University Tips Blog
Image to illustrate university jargon and terms
A headshot image of the author, Meg Griessel

by Meg Griessel

UK Schools & Colleges Recruitment Manager at St Mary’s University, Twickenham

posted on 4 Aug '22

A university jargon buster - introducing the terms schools and students may run into on their higher education journey

With hundreds of higher education providers in the UK, researching university courses can already feel like a daunting prospect for students. After visiting universities or navigating the UCAS website, learners will likely come away with more questions – particularly on the new phraseology they will encounter for the first time.

The key university and UCAS terms you may run into

Undergraduate and postgraduate

Undergraduates are students studying their first degree, usually following the completion of their A-Levels, BTECs or equivalent. Postgraduate students have typically completed an undergraduate degree as this is required for admission.

Degree classifications

There are various classifications of degrees which can be studied at UK universities. The main undergraduate level degrees are outlined below:
BA: Bachelor of Arts
BSc: Bachelor of Sciences
FdA: Foundation Degree
FdSc: Foundation Degree Sciences
PGCert: Postgraduate Certificate
PGDip: Postgraduate Diploma
LLB: Bachelor of Law.

Levels 4, 5, 6

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.

Foundation degree

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).

Foundation year

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.

Degree apprenticeships

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.

Joint honours degree

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’).


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.

Lectures and seminars

These are both methods of teaching at university. A lecture usually takes place in a large classroom, with a teacher speaking at the front whilst students take notes. 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.

Placement year

A degree with a placement, will usually be 4 years long with a year working in an area relevant to the field of study. These are sometimes known as ‘Sandwich courses’.

Students’ Union

An organisation which is found at UK universities. It is run by students, to support and represent students during their time at the institution. They are the heart of student social life and politics.

Study abroad

Universities will have partner organisations across the globe, allowing students to spend a year or semester studying in a different country.

UCAS Terminology


Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, the organisation which deals with the majority of higher education applications.

Tariff points

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.

Conditional offer

An offer from a university which requires a student to achieve a certain grade or meet other offer conditions - the student will be advised what the conditions are.

Unconditional offer

An offer of a place on a course with no conditions – the place is theirs if the student wants it.

UCAS track

Students can log into UCAS track to check the progression of their offers as well as amend any personal details.

UCAS extra

If a student finds themselves without an offer, UCAS extra enables them to have an additional choice through UCAS.

Firm choice

An applicant’s preferred or first choice higher education institution on their UCAS application.

Insurance choice

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 opportunity for students to find a place on a course which still has available spaces if they did not make their firm or insurance choice, or have decided to study a different subject or elsewhere. This usually takes place after students receive their results.

Still unsure?

Higher education providers are always happy to help! If there are any terms we haven’t mentioned, most universities have jargon buster pages on their websites, or you can ask them directly at events or via email.

Get email alerts when new blogs are posted

This free newsletter will include information on university events added to UniTasterDays, as well as details about new webinars and blog releases for you and your students.

Recommended blogs

Cookie Policy    X