Confused about the US Education Terminology ?.
Make yourself comfortable with the following Jargon. Read on..

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USA Universities Intakes

Indian Students, remember, in USA Higher education context, the words School, College or University are used synonymously and mean one and same.

USA Universities, Colleges and Institutions offer Three Intakes or Three Seasons for Americans and International Students. Intakes and months are as follows.

Fall Intake– August / September
This is the major intake in USA where Universities offers all mentioned programs in websites. More Financial Assistance is available for students in this intake than any other intake.

Spring Intake – January
This is second major Intake after Fall and limited financial assistance is available compared to fall season. All programs are not offered in this Intake.

Summer Intake – April / May
Very few colleges offer this Intake and also very limited programs are offered in this Intake. Financial assistance is almost nil.

Other lesser used intake variants are also available like Early Fall, Spring and Summer or Late Fall, Spring and Summer intakes. You will find these terms in
few USA Universities websites.

Graduate Programs & Schools
Indian students need to understand that In USA Higher Education context , our B.Tech or B.E and other Professional Bachelors Programs are treated in USA as equivalents to their Under Graduate Programs (Bachelors programs).

Don’t get confused with these terms, as in India Bachelors Degree is treated as Graduate Degree and in USA Masters Degrees are treated as Graduate Degrees. Advanced Degrees like Masters and PhD Degrees are categorized as Graduate Programs in USA.

A Graduate School in USA Universities is a school that awards advanced academic degrees (i.e. Master’s degrees (Masters) and Ph.D. (Doctoral) degrees and other Professional Degrees).

But a graduate school is not necessarily a separate institution.  It’s a Division or Department or School of a University, which brings all Graduate programs like Master’s and Doctoral programs offered by various departments of Arts, Science, Engineering technologies and other Inter-disciplinary areas and

Business Schools in any university under one roof which gives all the relevant information in a single place.

Generally in USA one can find Masters and PhD programs offered by any university listed as Graduate Programs in Graduate School Listings.
The terms Graduate Programs and Masters and Doctoral Programs are used synonymously in USA Universities.

Masters Programs with Thesis and Non-Thesis Options

Many Master’s programs in USA offer a thesis and a non-thesis option. The degree is the same in both cases, but the academic requirements are slightly
different.  Selecting any one of these options depends on individual priorities and research interests.

Students in Non-Thesis Programs (or Course-work Program)  usually take more coursework than in Thesis Option, and they take a comprehensive
written examination along with a Project Work (instead of Thesis), after all the coursework is completed. Non-thesis Programs can be completed early and within a predictable course of time. But More classroom sessions, More Credits need to be completed and also more costlier than Thesis options.

Students in Thesis Programs need to do more research than non-thesis option and at the end a dissertation has to be presented and defended orally.
The dissertation should be original. In short Thesis option is like a Mini-PhD. Thesis students generally take a comprehensive examination that is an oral exam covering both coursework and their thesis. Generally takes more time to complete the program than non-thesis option.

Other Important Things to know about US Education

College, University and Schools

The terms, college and university, are used interchangeably and mean the same thing in the USA.
In general colleges tend to be smaller and usually offer only Undergraduate degrees, while a university also offers Graduate and Doctoral degrees. Within each college or university you will find schools, such as school of arts, sciences and School of Engineering or the school of business.

The academic year in US varies slightly for each college or university. It usually runs from late August/early September through May and is divided into two
semesters, which are approximately 15 to 16 weeks in length.

Six to Eight-week summer terms may be offered as an option for students to Complete their degrees faster, Decrease their course loads during the regular term and Retake courses not completed successfully during the regular academic year.

Alternatively, some institutions use Quarter or Trimester calendar  which are about 12 weeks in length.

English language Proficiency Requirements
Being able to communicate in English is a basic requirement for successful study in the United States. If English is not your native language, U.S. colleges and universities will ask you to take an English language proficiency test before admission. Almost all institutions require either the TOEFL or IELTS. One may be granted conditional acceptance with the understanding that you will attend English language classes at the institution before beginning your degree program.

Credit , Units, Credit Hour, Semester Hour or Graduate Hour
All mean one and same which is basically a unit of measure representing an hour (50 minutes) of instruction over a 15-week period in a semester or trimester system or a 10-week period in a quarter system. It is applied toward the total number of hours needed for completing the requirements of a degree.

As an example, a Programming Language course which meets for three one-hour sessions a week over a traditional 15-week semester, would be identified as a 3-credit course.

GPA and  U.S. Grading System
A grade point average, or GPA, is the combined average of a student’s grades for all academic coursework completed in a particular program. Colleges and universities in the USA commonly use letter grades to indicate the quality of a student’s academic performance.
Each letter grade has a numeric value that is used to establish the student’s GPA, which is based on a 4.0 scale.

Grade              GPA
A (100-90%)    4.0 (excellent)
B (89-80%)      3.0 (good)
C (79-70%)      2.0 (satisfactory)
D (69-60%)     1.0 (needs improvement)
F (59-50%)      0.0 (fail)

Public and Private Colleges and Universities
The U.S. government does not own or operate academic institutions. Instead, you have the option to choose between public or private institutions. In the United States, each of the 50 states operates public institutions that are funded in part by people who live in that state and pay taxes. Public state-run institutions usually have lower tuition and fees, but financial assistance may be more limited.

Private institutions operate as either not-for-profit or for-profit entities. On average, private institutions have higher tuition and fees, but more financial
assistance may be available.

Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL®, measures the ability of non-native English speakers to communicate in an academic setting.

The International English Language Testing System measures English
language ability in reading, writing, listening, and speaking. The
reading and writing portions are available in two versions:

  • Academic, for students interested in entering higher education programs or pursuing a license in the healthcare professions. The “academic” version is the one that most international students who want to study at the undergraduate or graduate level will take.
  •  General Training, for test takers who need to use English daily for functional activities, secondary education, vocational training, work purposes, or immigration.

The GRE, or Graduate Record Examinations, is a standardized test of verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing that measures readiness for graduate-level study. The GRE is offered in two types—the General Test and the Subject Test.  Most of the US Universities require General Test  from International Students.

The GMAT, or Graduate Management Admission Test, is designed for business school applicants and measures basic verbal, mathematical, and analytical writing skills that have been developed over a long period of time through education and work

Online Application
Many US Universities now these days accept Online Applications. If there is an online application, use it. This will accelerate the application process for
you and make it easier for the college to process your application. Some colleges waive the application fee if you use their electronic application. Several U.S. colleges and universities ask for paper-based applications and supporting materials even after submitting online application. Follow the instructions which differ from college to college..

Each institution sets its own deadline date to receive Completed Applications along with required support documents and is usually firm about not accepting applications after that time. It is always a good idea to submit your application as soon as possible.

Rolling Admissions
Applications are accepted at any time before the start of classes for a particular semester, but students should apply as early as possible

The main types of US Higher education expenses include:  Tuition & fees, Housing, Meals, Books and supplies, Transportation and  Other personal expenses

Application for financial aid
A financial aid application is typically submitted together with the rest of the college or university application, but the deadline for aid can be earlier than the deadline for regular applications. It is important for students to research specific deadlines with the individual colleges or universities where they plan to apply.

Work on Campus
Current U.S.immigration regulations allow international students to work up to 20 hours per week on campus during their first year of study. On-campus jobs may include working at the cafeteria, bookstore, library or health club, or within the institution’s administrative offices. You will likely not earn enough at a campus job to pay your major expenses, such as tuition or housing. However, by working 10 to 15 hours a week you could earn enough to pay for books, clothing, and personal expenses. This income also cannot be used as a source of income for any official financial statements.

A scholarship is a grant of funding, which may take the form of a waiver of tuition and/or fees. This merit-based aid is based on your achievement in a particular area; for example, outstanding academic performance, special talent in sports or performing arts, community service, or leadership.
A university can give a scholarship for one academic year with the option of renewal for the whole period of study. Students are required to maintain a good academic record during each year to keep the scholarship. The decision on scholarship renewal is made every year on the basis of the student’s academic achievements and recommendations of his/her professors

Types of financial aid
Sources of university funding for graduate programs are:

  • Fellowships and tuition scholarships
  • Research assistant-ships
  • Teaching assistant-ships
  • Administrative assistant-ships

Student Visa

  • F-1. The most common visa for those who want to study in the United States. It is for individuals who want to study at an accredited
    U.S. college or university or study English at a university or intensive English language institute.
  •  J-1. This visa is for people who will be participating in an exchange program, including those programs that provide high school and
    university study.
  • M-1. This visa is for those who will be engaged in non-academic or vocational study or training in the United States.

Certificate of eligibility Or Admission Form
To apply for a visa, you must first have received a Form I-20 (for F or M visa) or Form DS-2019 (for J visa) (certificate of eligibility for non-immigrant student status).
Form I-20 or (I-20A-B) is an admission offer letter also known as Certificate of Eligibility For Non-immigrant (F1) student issued by the USA University to the International Students on the behalf of U.S. Department of Justice, Immigration and Naturalization Service.

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Visa Questions
During the Visa interview, be prepared to answer questions regarding ties to your home country, your English language skills, your academic background, the program in the United States to which you have been admitted, and proof of your financial ability to fund the program you are seeking visa for.

Orientation Program
All colleges and universities in the United States offer new student orientation programs that ease your transition to a new place. These programs give you a chance to meet other students, receive information about immigration regulations, learn about your institution’s expectations, get to know the campus and community, speak with professors and academic advisers, and register for courses.

Health insurance
Health insurance provides coverage for medical care. The United States does not have a government medical plan of health care service that covers the whole population. Most people have private health insurance.
Consult international student adviser for specific information regarding health insurance at the college or university you will be attending. Nearly all
international students purchase health insurance through their universities. Students with disabilities can refer to Mobility International USA for more information about community resources in the United States.

More Terms

Academic adviser (AA): A member of a college faculty who helps and advises students solely on academic matters.

Academic year: The period of formal instruction, usually September to May; may be divided into terms of varying lengths-semesters, trimesters, or  quarters.

Accreditation: Approval of colleges and universities by nationally recognized professional associations or regional accrediting bodies.

Assistant-ship: A study grant of financial assistance to a graduate student that is offered in return for certain services in teaching or laboratory supervision as a teaching assistant, or for services in research as a research assistant.

College Catalog: An official publication giving information about a university’s academic programs, facilities, entrance requirements, and student life. In a
similar fashion a Graduate Catalog gives information about Master’s and Doctoral Programs offered in the university.

Core course: Courses that provide the foundation of the degree program and are required of all students seeking that degree.

Course: Regularly scheduled class sessions of one to five hours (or more) per week during a term. A degree program is made up of a specified number of required and elective courses and varies from institution to institution.

Credits: Units that most colleges and universities use to record the completion of courses (with passing grades) that are required for an academic degree.

Designated school official (DSO): A Designated School Official (DSO) is the person on campus who gathers and reports information on international students to the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and assists international students in the visa and employment authorization process. Your DSO’s name will be listed on your I-20 or DS 2019.

Dissertation: Thesis written on an original topic of research, usually presented as one of the final requirements for a doctoral degree (Ph.D.).

Doctoral degree (PhD): The highest academic degree conferred by a university to students who have completed graduate study beyond the bachelor’s and/or master’s degree. Students should demonstrate their academic ability through oral and written examinations and original research presented in the form of a dissertation.

Dormitories: Housing facilities on the campus of a college or university reserved for students. A typical dormitory would include student rooms, bathrooms, common rooms, and possibly a cafeteria. Also known as “dorms” for short.

Electives: Courses that may be chosen from any field of study. Electives give students an opportunity to explore other topics or subjects of interest.

Extracurricular activities: Nonacademic activities undertaken outside university courses.

Faculty: People who teach courses at U.S. colleges and universities. Faculty members may include professors, associate professors, assistant professors, and instructors.

Fellowship: A form of financial assistance, usually awarded to a graduate student. Generally, no service is required of the student in return.

Financial aid: A general term that includes all types of money, loans, and work/study programs offered to a student to help pay tuition, fees, and living

Fraternities: Social, academic, and philanthropic organizations found on many U.S. campuses.

Freshman: A first-year student at a secondary school, college, or university.

Full-time student: One who is enrolled in an institution taking a full load of courses; the number of courses and hours is specified by the institution. Usually Masters program International students need to take a minimum of 9 Credits per semester to be on full-time student visa status.

Grade/grading system: The evaluation of a student’s academic work.

Graduate: A student who has completed a course of study, either at secondary school or college level. A graduate program at a university is a study course for students who already hold a bachelor’s degree.

Institute: A post secondary institution that specializes in degree programs in a group of closely related subjects; for example, Institute of Technology.

International student adviser (ISA): The person at a university who is in charge of providing information and guidance to international students in areas of government regulation, visas, academic regulations, social customs, language, financial or housing problems, travel plans, insurance, and legal matters.

Language requirement: A requirement of some graduate programs that students must show basic reading and writing proficiency in a language other than their own to receive a degree.

Lecture: Common method of instruction in college and university courses; a professor lectures in classes of 20 to several hundred students. Lectures may be supplemented with regular small group discussions led by teaching assistants.

Liberal arts and sciences: Academic studies of subjects in the humanities, the social sciences, and the physical sciences with the goal of developing students’ verbal, written, and reasoning skills.

Living expenses: Expenses such as housing and meals, books and supplies, transportation, personal expenses, health insurance, etc.

Maintenance: Refers to the expenses of attending a university, including room (living quarters) and board (meals), books, clothing, laundry, local
transportation, and incidentals.

Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE): An English language proficiency examination that measures English ability through tasks that reflect real-life settings.

Prerequisites: Programs or courses that a student is required to complete before being permitted to enroll in a more advanced program or course.

Qualifying examination: In many graduate departments, an examination given to students who have completed required coursework for a doctoral degree, but who have not yet begun the dissertation or thesis. A qualifying examination may be oral or written, or both, and must be passed for the student to continue.

Registration: Process through which students select courses to be taken during a quarter, semester, or trimester.

Resident assistant (RA): A person who assists the residence hall director in campus dormitories and is usually the first point of contact for students who need assistance or have questions about campus life. Ras are usually students at the college who receive free accommodation and other benefits in return for their services.

Responsible Officer (RO): A Responsible Officer is the exchange program staff person who gathers and reports information on exchange visitors to the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and assists in the visa process. The RO’s name is listed on the DS-2019.

Rolling deadline: Institutions accept applications and admit students at any time during a specific time period until all available spots are filled.

Sabbatical: Leave with pay granted to give a faculty member an extended period of time for concentrated study.

SAT: A primarily multiple-choice test of mathematics and English that is used for admission into an undergraduate program.

Scholarship: A study grant of financial aid, usually given at the undergraduate level, that may take the form of a waiver of tuition and/or fees.

School:: A term that usually refers to elementary, middle, or secondary school. Also used in place of the words “college,” “university,” or “institution,” or as a
general term for any place of education; for example, law school, or graduate school.

Semester: Period of study lasting approximately 15 to 16 weeks or one-half the academic year.

Seminar: A form of small group instruction, combining independent research and class discussions under the guidance of a professor.

Social Security Number (SSN): A number issued to people by the U.S. government for payroll deductions. Anyone who works regularly must obtain a Social Security Number. Many institutions use this number as the student identification number.

Sophomore: A second-year student at a secondary school, college, or university.

Sororities: Female social, academic, and philanthropic organizations found on many U.S. campuses.

Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS): An Internet-based system that maintains records of foreign students and exchange visitors before and during their stay in the United States. It is part of the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) managed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Teaching assistant (TA): A graduate student who acts as an instructor for an undergraduate course in his or her field, in return for some form of financial aid from the university.

Tenure: A guarantee that a faculty member will remain employed by a college or university until retirement except in the case of very unusual  circumstances. Tenure is granted to senior faculty members who have demonstrated a worthy research and publication record. Its purpose is to preserve
academic freedom.

Thesis: A written work containing the results of research on a specific topic prepared by a candidate for a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

Tuition: The money an institution charges for instruction and training (does not include the cost of books).

Withdrawal: The administrative procedure of dropping a course or leaving an institution.