A guide to the key terms you may run into when exploring university
Universities unfortunately do love an acronym... and jargon in general can be challenging for students, as well as school colleagues and parents and guardians supporting them.
To help, we’ve put together some explanations of the main terms which are used in relation to university on this page. As well as opportunities for you to submit jargon you've encountered for inclusion too. It was inspired by Episode 3 of the The Uni Guide Podcast - which was a university jargon special! If you would prefer to listen than read, please check that podcast episode out.
You can search by keyword or browse them all below. Or to help us, to help others, submit your own jargon and acronyms you've encountered - either by offering a definition, or challenging us to find one!
Also sometimes known as a Lecturer or a Professor, this refers to staff who teach at a university.
This is an option to fast track obtaining a degree, usually studying for two years rather than three.
Somebody who provides information, advice, guidance and support with a higher education application. An adviser could be a teacher, tutor, counsellor or agent.
Agents may also be known as consultants or educational advisers – they are international representatives who represent UK universities and colleges. Usually agents have a contractual relationship with one or more course provider, these course providers sometimes may pay the agents commission for each student placed on a course.
People who have completed their studies and graduated at a university
These are subject-specific days which provide students with the opportunity to discover the chosen course in much more detail.
How knowledge is assessed against the defined learning outcomes of a course or module
A formal mark of recognition, e.g. degree, diploma or certificate following successful completion of a course.
This is usually a 3-year undergraduate course, which may be a: BA: Bachelor of Arts, BEng: Bachelor of Engineering, BSc: Bachelor of Science or a LLB: Bachelor of Law.
Non repayable funding to assist with the cost of studying at university. This sometimes comes in the form of credit to use on campus or with approved retailers.
A school or college will allocate a buzzword to a student which will enable their UCAS application to be linked to them. Studebts add this buzzword when they register for a UCAS undergraduate application (unless they are applying independently).
The buildings and grounds at which a university is based; sometimes universities have several different campuses.
A university where everything is based on one site, including student accommodation, lecture rooms and libraries. A campus university may still have more than one site, but each site will have its own facilities.
A student who has spent time in local authority care at any time of their life.
Students might receive a changed course offer if they have not met a university’s eligibility criteria for the course they have chosen on their application form but the university has identified merit and potential for a different course. A Changed course offer may also be received if the university has made changes to the courses they run.
A university which will have different buildings across a town or city, rather than on one site. The buildings are often close to one another and located in a central area.
Clearing is an opportunity for students to find a place on a course which still has available spaces if they were not successful with their firm or insurance university choice, or if they decided to study a different subject or elsewhere. This usually takes place after students receive their results - but clearing actually opens before results day.
A college is a provider of both further and higher education. We use the term ‘university’ as a generic reference that incorporates the provision of higher education through college too.
One degree covering two subject areas. Often they are similar to Joint honours degrees. But in contrast to them, combined honours degrees are designed so that students can study the core modules from both subject areas, but focus on one subject area in greater detail.
An offer from a university which usually (but not always) requires a student to achieve certain grades. There are sometimes additional or alternative conditions to simply grades - but these will be communicated in the offer conditions.
If a student meets the conditions specified in the conditional offer letter that has been accepted, they will be offered a place on that course.
A specialist institution providing performance based courses, e.g. music and performing arts.
Contact hours refer to the number of hours a student has contact with teaching staff during the week. This could include seminars, lectures, workshops, lab work or office hours. Scheduled contact hours may vary significantly depending on the subject and structure of the course. Although some students may have fewer scheduled contact hours than others, they are then expected to conduct independent reading and work for the rest of the week.
This recognises an individual’s circumstances when considering their application for study in higher education. This may enable the applicant to automatically receive entry requirements that are lower than those advertised or better reflect the circumstances in which their grades were achieved.
A study programme with clearly defined aims and outcomes, generally made from a combination of modules leading to a recognised award.
In order to achieve a degree qualification, students are required to achieve a certain number of credits. Credits are earned on completion of modules. Modules will vary in how many credits can be earned. Students must then pass a certain number of modules to graduate.
Often used on art and design courses. Students work as a group, discussing projects and works by other artists, including fellow students and feeding this back.
When an offer is carried over - to commence a course in the following academic year.
Different to a higher apprenticeship; they provide learners the opportunity to gain a full bachelor’s degree alongside working part-time in their field of interest.
There are various classifications of degrees which can be studied at UK universities. The main undergraduate level degrees are BA: Bachelor of Arts; BSc: Bachelor of Sciences; FdA: Foundation Degree; FdSc: Foundation Degree Sciences; PGCert: Postgraduate Certificate; PGDip: Postgraduate Diploma and LLB: Bachelor of Law.
A long essay about a specific subject, usually between 9,000 – 12,000 words completed in the final year of a degree course.
The skills, experience and attributes gained by students that are valued by employers.
The process of registering as an official student of a university
The criteria that applicants must meet to be offered a place on a course, such as achieving certain results at school or college. Different universities and courses will have different entry requirements which will be listed on UCAS, university websites and in university prospectuses.
An A-level standard standalone qualification designed to extend and develop students' abilities beyond the A-level syllabus. University entry requirements may consider EPQ performance.
A student who does not have the support of their family due to the breakdown of the relationship.
A sector within a university specialising in one subject area or a group of related subject areas.
An applicant’s preferred or first choice higher education institution on their UCAS application.
A qualification which combines work-based learning with academic study. The course is equivalent to the first two years of a bachelor degree (Level 4 and Level 5).
A foundation year is a one-year course that is taken prior to commencing an undergraduate degree to bring students up to the required academic standard.
A first year student is known as a ‘Fresher’ and Freshers Week helps students to settle into university life with the opportunity to join societies and more.
Education undertaken after Year 11 in secondary school, i.e. post-16 courses and qualifications that are lower than a degree.
A year that is usually taken between completion of secondary level education and before commencing a higher education course. This year can give opportunity for students to travel, volunteer or gain work experience.
A student who has completed an undergraduate course successfully.
The ceremony where students receive awards following successful completion of their courses
Staffed and secure catered/self-catered university accommodation, often on site or nearby to be able to access university easily and ease the transition into university life.
Higher Education Provider – this could be a university, conservatoire or further education college.
This is optional study taken after secondary education. Higher education can be studied at a range of institutions including universities and further education colleges.
This is a work-related, or vocational, higher education qualification at Level 4. Students may choose to continue this to a Level 5 HND, and perhaps than, consider topping this up to a university bachelor degree.
This is a Level 5 work-related, or vocational, higher education qualification. Some institutions also offer the ability to top-up a HND to a bachelor degree.
The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is a popular English language proficiency test for higher education.
Learning without the presence of a member of teaching staff, e.g. reading, researching and completing assignments
An applicant’s back up or second choice higher education institution on their UCAS application; a reserve if they do not meet the requirements of their firm choice.
An integrated degree combines two courses into one. This is usually a combination of an undergraduate and postgraduate degree (integrated masters degree), or a foundation course and undergraduate degree (integrated foundation degree).
Following submission of a UCAS application, students may receive a request to attend an interview, an audition or to provide a portfolio or piece of work.
This is two subjects studied at degree level together. A student’s time will usually be split across the two subjects equally, but some courses do offer students the opportunity to spend more time on one than the other (this is known as ‘majoring’ and ‘minoring’).
League tables give rankings of course providers, however they tell students more than simply which university is the best at teaching. Each source will state which criteria they’ve prioritised or considered - this will include, but is not limited to: teaching excellence, research and student experience. This will explain why an institution might rank differently between university league tables. The three ‘major’ league tables are: The Sunday Times Good University Guide, The Guardian University Guide and The Complete University Guide.
This is a method of teaching at university. A lecture usually takes place in a large classroom, with a teacher speaking at the front whilst students take notes.
There are three levels of study within an undergraduate degree. Level 4 is the next level up from an A-Level or equivalent qualification. Level 5 is the second year of an undergraduate degree. Level 6 is the third year of an undergraduate degree.
The opportunity to work on local industry company projects and offer solutions whilst gaining real world experience.
A degree where a student will study two subjects but concentrate on one (the major subject) whilst studying a second subject in less detail (the minor subject).
A postgraduate course (usually 1 year) studied after completing an undergraduate degree.
A mature student is anyone going to university or college after a period of time out of full-time education.
A term used when exploring student finance, comprising an assessment made on household income (usually the income of parent (s) and/or guardian (s) in the household) to determine how much financial support a student is entitled to in relation to their maintenance loan towards living costs.
University courses break learning and teaching into modules. Modules usually cover a particular topic within the course subject. Some modules may be compulsory, others may be optional and up to the students to choose. Some courses will also allow students to take a module in a different subject – sometimes called an ‘elective module’.
As well as providing discounts in various retail and leisure outlets, the NUS campaign for student rights.
These are usually invite-only events that give students the opportunity to attend course-specific activities and spend more time with future classmates and the course team.
Open days are there for prospective students and their families to go and look around a university. They provide an opportunity to see university facilities and speak to staff and students to get a feel for what studying there might be like.
A vital part of the university application to convey why a student wants to study the chosen course, to demonstrate to admissions tutors why they should offer the student a place on their programme.
A postgraduate research qualification usually based on at least three years study/ research and a long piece of writing called a thesis.
Placements are built into some courses to provide students with practical industry experience before they qualify. These can be compulsory for some courses (such as health care and other vocational degrees). They can also take the form of a ‘year in industry’ or as part of a module. Placement options will vary depending on the university and course.
A degree with a placement (often known as a sandwich degree). This will usually be 4 years long with a year working in their relevant industry.
Using or copying another person’s work without acknowledgement and with the intention of passing it off as your own. This is cheating and is not allowed at university.
This stands for the participation of local areas at university and is used widely in widening participation programmes to target learners who may benefit from university activities and interventions.
Postgraduate qualifications are usually for those who have completed a first (undergraduate) degree and are studying for further advanced qualifications such as a masters or doctorate.
The grade of qualification that teachers believe a student is likely to achieve when they complete their secondary education exams.
A method of study whereby students are given a real problem, and usually work in a group to solve it. This is very popular in medical and health care courses.
A brochure - which may be in print or online, which lists more information about a specific university and their course offer.
A group of twenty four prestigious, research intensive, UK universities with a high achieving reputation. Their reputation means the entry requirements may be (but are not always) greater than other universities.
A degree where a student will do a work placement year as part of their course, usually between their second and third year.
If students are holding a firm unconditional place, they can release themselves into clearing, to consider a larger volume of universities and courses.
Most school and college terms are divided by three in a single academic year. At university, there are typically only two semesters. One before Christmas, and one after.
This is a method of teaching at university. A seminar usually follows a lecture, with a smaller group. Students will discuss the lecture’s topic, their research and any other reading relevant to the class, with an academic and their peers.
Repayable money from the Students Loan Company (SLC) available to help a student with their living costs (maintenance) and tuition fees.
Run by students for the benefit of students at universities. They support improvements for students and often can organise the sports clubs and societies, social activities and offer support to students.
Universities often have partner organisations across the globe, which allows students to spend a semester or year studying in a different country.
UCAS has a tariff system, more commonly known as ‘UCAS points’. This allows qualifications to be converted into points e.g. an A at A Level or equivalent is worth 48 points. These are added together to give a total which can be used as a requirement for a course. For example, a course may require a student to achieve 104 points.
Top-up courses are equivalent to the final year of an undergraduate degree and allow students to 'top up' an existing qualification into a full honours degree.
This stands for tracking underrepresentation at university by area. TUNDRA is an enhanced area-based measure which uses individualised data and tracks individuals from Key Stage 4 to higher education. This is used widely in widening participation programmes to target learners who may benefit from university activities and interventions.
Like a seminar, these are classes where smaller groups of students, guided by a tutor or lecturer, talk about topics they are studying in lectures.
Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, the organisation which deals with the majority of higher education applications.
Adjustment ended in 2022. It previously allowed students performing better than expected, to consider an alternative university course. Instead of this, often now students release themselves into clearing, should they wish to consider an alternative course to the one they accepted.
A UCAS Applicant Number or UCAS ID is generated when a students starts their UCAS application.
UCAS’ application service for performance based courses
If a student finds themselves without an offer, UCAS extra enables them to have an additional choice through UCAS.
The UCAS Hub is a tool which enables prospective university students to search for suitable university courses and universities - to make informed choices as to which course and university to apply for. As well as university courses, UCAS Hub will include degree apprenticeships from Autumn 2023.
A UCAS ID or Applicant Number is generated when a student starts their UCAS application.
Students can log into UCAS track to check the progression of their offers as well as amend any personal details.
An offer of a place on a course with no conditions – the place is theirs if the student wants it.
Undergraduates are students studying their first degree, usually following the completion of their A-Levels, BTECs or equivalent.
Establishments that provide Higher Education
If the university has decided not to offer a student a place, they will receive an unsuccessful decision. Sometimes the reason for this decision will appear on their UCAS Hub, if not, students can contact the university to ask for feedback.
When either student or the university or college, withdraw a choice from a UCAS application.