University Vocab For New International Students


Making the jump to study at a university in the United States, far away from home, can be a scary thing. But the comprehensive support you receive at our BridgePathways centers on American university campuses will help make you feel at home and ease your transition. We’ve also compiled a list of terms to help you understand the lingo at your university campus.

Academic Advisor
The main purpose of attending an American university is to receive an education. Academic advisors will help you plan out your course of study and ensure that you take the best classes to achieve your goals. Usually you will be assigned an academic advisor before you arrive to the campus, but as you take more classes and get more acquainted with the faculty, you will typically be able to choose your advisor based on their familiarity with the program you would like to complete.

Code of Conduct
Being part of a university community means you will be living with people from diverse backgrounds, experiences and expectations. The university’s Code of Conduct outlines the university’s expectations for your behavior, including policies and rules that you must follow. Make sure you read and understand the documents you are signing and feel free to ask questions, this will help you have a positive on-campus experience. Many universities can also provide a copy in your native language for you to read.

Credits (sometimes referred to as “Credit Hours”) are values assigned to each course offered at a university.  A certain number of credits is required to attain any degree. Most classes are worth 3 credit hours, while some may be higher. Generally, the courses with higher credit values (4 or 5 credit hours) require more in-class time than lower credit courses. Most universitites and colleges consider full-time students as those who register for 12 credit hours per semester.

The dorm (or also referred to as a dormitory or residence hall) will be your new home at the university. Depending on the university you are attending, you may have your own room or you may share it with a roommate. Your dorm room could be a suite with two rooms connected by a shared bathroom, or it could be a stand-alone room with your bathroom somewhere on the same floor. Within each dorm, there will be a handful of RA’s available to answer any dorm or campus life-related questions you may have.

A major is an area of interest you choose to focus your studies on. Most undergraduate students will have to choose a major to graduate, and every school offers different majors for you to consider. Find out when you need to ‘declare’ your major, which means informing the university of your selection and how much time you have to change your mind. A minor is another subject in which you are interested, but which requires a smaller number of credits. Most universities will allow you to have a major and a minor.

Meal Plan
You like food, right? Make sure you sign up for a meal plan! When you sign up for a meal plan, you estimate how many meals you will eat throughout the course of the semester or quarter and pay in advance. This allows you to stroll into the cafeteria and use your student ID to gain access to whatever food they have to offer. Many schools offer a wide variety of foods, and will accommodate any dietary needs you may require.

Midterm Exam
In the middle of the semester, you will have to prepare for midterm exams. Midterm exams are given halfway through the semester as a mutually beneficial way for students and teachers to assess the progress in the course. For students, midterms are a great way to find ways to improve their study habits for the remainder of the course while giving the professor feedback about their teaching strategies. It may be a hectic couple of weeks, but studying for midterm exams can be something you do with a group of friends, and it can be a good time to bring up any struggles to a professor or advisor.

Office Hours/Open Hours
At the beginning of the semester, your professors will typically give you a syllabus that outlines the semester assignments, breaks down their grading techniques and contact information needed to get in touch with them for help. Each professor will be available for office hours, where they will be in their office for a set amount of hours dedicated to giving you some extra help in the course or answering any questions you may have forgotten to ask during class. Some professors require you to set up a meeting in advance, especially during midterms or final exams when a lot of students need extra help, but it’s good to shoot them an email ahead of time in case they’re busy with another student. Office hours are the best time to bring up any problems you’re having with homework or to better understand the curriculum if you’re having trouble. Utilize their office hours to get help before it’s too late! 

Resident Assistant (RA)
A Resident Assistant ( almost always called an “RA”) will be one of the first people you meet when you move into your dorm. An RA is usually another student who lives in on the same floor as you, and can help you with any questions you might have about your dorm-living experience. If the RA is unable to directly help you with whatever issue you may have, they will make sure to put you in touch with the correct people. They will inform you about the rules of living in the dorm and will likely organize events for you and other people living in your hall to help you get acquainted with each other and start feeling comfortable in your new home away from home.

Room and Board
Room and Board usually refers to the costs associated with your housing and your meal-plan. Sometimes students can opt-out of one or the other cost, but for many first-year students both are required. If you have any questions as to what is included in the Room and Board package offered by your university, be sure to ask your RA or Office of Residence Life.

Snow Day
A snow-day is a day in which there are no classes and several administrative offices at the university are closed due to severe weather conditions. Snow-days do not happen every time it snows, but rather, when the university feels it would be safer for students, teachers and staff to stay at home. If you are unsure if your university will be closed, check on their website and/or Facebook page for an official announcement.

Student Affairs (or Student Services)
Finally, if you have any questions that your RA or Academica Advisor can’t answer, the Office of Student Affairs (or Office of Student Services) will be a great resource for getting you the answers. Some universities may even have a student affairs office specifically designated to international students. These offices will assist you with adjusting to life on campus, anything related to your student visa, and most academic matters. The Office of Student Affairs is connected with most things happening on campus and the staff is usually very friendly and helpful with anything you need.

Many US university students find help with tutors. Many universities will have a tutoring or writing center that can help you with your academic work. Tutors can be staff, professors or peer-tutors, meaning other students with more experience who are there to help. Find out what the hours are at your tutoring center and drop by to see what services they offer.

Ready to study at an American university? BridgePathways can help you apply and get accepted–find out how!