College Terms 101: Phrases You'll Hear during the College Admission Process

The college admission process can be confusing at times, especially if you’re the first in your family to pursue higher education. One reason is the sheer number of terms and acronyms you need to know.

The application process might include some language that’s new to you, so to make it easier, we’ve compiled a list of college terms and definitions. Here are the words and phrases you’ll likely hear during the college admission process at Azusa Pacific University.

Major, Minor

A major is the area of study that a student chooses to focus on. For example, students might decide to major in accounting, psychology, or theology or they may choose from the more than 50 other majors that APU offers.

Your major should reflect your academic interests and strengths, and it should also be aligned with the type of career you hope to pursue in the future.

A minor is a separate, secondary discipline students can declare as part of their studies. Sometimes, your minor is related to your major. In other cases, it’s totally separate, something you might choose to study solely out of interest in the subject.

Undergraduate, Graduate

“Undergraduate” typically refers to the courses you take as you work toward a bachelor’s degree in a four-year program.

“Graduate” studies take place once you’ve received a bachelor’s degree. This could mean pursuing a master’s program (which is usually two years in length) or a doctoral program (which can be three or more years, depending on the program). Some jobs require these more advanced degrees, even for entry-level positions.

College Application

Your college application is one of the most important parts of the college admission process. You must apply to each school you’re interested in. Once you’ve been accepted, you can register for classes and start looking forward to your college journey.

Be sure you know the application deadlines so you can get your application in on time and hear back on acceptance sooner.

It’s also important to keep in mind that there’s usually a fee to apply to each college. According to U.S. News & World Report, the average cost is about $44.

Credit Hours, Transfer Credits

Each class you take in college is assigned a specific number of credit hours. Similarly to high school, you’re able to graduate once you’ve accumulated enough credits. This is something you and your academic advisor should speak about at least once a year to make sure you’re on track to graduate.

Transfer credits are college courses you take outside of your primary school. You can take classes online, at a local community college, or during a study away program, and then look to transfer those credit hours to your primary school.

Remember to speak to your primary university before signing up for a class at another school. Some classes may not qualify to transfer, so getting that information ahead of time could save you a lot of time and money.

Placement Tests

Placement Tests are exams used to assess your current ability level in a subject. They typically take 20-30 minutes, and the results determine which course level you should enroll in for the upcoming academic year.

APU hosts placement tests in subjects like math, writing, and foreign language. Some of these tests can be waived under special circumstances. Visit the Academic Success Center for more information.


Your academic transcript is a record of all your classes and your overall grade point average (GPA). This important document is useful not only in college but after you graduate, too. If you want to apply to graduate school, you must submit an official transcript.

FAFSA, Financial Aid

Prospective and current college students must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) once a year to see what financial aid they qualify for. In fact, the sooner you apply, the better—waiting too long could potentially result in a loss of benefits.

Financial aid refers to the package of grants, loans, and other types of assistance (such as a “work-study” opportunity) a college can offer you to help pay for school. It’s typically awarded based on need and academic performance.


Work-study is a federal assistance program that falls under the category of financial aid. Students offered work-study are given opportunities to pay for college by working on-campus jobs. The jobs range widely, from helping out on campus to running events or even working as a resident advisor.


The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was passed by Congress in 1996 to protect your medical documents. Without this law, anyone would be able to access your health records without your permission.

Here’s why this matters: all college students are required to have health insurance. And since you’ll likely be 18—legally an adult—when entering school, you and your parents must sign a HIPAA release form. In the event that you get injured at school, this would ensure doctors or school health officials inform your parents.


The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) regulates access to private education records, such as grades and financial documents. Once a student turns 18 or enters a postsecondary education institution (like a university or community college), rights to view these private records transfer from the parent to the student.

Why is this important? Once you’re enrolled in college, no one can view your private education documents without your approval. FERPA rules apply regardless of who is paying for tuition––so even if your parents are paying for college, you still maintain sole responsibility over your private information.

This is good news! It means you are in control of your education, and have the right to keep academic, financial, and disciplinary documents private. If you want to authorize another party to be privy to this information, you can do so easily by logging in to your account.

General Education Requirements

General Education Requirements, or GEs, are courses a student is required to take to supplement their major. While major programs have their own required coursework, GEs are mandated for all undergraduate students to ensure a comprehensive, well-rounded education.

The GEs at APU fall under five outcome areas: intellectual and practical skills, biblical, theological, and philosophical formation, knowledge of human cultures and the physical and natural world, personal and social responsibility, and integrative and applied learning. These categories encompass writing, public speaking, physical education, mathematics, literature, history, fine arts, sciences, and theology.

It should be noted that some General Education Requirements may be satisfied by your major coursework, and do not need to be repeated. You can find out more by exploring the many majors at APU, examining the academic requirements for your chosen program, and talking with your academic advisor.

Residential Life

Residential Life refers to the housing and community experience at a university. It's more than just dorming––universities dedicate an entire staff to maintaining a positive, welcoming campus environment for their students year-round.

In addition to dormitories (also called residence halls), colleges tend to offer on- or off-campus apartments, all of which offer resources for students. Residential Life works to create a sense of community and belonging by hosting events, promoting university programs, and connecting students with like-minded peers.