Higher education in US - Glossary of important words and phrases

Do you wish to pursue your higher studies in US? Are you unfamiliar with certain specific words and phrases, which the aspiring students come across during application process in the US universities? Here is a glossary of such words and phrases to help you understand the same.


There are certain words and phrases which are specific to higher education in US. The students who first time try to browse through the various resources related to the higher studies in US, often find themselves unable to understand the underlying meaning of such specific words or phrases. In this article a glossary of some important words and phrases related to higher education in US have been compiled for the intended benefit of the students aspiring to pursue higher studies in US.

Higher education in US


  1. Affidavit of Support - It is an official document which the international students are required to provide for proving that they have adequate funds available to cover their educational and living expenses during the period of their studies in US universities.
  2. Assistantship - It is a financial aid offered to a graduate students to cover their tuition fee etc. in lieu of certain services offered by them as a 'teaching assistant' or a 'research assistant'.
  3. College - An educational institution which offers post secondary level education of undergraduate level, but some colleges offer graduate level courses also.
  4. Course - The students are required to complete a specific number of required and elective 'courses' for completing a degree program. A course means a scheduled class on a particular subject.
  5. Credits - Generally each course is assigned a value in terms of 'credits', 'credit hours' or 'units'. For completing a degree the students have to earn specified number of 'credits'.
  6. FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) - US citizens submit FAFSA application for availing US Government aids. Though international students are not eligible for US Government aids, but sometimes schools ask FAFSA application to determine their financial needs.
  7. Financial aid - All types of money offered to the students to help them in completing their course which includes loans, grants, scholarships, assistantships, fellowships and work study jobs.
  8. Freshman - First year student of a high school or college or university.
  9. GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) - It is an international standardized test for considering admission in a business school for graduate level courses (like CAT in India).
  10. Graduate school - A division of a school or university which offers graduate studies i.e. awards master's degree or doctorates.
  11. Graduate student - A student who already hold an undergraduate degree and pursuing higher studies in a graduate school leading to master's degree of a doctorate degree. ( It may be noted that a B.Tech. degree is an undergraduate degree in the context of education in US, though in India, it is considered as a graduate degree)
  12. Grant - A type of financial aid which need not be repaid.
  13. GRE (Graduate Record Examination) - It is an international standardized test for considering admission in a graduate school for graduate level courses i.e. master's and research programs.
  14. High school - A secondary school that offers education in the grades IX to XII.
  15. Ivy League - An association of eight top raking highly competitive and prestigious private universities consisting of Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, and Yale University.
  16. I-20 - On an applicant getting admitted by a 'Student and Exchange Visitor Program' certified school, the designated school official (DSO) issues a document called Form I-20 which is a 'certificate of eligibility for nonimmigrant (F-1) student status. This Form I-20 is a paper record of student's information in the database called SEVIS.
  17. LOR (Letter of recommendation) - Graduate schools generally require applicants to submit recommendation letters written by the teachers, research guides, mentors etc. that assesses his or her qualifications and skills, as a part of application process.
  18. LSAT (Law School Admission Test) - It is an international standardized test for considering admission in a law school.
  19. Master's - A graduate degree requiring one or two years of full time study beyond the bachelor's degree. MS (Master of Science) is such a common example of master's degree. (After B.Tech., students complete MS degree in US like M.Tech degree in India).
  20. MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) - It is an international standardized test for considering admission in a medical school.
  21. Non-resident - Generally colleges and universities in US have different admission and fees policies for resident (of that particular state) and non-resident (of that particular state) students. The international students are treated as non-residents.
  22. Orientation - It is an official process of welcoming newly admitted students to the campus and providing them with information and policies before classes begin.
  23. SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) - It is an international standardized test for considering admission in college (undergraduate courses).
  24. SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) - A computerized US Government database for the purpose of tracking international students in the United States. After getting provisionally admitted in an US college or university, I-20 is mailed to the student by the concerned college which is paper record of the students information in SEVIS. The students are required to to pay SEVIS fee and use the SEVIS receipt and I-20 to apply for student visa.
  25. Social Security Number (SSN) - It is a nine digit number (like Aadhar number in India) issued by the US Government to people who are authorized to work in US and derive certain Government benefits. The students who are authorized to work in US either 'on campus' or 'off campus' must apply for and obtain SSN which is used to report wages earned by them to the Government.
  26. Sophomore - A student in the second year of high school or college or university.
  27. Standardized tests - Examinations like SAT, GRE and GMAT etc. which measure knowledge and skills of the students. The scores are used by the admissions officials to compare students who come from different backgrounds.
  28. Teaching assistant (TA) - A graduate student who assists professors in teaching a undergraduate course.
  29. TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) - It is an international standardized test which measures student's English language proficiency in reading, listening, speaking and writing.
  30. Transcript - An official record of courses completed and marks/grades obtained issued by the concerned college/university (known as marks sheet in India).
  31. Visa - An official mark or stamp in a passport (granted by the US Government) that allows someone to enter a country for a particular period of time. Most commonly, the international students require F-1 (student visa) to enter US for studies.


The glossary of terms and words specific to higher education in US is likely to help the students aspiring for pursuing their higher studies in US. Unfamiliarity with such terms often creates confusion in the minds of the students. The readers of this article are requested to post as a response to this article, more such words and phrases related to higher education in US, which they would like to get added in the article.

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