowledge through previous work experience. Some schools offer PLA programs so students can use their work experience toward credit hours instead of taking subjects they may already know through practical application and real-world experience.

Private School

A private school is an institution that receives the majority of its funding from private sources instead of the federal government, and it operates as a nonprofit organization, Additionally, private schools often have a religious affiliation. Schools are usually smaller, as are class sizes. In addition, they typically have a narrow focus on the programs they offer.

Professional Degree

A professional degree is a degree program that helps prepare you for a career in a field such as law, medicine, business, or education.

Public School

Public schools receive most of their funding through the government. They are often large schools that serve thousands of students. As a result, public schools typically offer a broad range of undergraduate and graduate degree programs.



A quarter is ten weeks. There are usually three quarters in an academic year.



A registrar works in a school's administrative office overseeing student registrations. They ensure the accuracy, confidentiality, and integrity of all student records. They are often the person you seek if you need to add or drop a class, change your major, or order transcripts.


A rubric is a scoring tool that educators use to measure student achievement. It has three parts, including performance criteria, a rating scale, and indicators. Instructors often measure final projects against a rubric to ensure students meet assignment requirements, and it is used to award a final grade. 


Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT)

The SAT is a standardized test for college admissions developed by the College Board. It tests for math, reading and writing, and language. It's usually taken in the junior or senior years of high school. A score of 1600 is considered a perfect score. The average score in 2021 was 1060 for test takers who didn't complete the essay section and 1088 for those who did. In addition, you can take the Preliminary SAT (PSAT) before the SAT to practice and see where you need to focus your studies.


In our content, self-paced is an adjective that often refers to a class or program format. It means that you can study at your own pace according to your schedule. You don't have to go to class or meet at specific times as long as you finish your work within a predetermined amount of time and meet your deadlines.


A semester is 16 weeks out of an academic year. Therefore, there are two semesters in an academic year. 

Standardized Test

A standardized test — sometimes called an entrance exam — is what you may complete while in high school to prepare for college. These tests are scored in a consistent and standard way so results can be fairly assessed. Schools often require that you submit your standardized test scores through the admission process because they will only admit students who score above a certain level. The SAT and ACT are the most commonly used standardized tests.

Statement of Intent

A statement of intent — sometimes called a letter or essay of intent — is something you may be required to write as part of the college application process. It's a document stating why you want to enroll in a particular degree program and what you intend to do after you graduate. 

Subsidized/Unsubsidized Loan

Subsidized loans are student loans offered by the federal government to qualified undergraduate students in order to help pay for college. They do not accrue interest until students are ready to begin repaying them. Conversely, an unsubsidized loan may be awarded to undergraduate or graduate students, and they accrue interest while you're still in school.


A syllabus is a guide outlining what to expect when taking a course. It typically provides information such as required reading materials, an assignment schedule, policies and rules, and links to online resources.


Online classes are synchronous if you have to log in and participate as a class at a specifically designated time each week. 


Terminal Degree

A terminal degree is the highest academic achievement you can earn in a particular field of study. It most commonly refers to a graduate or doctoral degree.


A trade is a job that usually involves some level of manual labor. Welding, auto mechanics, and electronics are examples of trades. You can gain advanced skills for these jobs by attending a trade school to earn a certificate of completion or a community college to earn an associate degree.

Traditional Student

A traditional student is a postsecondary student under 25 who enters college directly after high school. They generally attend college full time and have minimal obligations outside of school.


A transcript is a record of your courses, grades, and other awards from high school and college. You often request official transcripts to be sent directly from school to school if you are transferring or enrolling in a program. In addition, you may request unofficial copies for your use or while you wait for your official copies to arrive.

Transfer Credit

A transfer credit is a credit hour earned at an accredited college or university that you can apply towards a degree at another accredited school or program. For example, you may be able to transfer GE credit hours to a bachelor's degree to eliminate the need to repeat those classes.


Tuition is what you pay for your classes. Depending on the school, you may pay by the credit hour, course, term, or program. It does not include any fees you may pay as a student, such as a campus or technology fee.


Undergraduate Degree

An undergraduate degree is an associate or bachelor's degree. They take full-time students between two and four years to complete at a two-year college or four-year university, respectively. You can also earn undergraduate certificates and diplomas from community colleges.

Upper Division

You usually take upper-division courses three years into your bachelor's degree. They are generally labeled as 300- or 400-level courses. Master's-level courses may be labeled as 500 or higher.



Vocational refers to the skills and training you learn for a specific occupation. For example, medical assisting, medical coding and billing, and dental assisting are examples of vocational programs. You generally earn a certificate of completion for vocational programs.

Comparing Similar Terminology

The following comparisons include terms that are very similar but have different meanings. 

Admissions vs Enrollment | Capstone vs Thesis | Certificate vs Certification | Certification vs Licensure | Community College vs Two-Year College | Concentration vs Minor | Concentration vs Specialization | Core Courses vs Major Courses | Diploma vs Degree | Dissertation vs Thesis | Doctoral Degree vs PhD | Dual Degree vs Double Major | GRE vs GMAT | Graduate Degree vs Master's Degree | Humanities vs Liberal Arts | Institutional vs Programmatic Accreditation | Internships vs Externships | License vs Credential | Professor vs Instructor | Subsidized Loan vs Unsubsidized Loan | Synchronous vs Asynchronous | Trade vs Vocation

Admissions vs Enrollment

When you decide on a college or university to attend, you apply for admissions first. Admissions usually include completing an application, submitting transcripts, and meeting minimum GPA and standardized testing requirements. 

Once admitted,  you can complete enrollment in a program and classes. However, you can't enroll until you're admitted.

Capstone vs Thesis

A capstone is what you may complete during your final year of a degree program. It's a project that provides an opportunity to prove what you've learned in your major. A capstone may include writing a paper and presenting to your instructor and peers on a topic of your choice. It is investigative and informational by nature.

You complete a thesis at the end of a master's degree program by conducting new research to prove or argue a hypothesis.

Certificate vs Certification

As mentioned above, a certificate is what you earn to show program completion. However, it does not demonstrate your skills.

Certification is what you earn after passing a certification exam. It demonstrates your skills and is often necessary to earn credentials and apply for state licensing. Examples are licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) and legal nurse consultants.

Certification vs Licensure

Certification may be a requirement for licensure, but usually not the other way around.

Certification is something you earn after passing a test. It demonstrates competency in your profession and that you are qualified to do your job.

Licensure is what you apply for as required by the state where you work. It shows that you can legally practice your job and are in good standing without pending litigation or complaints against you. Professions that are licensed include teachers, nurses, and clinical social workers, to name a few.

Community College vs Two-Year College

All community colleges are two-year colleges, though some may offer four-year bachelor's degrees in areas of high demand. However, a two-year college may not be a community college. 

Community colleges are nonprofit public entities that are paid for by taxpayer money. In contrast, a two-year college may be a private school that is either nonprofit or for-profit, depending on how the institution receives funding.

Concentration vs Minor

As mentioned above, a concentration is when you take more classes in one subject area through your degree program to focus your studies on a specific area of interest. Some programs allow you to designate a concentration to take classes in that specific track. However, it could be informal and you may not need to declare your intent. In other words, you may choose the classes as your electives.

A minor requires completing 16-30 credit hours in a subject that may or may not be related to your major. If you decide to pursue a minor, you must declare it so you have the approval to take the classes and have it show on your degree. 

Concentration vs Specialization

To have a concentration means that many of the classes you took through your degree program focused on subject matter in an area of study. For example, you may be a communications major who concentrated on intercultural communications and took courses exposing you to that subject.

A more in-depth specialization may prepare you for work in a specific field. Specializing may enable you to become a subject matter expert in that area. For example, you may study to be a nurse and specialize in geriatrics to deliver care to older adults.

Core Courses vs Major Courses

Core courses are what everyone at your school is required to take at a certain degree level. It usually includes classes in subjects such as writing, math, and science.

Major courses are unique to your chosen field of study. For example, a communications major may take major courses in intercultural communication, communication theory, and listening. These are classes that wouldn't necessarily be required of another major.

Diploma vs Degree

A diploma may be awarded after completing a relatively short program that may help you develop trade or vocational skills. You may be able to complete these programs in less than two years at a trade or vocational school, community college, or other two-year institution.

A degree is awarded after graduation requirements in an academic course of study are met. It typically takes two or more years to earn a degree at a community college or four-year university.

Dissertation vs Thesis

Dissertations and theses are somewhat similar but have clear distinctions.

First, you complete a thesis at the master's level and a dissertation at the doctoral level for a doctorate or PhD.

Second, a thesis is usually done strictly through writing, while a dissertation will most likely require an oral defense of the research you conduct. You usually schedule a time to do your presentation in front of your instructor after you complete the written portion of your dissertation.

Doctoral Degree vs PhD

The distinction between a PhD and a doctorate is often misunderstood. While all PhDs are doctoral degrees, not all doctoral degrees are PhDs.

A PhD is a research doctorate because the focus is heavily on scientific research. For example, professors and scientists may earn a PhD because they want to teach at the postsecondary or graduate level or anticipate continued work in scientific research throughout their careers.

A professional application doctoral degree focuses on advanced skills in a profession such as business, nursing, or education. For example, a higher education school administrator may earn their doctorate to oversee the operations of a college or university, and a nurse may earn their DNP to gain advanced skills in specialized nursing.

Dual Degree vs Double Major

The differences between dual degrees and double majors can also be very confusing.

A dual degree is earned through a program at the undergraduate or graduate level that enables you to receive two distinct degrees at graduation and requires the completion of two admissions.

A double major is earned through a program at the undergraduate level only. You only have to apply once, and you only receive one degree with two specializations when you graduate.


While both are considered entrance exams for master's degree programs, which one you take depends on your field of study.

You take the GRE exam if you are majoring in a non-business field or if you are undecided. 

You take the GMAT if you are majoring in business and are interested in earning your MBA.

Graduate Degree vs Master's Degree

All master's degrees are graduate degrees, but not all graduate degrees are master's.

A graduate degree is an advanced degree you can earn after a bachelor's degree. There are three types of graduate degrees: master's, PhDs, and doctorates. Therefore, a master's degree is just one type of graduate degree. It usually takes two years to complete, while a PhD or doctorate may take more than four.

Humanities vs Liberal Arts

All humanities are considered liberal arts, but not all of the liberal arts are in the humanities.

The liberal arts include a broad array of subjects such as history, science, psychology, math, and sociology

The humanities are an additional subset of the liberal arts and include courses that help us make sense of the human experience and include religion, foreign language, philosophy, and music.

Institutional vs Programmatic Accreditation

Institutional accreditation is what is awarded to colleges and universities. It's a voluntary peer-review process that demonstrates whether an institution as a whole is meeting a standard of excellence as expected by students. 

Programmatic accreditation is awarded to individual degree programs to ensure they meet industry standards and employer expectations of graduates. For example, accounting, nursing, and engineering programs may be programmatically accredited.

Internships vs Externships

You gain real-world experience on-site from internships and externships, each serving a different purpose.

Internships allow you to practice the skills you've gained through coursework in a degree program. In addition, you work in a real-world setting under the direct supervision of a licensed professional, so you can experience performing the job and applying your skills as though you are an employee.

Externships allow you to watch a skilled professional work in a real-world setting. You can observe their day-to-day work and the situations they may encounter without actually applying your skills. 

License vs Credential

A state may require a license to practice your profession legally. To be eligible for licensure, you may have to complete a certificate program, degree, and work experience. In addition, they require renewal to be maintained. Teachers and registered nurses must be licensed, for example.

A credential is what you may earn after you graduate that demonstrates your competence beyond program completion. You earn credentials through certification, and they typically do not require renewal. However, an employer may require credentialing, it may be necessary for licensure, or you may opt to earn credentials to build your professional authority and increase your marketability. 

Professor vs Instructor

All professors are instructors, but not all instructors are professors.

A professor is an instructor on a tenure track who teaches at a college or university as part of the faculty. Postsecondary and graduate-level professors often have a doctorate or PhD in their area of expertise. 

An instructor is anyone who teaches in higher education, but they may be contracted to do so. They may not have formalized education training but are hired to teach specific courses where they are considered subject matter experts and the most qualified to train others. For example, an industry professional may be asked to teach classes in a business administration program.

Subsidized Loan vs Unsubsidized Loan

A subsidized loan is a federal student loan awarded at the undergraduate level. It doesn't start accruing interest until it's time for repayment.

An unsubsidized loan is also a federal student loan, but it can be awarded at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. It starts accruing interest while you're still in school.

Synchronous vs Asynchronous

Both synchronous and asynchronous classes can be part of an online academic program.

Synchronous classes are live and start and stop at a designated time. You have to sign on during that time to participate. They don't offer as much flexibility as asynchronous classes.

Asynchronous classes are those that are not live, allowing you to participate as your schedule allows. There is no set time that you have to sign in to participate, and lectures may be pre-recorded.

Trade vs Vocation

While both trades and vocations are generally more labor-intensive than other professions, trades tend to be more hands-on than vocations. For example, becoming an HVAC technician is a trade because you will physically repair and maintain equipment. In contrast, becoming a medical assistant is considered a vocation because while it does require labor, it is not as physically demanding as a mechanic or an electrician, for instance.

Bottom Line

Don't be afraid to ask if you don't understand something you read in a course catalog or syllabus or are told by your instructor. The language of learning can feel daunting at first, but once you understand what it all means, it can alleviate some of the stress and allow you to focus on your studies and achieve your goals.

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