G.I. Jobs Virtual Job Fair   |   June 27

Virtual Job Fair   |   June 27

College 101: 8 Basic College Terms Explained

College Terms Explained

Don’t know the first thing about college? Don’t fret, here’s a quick and dirty guide on the basics.

For a lot of veterans, college is a whole new ballgame. Some of us are really familiar with the game, and others are walking in totally blind. Without any prior knowledge, the language can be intimidating and can make us a little afraid to ask. Well, here’s a basic overview of basic college terminology to get you started out right.

1. Credits

Whether a school calls it a “credit” or a “credit hour,” this is no more than a tool for the academic world to measure the amount of education in units. It is not a perfect system, but does clarify requirements. A credit is meant to equal one hour of classroom time per week over a 16-week period. The rubric calls for one hour of class time and two hours of homework time each week.

Most classes are worth three credits, meaning that they require three hours of weekly class time. So if you are trying to assess workload, follow the rubric (three credit class = three hours of classroom time and six hours of homework each week).

2. Semester

A semester is the length of time a course runs. These are traditionally 16 weeks in length. Most schools run a spring and fall semester schedule that divides the year in half with what they call “interim” semesters in the winter and summer. Interim semesters are shorter than a traditional semester. Therefore, classes taken during this period are more intensive and require more time each week, but over a shorter period. Many colleges offer a limited selection of classes during interim semesters.

Some schools have a rolling semester schedule. This means that they run courses on an untraditional schedule with start dates that occur monthly or bi-monthly. This can give working-adult students more schedule flexibility.

3. Undergraduate/Graduate

These titles refer to the number of years in the degree program the student is taking. Undergraduate courses are part of a four-year program, or bachelor’s degree.

Graduate are programs at the next level (after a bachelor’s degree has been obtained) that include master’s and doctorate degrees.

4. General Requirements

These are the basic non-major related credits that are required to fulfill a degree. These are usually taken first before moving on to the credits required to fulfill a major.

5. Major Requirements

These are the required credits that are specific to your major, the course of study in which you will receive a degree.

6. Prerequisite

These are classes or standards required before taking another class at a higher level.

7. Numbering System

Most colleges follow a standard alphanumeric system of identifying their classes. For example:

  • ENG101
  • ENG: English Department

The first number indicates year (101 = Freshman level class)

101/Freshman, 201/Sophomore, 301/Junior, 401/Senior

Anything above these numbers is usually a graduate level course.

The last two numbers indicate subject level relative to other classes offered in that department (ENG101 = Basic English course).

8. Syllabus

A summary of class expectations, projects and grading, usually created by the instructor. This should include other important information such as: class times, professor contact information and office hours (Read: School Supplies You Actually Need for College).

College can feel like a different world. But don’t be afraid to ask questions. You will find that your military experience gives you the ability to adapt easily. Good luck!


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