Glossary of U.S. Education & Academic Terms


Adjunct professor: A professor or instructor that does not hold a permanent or full-time position at an academic institution. This may be someone with a job outside the academic institution teaching courses in a specialized field, or it may refer to persons hired to teach courses on a contractual basis. Northwestern Michigan College has both full-time and adjunct professors.

Academic advisor: A member of a college faculty or staff who helps and advises students in matters related solely to the academic program of study or major.

Academic year: The period of formal instruction from late August to early May, divided into semesters – fall and spring.

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

ACT (American College Test): A standardized college entrance examination including four separate multiple-choice tests that measure knowledge in English, mathematics, reading, and science. An optional writing test measures planning and writing skills. Most students take this examination during their junior or senior (third or fourth) year of high school (secondary school). Northwestern Michigan College accepts but does not require ACT scores.

Add/drop: A process within the first week of classes whereby students can delete and add classes with an instructor’s permission and usually without financial penalty.

Affidavit of support: An official document proving a promise of funding from an individual or organization.

Assistantship: 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.

Associate degree: A degree awarded after a two-year period of study; it can be either terminal or transfer (the first two years of a bachelor's degree). Northwestern Michigan College offers only associate degrees.

Attestation: Official affirmation that a degree or transcript is genuine; usually signed by a recognized expert or witness.

Audit: To take a class without receiving credit toward a degree.

Authentication: Process of determining whether something is, in fact, what it is declared to be. Incoming students are often required to provide a document of authentication for academic transcripts or previous degrees when applying to a program of study in the United States.


Bachelor’s degree: An undergraduate degree awarded by a college or university upon successful completion of a program of study, typically requiring at least four years (or the equivalent) of full-time study. Common degree types include bachelor of arts (B.A. or A.B.), which refers to the liberal arts, and bachelor of science (B.S.). A bachelor's is required before starting graduate studies. Northwestern Michigan College does not award bachelor’s degrees but they may be earned in Traverse City through our University Center.

BIRT: Behavioral Incident Report Team (an NMC committee)

Blended Learning: A teaching method that blends online or digital components with face-to-face or Zoom instruction but does not reduce the number of required course meetings.


Campus: The land or grounds on which the buildings of a college or university are located. Northwestern Michigan College has four campuses.

CGFNS: Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools.

CIE: Center for Instructional Excellence (an NMC department)

Class rank: A number or ratio indicating a student's academic standing in their graduating class. A student who ranks first in a class of 100 students would report their class rank as 1/100, while a student ranking last would report 100/100. Class rank may also be expressed in percentiles (for example, the top 25 percent, the lower 50 percent). Northwestern Michigan College does not calculate class ranking nor does it use class ranking in admission decisions.

COAT: Capital Outlay Allocation Team (an NMC committee)

Coed: A college or university that admits both men and women; also refers to a dormitory that houses both men and women. Northwestern Michigan College has coed residence halls with single-sex floors.

College: A postsecondary institution that provides an undergraduate education and, in some cases, master's and doctorate degrees. College, in a separate sense, is a division of a university; for example, College of Business.

College catalog: An official publication giving information about a university's academic programs, facilities, entrance requirements, and student life. NMC college catalog information and links can be found here.

Community college: A postsecondary institution that offers associate degree programs, as well as technical and vocational programs. Northwestern Michigan College is a community college.

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. A description of all the courses NMC offers can be found here.

Credits: Units that most colleges and universities use to record the completion of courses (with passing grades) that are required for a degree. Northwestern Michigan College offers degree programs requiring 64-125 credits.


Day student: A student who lives in accommodations that are not administered by the college and are off the campus grounds. He or she travels to campus every day for classes. A student who lives with a host family or in a house or apartment of their own is considered a “day student.”

Degree: Diploma or title conferred by a college, university, or professional school upon completion of a prescribed program of studies. NMC offers associate degrees in over 60 different program areas.

Department: Administrative subdivision of a school, college, or university through which instruction in a certain field of study is given (such as English department or history department). A list of NMC departments can be found here.

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.

DSOs for NMC are:

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 (Ph.D.): 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 (dorms or residence halls): Housing facilities on the campus of a college or university reserved for students. A typical dormitory would include student rooms, bathrooms, common areas, and possibly a kitchen or cafeteria. Rooms are typically furnished with basic items such as a bed, desk, chair, and closet or armoire. More information about NMC’s residence halls can be found here.


ECFMG: Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates.

ECFVG: Educational Commission for Foreign Veterinary Graduates.

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

EMT: Educational Media Technologies (an NMC department)

ERAS: Electronic Residency Application System for obtaining a residency position in the field of medicine in the United States.

ESIMT: Educational Services Instructional Management Team (an NMC committee)

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.

Fees: An amount charged by universities, in addition to tuition, to cover costs of institutional services. A complete list of fees charged by Northwestern Michigan College can be found here.

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

Final exam: Often referred to as a “final,” a final exam is a cumulative exam on a particular course subject encompassing all material covered throughout the duration of the course.

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 expenses. International students are not entitled to Federal Financial Aid.

Flipped learning: A teaching method that prioritizes active learning during class time by assigning students lecture materials and assignments to be viewed outside of scheduled class time.

Fraternities: Male 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 or at least 12 credit hours.


Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT): A standardized test for MBA applicants that measures basic verbal, mathematical, and analytical writing skills that have been developed over a long period of time through education and work.

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

Grade point average (GPA): The combined average of a student's grades for all academic coursework completed. In the United States, grades are usually assigned in letters and are based on a 4.0 GPA scale.

Grade — GPA

  • A — 4.0 (excellent)
  • B — 3.0 (good)
  • C — 2.0 (satisfactory)
  • D — 1.0 (needs improvement)
  • F — 0.0 (fail)

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.

Graduate Record Examination (GRE): A standardized test of verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing that measures readiness for graduate-level study.


High school: The U.S. term for secondary school.

Higher education: Postsecondary education at colleges, universities, professional schools, technical institutes, etc.

Honors program: A challenging program for students with high grades. Northwestern Michigan College has an honors program for students who wish to challenge themselves academically. Read more about it here.

Humanities: Academic courses focused on human life and ideas, including history, philosophy, foreign languages, religion, art, music, and literature.

Hyflex courses: Hyflex (a combination of "hybrid" and "flexible") courses meet face-to-face and on Zoom during a regularly scheduled time. These courses do not reduce the number of required class meetings.


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

International English Language Testing System (IELTS): An English language proficiency examination of applicants whose native language is not English. NMC accepts IELTS scores of 6.5 and higher for English Proficiency.

International student advisor (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. At NMC, your ISA is Lisa vonReichbauer (


Junior: A third-year student at a secondary school, college, or university. Junior status is only awarded for students seeking a bachelor’s degree.


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.

Law School Admission Test (LSAT): A standardized test that provides a standard measure of acquired reading and verbal reasoning skills that law schools can use as one of several factors in assessing applicants.

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. At NMC, lecture courses do not typically exceed 40 students.

Letter of recommendation: A letter written by a student's teacher, counselor, coach, or mentor that assesses their qualifications and skills. Colleges, universities, and graduate schools generally require recommendation letters as part of the application process.

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. A breakdown of all costs associated with attending NMC can be found here.

Loan: A type of financial aid that consists of an amount of money that is given to someone for a period of time, with an agreement that it will be repaid later. International students are generally not eligible for U.S. federal government loans and will typically require an American cosigner to apply for a private bank loan.


Major: The academic subject area that students chooses to focus on during their undergraduate studies. Students typically must officially choose their major by the end of their sophomore year, allowing them to take a number of courses in the chosen area during their junior and senior years.

Master's: A graduate degree awarded by a college or university upon successful completion of an advanced program of study, typically requiring one or two years of full-time study beyond the bachelor's degree. Common degree types include master of arts (M.A.), which refers to the liberal arts; master of science (M.S.); and master of business administration (M.B.A.).

Matriculate: To enroll in a program of study at a college or university, with the intention of earning a degree.

M.B.A.: A master of business administration degree.

MCAT (Medical College Admission Test): A standardized U.S. medical school entrance exam administered by the nonprofit Association of American Medical Colleges, which measures verbal reasoning and writing skills and physical and biological sciences knowledge. The MCAT will likely undergo significant changes in 2015, with new areas added, such as genetics, cell and molecular biology, psychology, and sociology.

Merit aid / merit scholarships: A type of financial aid awarded by a college or university to students who have demonstrated special academic ability or talents, regardless of their financial need. Most merit aid has specific requirements if students want to continue to receive it, such as maintaining a certain GPA.

Midterm exam: An exam given after half of the academic term has passed and that covers all material studied in a particular course until that point. Not all courses have midterm exams.

Minor: An academic subject area that a student chooses to have a secondary focus on during their undergraduate studies. Unlike a major, a minor is typically not required, but it allows a student to take a few additional courses in a subject different from their major.

Moodle: An online learning management system used for online course content at NMC. All online courses, and most other classes, use Moodle to house class materials, lectures, videos, notes, reading materials, discussion forums and more. Moodle also houses a grade book which your instructor may use to help you track your progress in the course. Moodle courses appear 1-2 days prior to the start of each semester.


Need-based financial aid: Financial aid that is awarded to students due to their financial inability to pay the full cost of attending a specific college or university, rather than specifically because of their grades or other merit. Northwestern Michigan College does not offer need-based financial aid to international students.

Need-blind admissions: A college or university's policy of accepting or declining applications without considering an applicant's financial circumstances. This policy does not necessarily mean that these schools will offer enough financial aid to meet a student's full need. Only a handful of U.S. colleges or universities offer need-blind admissions to international students.

Net price calculator: An online tool that allows students and families to calculate a personalized estimate of the cost of a specific college or university, after taking into account any scholarships or need-based financial aid that an applicant would receive. By Oct. 29, 2011, each higher education institution in the United States is required by law to post a net price calculator on its respective website. Find NMC’s net price calculator here.

Non-matriculated: Enrolled in a college or university's courses, but not in a program of study leading to a degree.

Nonresident: A student who does not meet a state's residence requirements. A college or university may have different tuition costs and admissions policies for residents versus nonresidents. In most cases, international students are considered nonresidents. A "nonresident alien" is a person who is not a U.S. citizen and is in the country on a temporary basis.

Notarized: Certified as authentic by a public official, lawyer, or bank. Colleges and universities often require international students to submit notarized documents, such as the Affidavit of Support or high school transcripts.


Open admissions: A college or university's policy of accepting all students who have completed high school, regardless of their grades or test scores, until all spaces are filled. Most community colleges have an open admissions policy, including for international students.

Optional Practical Training (OPT): A period during which undergraduate and graduate students with F-1 status, who have completed or been pursuing their degree for more than 1 year, are permitted by USCIS to work for up to 12 months without needing to acquire an H-1B visa. NMC offers OPT to all international students who have successfully completed their program of study or have been fully enrolled for at least one full year.

Orientation: A college or university's official process of welcoming new, accepted students to campus and providing them with information and policies before classes begin, usually in a half-day or full-day event. Many colleges and graduate schools offer a separate orientation just for international students to cover topics such as how to follow immigration and visa regulations, set up a U.S. bank account, and handle culture shock.

ORPE: Office of Research, Planning & Effectiveness (an NMC department)


Part-time student: A student who is enrolled at a college or university but is not taking the minimum number of credits required for a full course load.

Pass-fail: A grading system in which students receive either a "pass" or "fail" grade, rather than a specific score or letter grade. Certain college or university courses can be taken pass-fail, but these typically don't include ones taken to fulfill major or minor requirements.

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

Ph.D.: A doctor of philosophy degree. (See "doctorate.")

Placement testing: An examination used to test a student's academic ability in a certain field so that he or she may be placed in the appropriate courses in that field. In some cases, a student may be given academic credit based on the results of a placement test. Learn more about placement testing here.

Plagiarism: The use of another person's words or ideas as your own, without acknowledging that person. Schools have different policies and punishments for students caught plagiarizing, which tends to occur with research papers and other written assignments. Northwestern Michigan College has a strict policy against plagiarism and more information about the plagiarism policy can be found here.

Plan of study: A detailed description of the course of study for which a candidate applies. The plan should incorporate the objectives given in the student's “statement of purpose.”

Post doctorate: Studies designed for those who have completed their doctoral degree.

Postgraduate: Usually refers to studies for individuals who have completed a graduate degree. It may also be used to refer to graduate education.

Prerequisites: Programs or courses that a student is required to complete before being permitted to enroll in a more advanced program or course. NMC lists course prerequisites under each course description found here.

Priority date: The date by which an application must be received in order to be given full consideration. This can apply to admissions, financial aid, and on-campus housing. After the priority date passes, applications may be considered on a case-by-case or first-come-first-served basis.

Private school: A postsecondary institution controlled by a private individual(s) or a nongovernmental agency. A private institution is usually not supported primarily by public funds and its programs are not operated by publicly elected or appointed officials. Northwestern Michigan College is a public college.

Probation: A status or period of time in which students with very low GPAs, or whose academic work is unsatisfactory according to the school, must improve their performance. If they are unable to do so, they may be dismissed from the school. Students may also face "disciplinary probation" for nonacademic reasons, such as behavioral problems in the dorms.

Professional school: A higher education institution for students who have already received their undergraduate degree to gain training in specific professions, such as law, medicine, and pharmacy.

Provost: The senior academic officer of a college or university who typically oversees all academic policies and curriculum-related matters.

Public school: A postsecondary institution that is supported mainly by public funds and whose programs are operated by publicly elected or appointed officials. The University of California, Berkeley, for example, is a public school, as is NMC.


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.

Quarters: Periods of study that divide the academic year into four equal segments of approximately 12 weeks each, typically including the summer. NMC uses semesters, not quarters.


Registrar: The college or university official who is responsible for registering students and keeping their academic records, such as transcripts.

Registration: The process in which students choose and enroll in courses to be taken during the academic year or in summer sessions. Registration dates and instructions for NMC can be found here.

Regular decision: An admissions process used by colleges and universities that typically requires applicants to submit their materials by January 1; an admissions decision is generally received by April 1, and if admitted, students usually have until May 1 to respond to the offer. The majority of applicants are evaluated during regular decision, rather than early action and early decision.

Resident assistant (RA): A student leader who works in campus dormitories and supervises issues and activities related to dorm life. RAs often receive free housing in the dorm in return for their services.

Responsible Officer (RO): A Responsible Officer is the exchange program staff person for the J visa program 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 admissions: An admissions process used by some colleges and universities in which each application is considered as soon as all the required materials have been received, rather than by a specific deadline. Colleges and universities with this policy will make decisions as applications are received until all spaces are filled.

Room and board: Housing and meals. "Room and board" is typically one of the costs that colleges and universities will list in their annual estimated cost of attendance, in addition to tuition, fees, and textbooks and supplies. If students choose to live in dormitories, they may be required to buy into a meal plan to use on-campus dining facilities.


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

SAT: A standardized college entrance exam administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) on behalf of the nonprofit College Board, which measures reading, writing, and math skills. Most students take the SAT during their junior or senior year of high school, and most colleges and universities accept scores from either the SAT or ACT. In addition, students may choose to take the SAT Subject Tests in English, history, languages, math, and science to demonstrate their knowledge in specific academic areas. Some schools may recommend, but not require, international students to take the SAT or ACT. (See the U.S. News college test prep guide for more information.)

Scholarship: A type of financial aid that consists of an amount of free money given to a student by a school, individual, organization, company, charity, or federal or state government. "Scholarship" is often used interchangeably with "grant."

School: Any educational institution, including those that provide elementary, secondary, and postsecondary education. In the latter case, "school" is often used interchangeably with "college" and "university."

Semesters: Periods of study that divide the academic year into two equal segments of approximately 15 to 18 weeks each. Some schools also offer a shorter summer semester, beyond the traditional academic year.

Seminar: A course offered to a small group of students who are typically more advanced and who meet with a professor to discuss specialized topics.

Senior: A student in the fourth year of high school or college or university.

SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System): A computerized U.S. government database used to track international students and scholars in the United States. Once an international student is accepted by a U.S. college or university, the school is required to mail the student a Form I-20, which is a paper record of the student's information in SEVIS. A student must pay a SEVIS fee and use the payment receipt and I-20 to apply for a visa.

Social Security number (SSN): A nine-digit number issued by the U.S. government to people who are authorized to work in the United States and collect certain government benefits. Many colleges and universities use the Social Security number as the student identification number. International students who are in the United States and are authorized to work either on or off campus must apply for and obtain a Social Security number, which is then used to report their wages to the government.

Sophomore: A student in the second year of high school or college / university.

Sorority: A student organization for women formed for social, academic, community service, or professional purposes. A sorority is part of a college or university's Greek system.

Standardized tests: Exams, such as the SAT, ACT, and GRE, which measure knowledge and skills and are designed to be consistent in how they are administered and scored. Standardized tests are intended to help admissions officials compare students who come from different backgrounds.


Teaching assistant (TA): A graduate student who assists a professor with teaching an undergraduate course, usually within their field, as part of an assistantship.

Tenure: A status offered to high-level faculty members at a college or university that allows them to stay permanently in their positions, after demonstrating a strong record of teaching and published research.

Term: Periods of study, which can include semesters, quarters, trimesters, or summer sessions.

Thesis: A formal piece of writing on a specific subject, which may be required to earn a bachelor's or master's degree.

TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language): A standardized exam administered by the nonprofit Educational Testing Service (ETS), which measures English-language proficiency in reading, listening, speaking, and writing. Many U.S. colleges and universities require non-native English speakers to take the TOEFL and submit their scores as part of the admissions process. NMC accepts the TOEFL as a measure of English proficiency. Students must earn a minimum of 79 on the internet based test (IBT).

Transcript: An official record of a student's coursework and grades at a high school, college, or university. A high school transcript is usually one of the required components of the college application process. You can print your unofficial NMC transcript using the “student records” menu in your NMC Self-Service account.

Transfer credit: Credit granted toward a degree on the basis of studies completed at another college or university. For instance, students who transfer from a community college to a four-year college may earn some transfer credit. There are several transfer guides and resources on the NMC website for your use.

Transfer program: Associate degree program allowing the student to transfer into the third year of a four-year bachelor's degree program. NMC offers all students the opportunity to transfer to a four-year program to complete a bachelor’s degree. For more information, meet with your academic advisor.

Trimesters: Periods of study that divide the academic year into three equal segments of approximately 10 to 12 weeks each.

Tuition: An amount of money charged by a school per term, per course, or per credit, in exchange for instruction and training. Tuition generally does not include the cost of textbooks, room and board, and other fees. A listing of current NMC tuition rates can be found here.


Undergraduate student / undergraduate studies: A student enrolled in a two-year or four-year study program at a college or university after graduation from high school, leading to an associate or bachelor's degree.

University: A postsecondary institution that offers both undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

USMLE: U.S. Medical Licensing Examination.


Visa: An official mark or stamp in a passport that allows someone to enter a country for a particular amount of time. Common visa types for international students and scholars in the United States include the F-1 (student visa). To apply for a U.S. visa, student applicants must first receive a Form I-20 from the college or university they plan to attend, which is created by the U.S. government's SEVIS database.


Wait list: A list of qualified applicants to a school who may be offered admission if there is space available after all admitted students have made their decisions. Being on a wait list does not guarantee eventual admission, so some students may choose not to remain on the list, particularly if the school is not their first choice.

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


Zip code: A series of numbers in mailing addresses that designates postal delivery districts in the United States.

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