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College Vocabulary for International Students

Words You Must Know to Survive

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June 6, 2017 0 comments

International students who travel to the States to study at a college or university have a hard time understanding all of the college vocabulary.


Besides the language barrier, there are so many specific words and phrases that only show up in an American campus setting. If you’ve never been to college before, then you probably never heard of words like elective, prerequisite, and plagiarism.

More importantly, if you don’t fully understand and appreciate the importance of these words, it could lead to you failing a class, wasting thousands of dollars or, even worse, getting kicked out of school.

And I know the cost of miscommunication.

I was the manager of a school for international students in midtown Manhattan. There were multiple instances of students failing a class, unnecessarily extending their enrollment or losing their student visa status because they just nodded their head and smiled when they heard the word requirement, but had no idea what it meant.

There are loads of words that are specific to an American university setting that international students simply don’t know. That’s why I was driven to handpick 50 of the most important American college vocabulary words.

In this article, I’m going to share 10 words you need to know if you plan on studying in the States.

This is an excerpt from the book: American Campus Vocabulary: 50 Words Every International Student Must Know. Included in this 30-page ebook are definitions, examples, and activities to ensure that you never forget any of these crucial words.

And, until July 2017, you can download this useful little book, which sells for $7, absolutely free. Lucky you. Just click here.

However, make sure you download it now because this offer is going to go away in a couple of weeks.

Knowledge of American college vocabulary will also provide answers to the following questions:

  • When do I need to pick a major?
  • When can I talk to the professor outside of class?
  • What classes should I take when I first enter college?

You are going to learn the answer to all of these questions and more right now.

Let’s dive in.

The first word up is a set, and, it’s an easy one:

I imagine that most of you know the meaning of major.

But here’s the important part: 

Did you know that you don’t have to pick a major during your first year of study?

“I found it quite surprising that here in the U.S., it’s perfectly fine to not know what you want to study yet. In most universities, students are not required to declare a major until the end of sophomore year,” Indira Pranabudi from US News

If you know what you want to major right away, that’s great and you should begin to organize your schedule so you can graduate on time. However, it’s not necessary to officially declare a major until the end of your second year of study.

Hard to believe?

Well, to graduate from an American university you have to earn a certain number of credits.

You need approximately 120 credits to graduate with a bachelor’s degree

The amount of credits you are awarded per completed class depends on university policy and the particular class. However, many classes meet for three hours a week and class credits are usually calculated based on the number of hours the class meets per week. Therefore, you will find that most classes across the board are 3-credit-courses.

Usually, you need 128 credits to graduate with a bachelor’s degree. If you graduate on time, within four years, it means you’ve taken 16 credits per semester and only two semesters per year.

So, keep in mind, if you want to earn your degree on time, you shouldn’t count the number of classes, but the number of credits.

At this point, you might be asking, “How do I know which classes to take if I don’t pick a major?”

Courses are broken up into a couple of different categories based on your field of study, but no matter what your major, there will always be classes that are requirements.

“Graduation, however, requires more than just any 120 (or 180) credit hours. What courses are taken matters as much as the total number of credit hours. Two key additional requirements must be met: fulfilling the specific course requirements of the major and fulfilling all general education requirements for the school.” Stacie Nevadomski Berdan & Allan E. Goodman. “Preparing to Study in the USA.”

In other words…

There are certain classes that you must take in order to graduate with a degree in your chosen field. However, there are general education requirements that almost every undergraduate student must take regardless of their major.

Personally speaking, I majored in History, but didn’t pick a major until my junior year of college (I switched to teaching English as a Second Language for my master’s degree).

So, for the first two years, I took general education requirements that could apply to almost any major. During my freshman year I took Spanish 101, Spanish 102, Biology 101 and Biology 102. Even though these courses weren’t directly connected to my major, they were general education requirements that I would have to take sooner or later.

Many general education classes end with the number 101.

If you plan on taking an Introduction to Psychology class, it will probably be called Psychology 101.

You will find that in your first and second year many courses end with the numbers 101 and 102. Most introductory courses, or 101 courses, are prerequisites.

A Biology 101 class comes before a Biology 102 class. You can’t start at Biology 102 because Biology 101 is a prerequisite.

As you progress through college, the classes you take will get more difficult. You start at the basic level courses in your freshman and sophomore year so you’re prepared for the more difficult classes in your junior and senior year.

Once you pick a major, you will know exactly which courses you need to take and when you have to take them so you can graduate on time. You don’t have to pick your major till the end of your sophomore year, but the sooner you decide, the better. Once you do pick a major, you will have an advisor within that department.

There are many different departments on a given campus, but you will be spending the majority of time in the department of the major you have chosen. So, Biology, Physics and Chemistry majors will most likely hang out in the Science Department while American and World History majors will spend most of their time in the Social Studies Department. You will also find your professors’ office around the department location.

You can go and talk to your professor during office hours.

Believe it or not, your professor is required to be available to you outside of class for a couple of hours each week.

“Beyond general advising, you can also seek assistance in any particular class from your professor. This is another fairly unique aspect of the U.S. educational system. Professors are expected—and usually required—to be available to students, typically during office hours: a weekly, two- or three-hour block of time (e.g., Tuesdays from 3:00 to 5:00 pm) when their office is open to any student.” Stacie Nevadomski Berdan & Allan E. Goodman. “Preparing to Study in the USA.”

One often overlooked aspect of college is forming connections with other students and professors. Think of your teachers as potential contacts who can help you find a job or write a recommendation for you in the future. One of the best ways to form that bond is to seek their advice outside of class. However, don’t bother your professors outside of office hours! Your teachers are not your friends, so respect the relationship and don’t cross the line outside of appointed hours.

One of the most popular questions I get from students is…

What if I’m failing a class?

If you’re failing a class, you have a couple of different options. Depending on the teacher, they may give you the opportunity to make up missed assignments. However, that’s rare. Most American professors I’ve met agree that all the students must follow the same rules at the same time, with very little room for exception. If you think you’re going to fail a class early in the semester then you can request an incomplete or withdrawal.

You don’t want to withdraw from a class more than once per semester, but it’s a great option if you’re struggling and don’t want it to have a negative effect on your overall GPA. However, you must request a withdrawal fairly early in the semester. You can’t wait till the end of the semester, fail the final exam, and then make your request.

If you’re busy and can’t find the time to attend class, then you might consider enrolling in a school that offers distance learning.

Distance learning is a great option for students who can’t travel to campus because of work, school, or just don’t want to get out of bed 😉

Distance learning is what it sounds like, you remotely attend school from a computer. Your attendance is measured by the instances you log in and how much feedback you provide to your teachers and peers.

Now, there’s one more college vocabulary word you must know.

These were my favorite classes.

There are a certain number of requirements you need to complete to earn your bachelors degree, both general education and content-specific requirements. However, each semester you usually have the opportunity to choose one or two electives, which are courses you choose to take solely based on personal interest.

Courses can range from Yoga 101 to History of Rock-n-Roll. When it comes to electives, the choice is totally up to you.

So, a quick recap…

We just discussed ten vocabulary words you need to know if you plan to attend an American university:

  • major/minor
  • credit
  • 101
  • requirement
  • prerequisite 
  • prerequisite 
  • office hours 
  • incomplete/withdrawal
  • distance learning 
  • elective

Want to know 40 more vocabulary words that can save you a ton of time and money?

For a limited time, you can get the book for free, right here and now. Get Vocabulary Ninja’s American Campus Vocabulary: 50 Words Every College Student Must Know right here.

Get it while you can because this offer expires in July 2017.

You can also watch the video version of this lesson right here:

Are there any words you think are important that I didn’t include in this list?

Drop a line in the comments section below.

Stay hungry.

-Josh, The Ninja Guy

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Vocabulary Ninja Word Parts List

Turn lonely words into word families. This is a list of 219 of the most important and common word parts. Only available at Vocabulary Ninja.

Subscribe Me