The American education system can be confusing for students who have no guidance or place to inform themselves. For this reason, the School Bell Blog created this post will define all the different levels of education in the United States, important terms used in the college application process, and a few terms to know while in college.
Despite there being different sections, it is recommended to read through all of them. The key to a successful path in education is to become familiar with the next steps early-on. This way, students can prepare accordingly.
We hope these confusing words never stop you from achieving your highest academic potential.
School Before College
Elementary School– the first level of school which lasts grades 1-5.
Middle School– the second level of school which lasts grades 6-8.
High School – the third level of school which lasts grades 9-12.
Freshman– students in their first year of high school (9th grade).
Sophomore– students in their second year of high school (10th grade).
Junior– students in their third year of high school (11th grade).
Senior– students in their last year of high school (12th grade).
Upperclassmen– students in their third/fourth year of high school (junior/senior).
Homeschool– a program for students to complete their school from home.
Florida Virtual School (FLVS)– website for students of Florida to take classes online. This can be used for homeschooling, completing required credits, or taking classes that are not offered in the student’s school.
Magnet School – a public school with specialized programs and a rigorous curriculum where students usually must complete an application or enter a lottery system to be admitted into the school.
Magnet programs can specialize in anything from languages, medicine, the arts, or the International Baccalaureate program.
Charter School– a public school that typically performs at a higher level and runs independently from their school district. Students typically enter a lottery system to be accepted into the school.
Gifted– a program for students that separates students who perform at high levels in their academics and creativity. Gifted classrooms tend to move at a faster pace.
Curriculum– the topics or subjects covered by an education system.
Core Classes– required classes in math, science, language arts, social studies, and foreign language.
Elective Classes– open spaces in a student’s schedule to pick courses that interest them such as art, dance, music, physical education (P.E), photography, photoshop, etc.
Period– a block of time for a scheduled class.
For example, students typically have six or eights classes meaning they have six or eight total periods.
Block Schedule– a scheduling system that alternates periods. This is done to make individual classes last longer and thus, improve the quality of instruction.
For example, a student has six total periods and their school works under block scheduling. The student’s schedule might alternate between classes 1,3, and 5 on one day and classes 2, 4, an 6 on another.
Quarter– A nine-week period in which students go to school. Every school year consists of four quarters and students receive grades at the end of each quarter.
Extracurricular Activities– Anything that takes up a student’s time outside the classroom or that they participate in such as clubs, sports, an art, a job, family responsibilities, or other activities.
Honor Roll– A ceremony held at schools, every quarter, where students receive special recognition for exceptional grades, conduct, or attendance.
On-the-Job Training (OJT)– a program for high school students to continue earning high school credits while maintaining a job. Students who receive approval from their administrator leave early from school to attend their job.
Plagiarism– the act of copying someone else’s work and taking the credit for it (also known as cheating). This is taken very seriously and can have terrible consequences.
General Educational Development (GED) Diploma– a diploma that is equivalent to a high school diploma and can be earned by someone not enrolled in a high school.
College Application Process
First-Generation College Student– a student who is the first in their family to attend and finish a four-year college program. Colleges consider this an impressive accomplishment.
Application Fee– an amount of money a student must pay to have their application processed.
Eligibility– refers to all the requirements a student must meet to qualify for something.
Ranking– a high school system that orders students based on their GPA.
Many colleges will ask for a student’s rank in their application.
Fly-In Programs– a program for students from underrepresented backgrounds to visit a college campus on an all-expense paid trip. Many colleges host these programs to attract a diverse student-body.
School Counselor– someone who works with students to promote their mental health and help students through their high school careers, including college applications
Letter of Recommendation– a letter written by a teacher, counselor, or community leader, recommending a student towards a program or college.
SAT & ACT– most colleges will require that students take one of these standardized tests and submit a score in their application.
SAT Subject Tests– standardized tests that students can take in specific subjects and submit in submit in their college application. Some colleges will highly recommend or require these tests.
The following are different programs offer by colleges, where students can apply early to a college:
Early Decision– Under this program, a student is legally obligated to attend that college if they are accepted. Choosing this route, shows that a student is committed to a specific college.
Early Action– This program in non-binding, meaning that students will not legally be obligated to attend the college upon acceptance. Students will simply know their admissions decision earlier under early action.
Restricted Early Action– Under this program, students only apply early to one school. However, students will not legally be obligated to attend the college upon acceptance.
Admissions- the term used to the entire college application process including requirements, interviews, etc.
On college websites, look for the “admissions” tab to find all the requirements to apply.
Admission Status– refers to the status of a student’s college application.
Transfer– the act and process of leaving one college to enroll into another college.
Deferral– refers to a college postponing a student’s application to be reviewed during the regular decision pool of applicants.
Enrollment– the act of accepting a student’s spot into a college.
Vocational School– schools that offer career-focused programs and can last less than the traditional four-year college.
Some examples of careers that can be studied in a vocational school are construction management, carpentry, electrician, and paralegal.
State School– a public university that is funded and controlled by the government of the state. It is typically the less expensive option for education.
Private School– a privately funded university that follows its own policies rather than that of the state.
Major – the field of study a student chooses for the college education.
If a student studied chemistry in college, this would be the student’s major.
Dual/ Double Major– a program where students are allowed to complete the requirements for two individual majors at the same time.
Concentration – a focus of study within a student’s chosen major.
Minor– a less specialized degree than a Bachelor’s degree in any field of study
Liberal Arts– a term colleges use to describe their curriculum as a well-rounded education, in both sciences and humanities, despite students studying a specific major.
STEM– an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics used to refer to college majors.
Humanities- a term used to refer to college majors involving human society such as literature, history, politics, art, music, languages, and philosophy.
College– an institution that only offers undergraduate studies.
University– an institution that offers both undergraduate and graduate studies.
Unless specified otherwise, the blog refers to both universities and colleges as “college”.
BSMD– a combined Bachelor’s and Medical doctor’s degree, typically to ensure acceptance into a medical school. Some BSMD programs will accelerate to finish in seven years rather than eight.
BSJD– a combined Bachelor’s and Juris doctor’s degree, typically to ensure acceptance into a law school. Some BSJD programs will accelerate to finish in six years rather than seven.
Study Abroad– a program during college, where students can continue completing courses whilst a different country for a period of time.
Internship– program where students work within a company or organization, to gain experience in a field they wish to pursue, whilst receiving little to no payment.
Shadowing– a program where students can learn about the career they wish to pursue by observing a professional in that field.
Volunteering– the act of students dedicating their time towards some activity while receive no payment. Students can volunteer doing almost anything, as long as they do not receive payment. Volunteering for a certain amount of hours is required by most high schools and is taken into consideration by colleges.
Undergraduate study– a program in a college or university where a student is earning an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree.
Graduate study– a program in a college or university where a student is earning a Master’s or Doctoral degree.
Post-secondary– general term used to refer to education after high school.
Degree– a recognition of academic rank after completing a course of study.
Associate’s Degree– an undergraduate diploma recognized between a GED and a bachelor’s degree. Typically, it is earned within two to three years at a college or university.
Bachelor’s Degree– an undergraduate diploma recognized between an Associate’s degree and a Master’s degree. Typically, it is earned within two to three to seven years at a college or university.
Master’s Degree– a graduate diploma recognized between a Bachelor’s degree and a Doctoral degree. Typically, it is earned in two years at a university.
M.D.– the Doctor of Medicine degree is a doctoral degree in medicine.
J.D.– the Juris Doctor degree is a doctoral degree in law.
Ph. D– abbreviation for “Doctor of Philosophy” and is the highest degree awarded.
Campus– refers to the property of a college including land, buildings, and other facilities.
Dorms– refers to the rooms in which residential students live.
Lecture– a type of class where someone, usually a professor, gives an educational talk to teach the course material.
Laboratory– a type of class that typically involves hands-on work or research rather than listening to someone speak.
Discussion Classes– a class for just a small group, typically led by a graduate student, where the content from lecture is more actively discussed.
Audit– the act of being present in a class to learn the material, but without receiving credit or assessments on the course material.
Semester– a half-way marking of the school year.
Quarter– a calendar system used by some colleges to refer to sections of time that last about ten weeks.
Syllabus– a document that outlines requirements, expectations, deadlines, and other important information for a course.
Credit/Credit Hour– a unit for measuring process towards completing a degree. Some colleges require a certain amount of credit hours while others require a certain number of credits from courses.
Pre-Requisites– refers to courses that must already be competed with a passing grade in order to be able to take another course.
Midterms- refers to exam that are given halfway through a midterm.
Work-Study– a program where a student may work at a job on campus to cover part of tuition.
Dean– the head of a department in a college.
Department- a division within a college or university that is specific to a field of study.
Faculty- refers collectively to anyone who teaches or conducts research in a college. The main example is professors.
Tenure– a permanent contract given to a professor that grants them the legal right to pursue research without compromising their job security. This is granted to professors are several years on a probationary period.
Alumni– a graduate or former student from a college. Some colleges create Alumni networks to give their graduates a helpful community and a way to connect to opportunities.
Commuter Student– refers to a student who does not live on a college campus and uses transports to the campus.
Residential Student– refers to a student who lives on the college campus.
Greek Life– houses that hold social organizations of students that combine aspects of their social and academic lives.
Membership into these houses will typically be an extra expense related to college.
Fraternity– greek life organizations for male-identifying individuals.
Sorority– greek life organizations for female-identifying individuals.
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*The School Bell Blog is not associated with programs mentioned. This blog serves as a resource of information that may or may not apply to the readers and it is up to each individual reader to verify the information on their own. For verification on what opportunities are available to you and for formal help, please see your school counselors. The School Bell Blog encourages everyone to do their own research before taking the information stated here as fact. Thank you.
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