University Tips Blog
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A headshot image of the author, Jon Cheek

by Jon Cheek


posted on 25 Aug '23

A higher education jargon buster – the terms you may run into when researching universities

We know that starting the UCAS process can be confusing, not least when you come up against new words that you don’t quite understand (don’t worry, we’ve all been there!).

We’ve put together some explanations of the main terms which are used in relation to university life to help you have a better understanding of the university lingo!

Tip: If you would prefer to use an interactive search tool - we have now produced one! Take a look HERE.

About the courses...

Higher education (also known as HE) – Optional study taken after secondary education. Higher education can be studied at a range of institutions including universities and further education colleges.

Undergraduate – A person studying for their first degree, traditionally following the completion of their A-Levels, BTECs or equivalent.

Foundation degree – A programme that prepares students for success on their undergraduate degree course, often by combining work-based learning with academic study. The course is equivalent to the first two years of a bachelor degree (Level 4 and Level 5) to support students up to the required academic standard.

Bachelor’s degree – usually a 3-year undergraduate course, which may be a:
• BA – Bachelor of Arts
• BEng – Bachelor of Engineering
• BSc – Bachelor of Science
• LLB – Bachelor of Law

Levels 4, 5, 6 – The three levels of study within an undergraduate degree. Level 4 being the next level up from an A-Level or equivalent. Level 5 is the second year of an undergraduate degree and Level 6 is the third year of an undergraduate degree.

Joint honours – A degree where two subjects are studied equally (50/50 split) together. Time will usually be split across the two subjects, but some courses allow the opportunity to spend more time on one than the other which is known as ‘majoring’ and ‘minoring’.

Major/Minor honours – A degree where students will study two subjects but concentrate on one (the major subject) whilst studying a second subject in less detail (the minor subject).

Sandwich degree – A degree where a student will complete a work placement during the course. Usually between the second and third year.

Placement year – A degree with a placement (often known as a sandwich degree). This will usually be 4 years long with a year working in a relevant industry.

Study abroad – Universities often have partner organisations across the globe, which allow students to spend a semester or year studying in a different country.

Degree apprenticeships – Compared to higher apprenticeships for school leavers; degree apprenticeships provide learners the opportunity to gain a full bachelor’s degree alongside working part-time in a chosen field of interest.

Postgraduate – Typically someone who has already gained an undergraduate degree and is now studying for another qualification or degree.

PGCert – Postgraduate Certificate

PGDip – Postgraduate Diploma

MA (Master of Arts)/MSc (Master of Science) – A postgraduate course (usually 1 year) studied after completing an undergraduate degree.

Integrated masters – 4-year undergraduate course leading to a higher-level qualification. Usually offered in specific subjects:
• MChem – Master of Chemistry
• MEng – Master of Engineering
• MPhys – Master of Physics

PhD – A postgraduate research qualification usually based on at least three years study/ research and a long piece of writing called a thesis.

About the learning...

Academics / Lecturers / Professors – Staff who teach at a university.

Critiques (‘Crits’) – 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. Lectures – Classes where members of staff or visiting experts present information and ideas to larger groups of students who listen and take notes.

Tutorials and seminars – Classes where smaller groups of students, guided by a tutor or lecturer, talk about topics they are studying in lectures.

Live project brief – The opportunity to work on local industry company projects and offer solutions whilst gaining real world experience.

PBL: Problem Based Learning – 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.

Dissertation – A long essay about a specific subject, usually between 9,000 – 12,000 words completed in the final year of a degree course. Semester – The teaching period at university when students will have lessons scheduled. There are two semesters in each academic year, typically the one before Christmas and the one after.

Plagiarism – 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.

Application terminology...

UCAS – The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service is the central portal for information on all full-time undergraduate courses available throughout the UK. Their online service allows students to find courses, track progress and respond to offers.

UCAS tariff points – UCAS has a tariff system or ‘UCAS points’ which converts qualification grades into points e.g., “BBC” is the equivalent to 112 UCAS points. Grades are added together to give a total which can be used as an entry requirement for a course. UCAS has a useful tariff calculator online.

Entry Requirements – The criteria that students 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.

Personal statement – 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 be offered a place on their programme.

Clearing – The summer period, including the time after A-Level results are released, where universities advertise remaining places on their courses.

Student loan (maintenance and tuition fee loans) – Repayable money from the Students Loan Company (SLC) available to help students with living costs (maintenance) and tuition fees.

Means tested – Assessment made on household income to determine how much financial support a student is entitled to.

Bursaries and scholarships – 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.

Conditional offer – A student is made a conditional offer by a university if they are predicted to meet the entry requirements of the course. The offer is dependent upon a student meeting the requirements, for example achieving certain results in their BTEC, A Levels or other Level 3 qualifications.

Unconditional offer – An offer of a place on a course with no conditions which can be accepted straight away.

UCAS Track – Students can log into UCAS track to check the status of offers as well as amend any details.

UCAS Extra – If students are without an offer, UCAS Extra offers an additional choice.

Firm choice – The preferred or first choice university on a UCAS application.

Insurance choice – The second choice university on a UCAS application to act as a reserve if a student doesn’t meet the entry requirements of their firm choice.

About the ‘other stuff’...

NUS (National Union of Students) – As well as providing discounts in various retail and leisure outlets, the NUS campaign for student rights.

SU (Students’ Union) – 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 other forms of student support.

Campus – The buildings and grounds at which a university is based; sometimes universities have several different campuses.

Campus university – 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.

City University – 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.

Open Days – An opportunity for students and families to look around a university (although virtual online open days may also be offered). 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.

Halls of residence – 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.

Freshers & freshers week – 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.

Need help with any others?

If there are any terms we haven’t covered and if there’s anything you’re still unsure about, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us or speak to staff in person at an event at university. For more, please check out the Jargon Buster - with continued updates.

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