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Higher Education Terms Decoded

by Margaret Hurst
Marketing Specialist

May 15, 2015

Deciding to pursue education past high school is a big decision that can seem intimidating, especially if you’re the first person in your family to go to college. 

One thing that often holds people back is not understanding all of the terminology surrounding higher education. Don’t let that stand in your way of earning your diploma.

We’re here to decode those higher education terms, so you can focus on pursuing your dream of becoming a college graduate. We’ll cover everything you need to know, starting with what exactly higher education means.

Higher Education – This refers to any and all schooling past the high school level. It includes community college, four-year universities and career and technical schools.

Associate Degree – A two-year degree that you earn at a community college. An associate degree is often the equivalent of the first two years of a bachelor’s degree.

Bachelor's Degree – A four-year degree that you earn at a university or college, like NAU. If you earn an associate degree from a community college first, you can transfer those credits and complete your bachelor’s degree at a university in two years or less. This can be a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), Bachelor of Science (B.S.) or other discipline.

Undergraduate Student – A student pursuing their associate or bachelor’s degree.

Master’s Degree – A degree that you earn after your bachelor’s degree. Like a bachelor’s degree, the qualifications you can earn include Master of Arts (M.A.) and Master of Science (M.S.), among others.

Doctoral Degree – A doctorate, or Ph.D., is the degree that you earn after your master’s. It is the highest level of degree that you can earn, and is therefore considered a “terminal degree”.

Graduate Student – A student pursuing their master’s or doctoral degree.

Accreditation – The process that validates an institution’s quality of instruction. Accreditation is incredibly important, because unaccredited universities’ degrees are not as well respected and many institutions won’t recognize your college credits as legitimate.

Course – A single class.

Credit Hours – You earn a certain number of credit hours, also known simply as credits or units, per course. One credit equates to approximately one hour of class time and 2 hours of out-of-class work per week, which works out to 3 credits per course for most classes. Each degree will have specific credit requirements you have to fulfill.

Prerequisite – A course you must take before taking another course. This is typically because the knowledge acquired in the prerequisite course is required to succeed in the higher level course.

Academic Advisor – You are assigned an academic advisor when you are admitted to a higher education school. They will help guide you through your degree program, so you should meet with them once a semester.

Tuition – The cost of attending classes. This is usually broken up by number of credit hours or per semester. Be aware that tuition does not necessarily include all costs. Check with your school to see if you have any additional fees.

Financial Aid – Assistance offered to help pay for school including scholarships, grants and loans. Contact your financial aid office to learn more.

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