Information for the parents of college students
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College Lingo for College Parents: Talk the Talk! – Part 2

A while ago we did a post about some of the college vocabulary it might be helpful for you to know.  Here is a second installment.

Every profession, activity, or area of interest has its own jargon or set of specialized vocabulary.  College is no different.  College administrators, faculty members and students develop a set of short-hand terms that can be confusing to those not familiar with them.  As a college parent, you may be surprised at how quickly your college student will pick up the appropriate lingo.

If your college student slips into “college-speak” and you don’t understand what she is talking about – ask!  She may express impatience, but she’ll probably explain.  However, if you want to be able to at least begin to talk-the-talk, here are five more terms to get you started.  Please remember that there may be some variation in the use of these terms at various institutions.

Add/Drop Period

Most institutions will have an Add/Drop or similar period at the beginning of the semester.  This is a time period during which the student may make changes to his schedule without any academic or financial consequences.  The period may be only a few days or may be as long as two weeks.  Students may want to check with their academic advisor before making a major change to their schedule.  Students should also be careful about adding a new course after too much time has passed and they may have missed vital material at the beginning of the course.

Credit Hour

A credit hour is equivalent to 1 hour of class time per week.  Courses are usually measured in credit hours, with the average being three or four.  Students may refer to how many credit hours or credits they are carrying for a particular semester.  Graduation requirements are usually measured in credit hours i.e. “120 credit hours required for graduation”.  A general rule of thumb is that students should be averaging about 2 hours of work per week outside of class for each credit hour or hour of time spent in class.

Gen Ed Requirements

This is short-hand for General Education Requirements.  They may also be referred to by other names, such as Liberal Arts Requirements, Liberal Studies Requirements, Core Curriculum Requirements, Distribution Requirements, etc.  These are requirements designed to help your college student receive a broad education with at least a general background in several areas.  Students are often required to take one or two courses in several different departments outside of their major.


In many colleges, students may have an option to take a certain number of courses as Pass/Fail courses.  This means that the student will not receive a letter grade for the course, but she will receive either a “P” for Pass or an “F” if she fails.  This option is often intended to encourage some students to experiment and explore in a course that may be beyond their comfort zone.  She might be interested in taking an exploratory course in science, for instance, but worry that she will not do well and that the grade may harm her GPA.  The P/F option will allow her to take the course, but not receive a letter grade to be calculated in her GPA.  Students are generally limited to a certain number of P/F courses – either per semester or overall.


The syllabus is an outline or overview of the course handed out by the instructor at the beginning of the course. The syllabus contains a wealth of information about the course which often includes requirements, expectations, textbook information, contact information for the instructor, objectives, assignments, and often a daily schedule of assignments and topics.  Students are always encouraged to read the syllabus carefully and refer to it often throughout the course. (Read more about gathering information from the syllabus.)

Don’t be intimidated by college terminology or “lingo”.  If you’re not sure what something means, ask!  You’ll be “talking college” before you know it.

Be sure to read additional posts about College Lingo – Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.


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