College Lingo for College Parents: Talk the Talk!

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 terms to get you started.  Please remember that there may be some variation in the use of these terms at various institutions.

Academic Advisor

The student’s Academic Advisor is a faculty or staff member assigned to assist the student with her academic planning.  This faculty or staff member can help the student navigate the often confusing requirements and procedures for completing her degree, registering for classes, choosing a major, and choosing appropriate courses.  Students who work closely with their advisors often avoid costly mistakes.


If your child is already in college, or has been accepted to college, you are probably already familiar with this term.  It is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.  This is the starting point for almost all financial aid.  Even if you will not be applying for federal aid, most colleges require that you complete this form in order to apply for any financial aid, scholarships, or grants.


The Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act is a federal law which protects the privacy of student educational records.  This gives parents certain rights regarding their child’s educational records.  It is important for parents to realize, however, that these rights transfer to the student once he turns eighteen or attends a school beyond high school.  This means that, without written permission from your son or daughter, you will probably not have access to his academic records – including his grades.  It also means that, without that written permission, faculty members and administrators of the college are legally prohibited from discussing your child’s progress with you.


Sometimes referred to as the Cumulative Grade Point Average (sometimes also called a “cum”), this is a way of calculating the college student’s overall grade average.  Most often, colleges will calculate grades on a 4 point scale with 4 being equal to an A.  Therefore, a 4.0 is an A+, a 3.5 a B+, 3.0 a B and so forth.


Pre-requisites are courses that students are required to take prior to registering for an upper level course.  Some courses may have no pre-requisites and some courses may have several introductory level courses required before the student may take them.

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.

We address additional lingo in other posts.  Be sure to read College Lingo – Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.  Yes, there’s lots of lingo!

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1 thought on “College Lingo for College Parents: Talk the Talk!”

  1. The FERPA information is really valuable. It runs dramatically counter to the educational “contract” reinforced from kindergarten through high school where the expectation is that the school will be in close contact with the parents, and that academic and social issues will be shared. It’s good to know that this policy does NOT automatically extend into the college experience.


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