Higher Education Jargon Buster

Navigating the landscape of Higher Education can be pretty tricky. If you're struggling to get your head around the different terminology, we've put together our handy A-Z to help you find the definitions you're looking for. 





















Often used to refer to a university tutor or lecturer.

Academic year

The university year. This usually starts around September/October and ends in June/July. You should check specific start and end dates with each institution.

Access course

These courses offer students without traditional qualifications an alternative route to higher education/university. These courses can also be an option for someone looking to retrain in a different field.


The admissions team process students' applicants and make course offers.


Former students who have graduated and keep in touch with the university.

Applicant taster days

An opportunity for applicants to experience a subject specific taster day and gain a greater insight into their chosen course.


Bachelors degree

The qualification an undergraduate achieves after completing their undergraduate studies. This is usually three to four years of study.

Bachelor of Arts (BA)

The qualification associated with undergraduate degrees in subject areas such as arts, social sciences and humanities.

Bachelor of Engineering (BEng)

The qualification associated with undergraduate degrees in the subject area of engineering.

Bachelor of Laws (LLB)

The qualification associated with Law undergraduate degrees which allows progression onto further professional training within the Law field.

Bachelor of Science (BSc)

The qualification associated with undergraduate degrees in subject areas such as science and some social sciences.


A bursary is financial help offered by the university or Student Finance in relation to a students personal circumstances. Bursaries are a type of grant that do not have to be paid back.



A campus refers to the grounds and buildings where university is located.


Clearing allows prospective students without a university place to apply whilst spaces remain available. Clearing begins from July through to September.

Combined or joint honours

A type of degree that allows students to study two subjects equally (50/50) which forms one degree.

Commuter student

A student who lives at home and travels to university.

Conditional offer

A university offer that depends on a student achieving certain grades or meeting set criteria before their place can be confirmed.


Deferred entry

A student can apply to university but request that they start the following year. Students who wish to take a gap year will often defer their entry to ensure they have a place at university.


A degree is an academic course and qualification studied for and attained at university (e.g. bachelor degree or masters degree).


A dissertation is a long essay on a subject chosen by the student. A dissertation is written within the final year of study and is worth a significant part of the final degree classification (grade).

Distance learning

When students study from home using the resources provided by the education institution (often online resources).

Degree classification

The degree classification is the final grade achieved after studying a degree course. Degrees are classified out of 100: 3rd - 40 to 40. 2:2 - 50 to 59. 2:1 - 60 to 69. 1st - 70 or above.



Employability refers to the suitability of an individual for employment.


When a student starts at a university and is given all essential information (i.e. timetable, ID card, student documents). Sometimes enrolment can be completed online.

Entry requirements

The grades or qualifications required for being accepted at university. Different universities and courses will have different entry requirements.


Firm choice

The applicant's first choice of university/course offer.

Foundation degree

Foundation degrees offer an alternative route to a bachelors degree for students with qualifications that are slighly below the course entry requirements. Foundation degrees last for one year and students can progress onto the same subject bachelors degree after successful completion.


A colloquial name for a first year student at university.

Further Education (FE)

The level of education after GCSEs studied at 6th form or college. Qualifications includes A levels, AS levels, BTEC and vocational qualifications.



An individual who has completed their degree course and has received their qualification.


A celebration ceremony for graduates.

Gap year

Some students take a year out before going to university or after they have graduated. Students will often use this time to travel or gain work experience.


Insurance choice

The applicant's second choice of university/course offer. Typically put down as a reserve choice just incase the student does not get into their first (firm) choice.

International students

Students from outside the EU who study in the UK.



One of the teaching formats at university. A lesson delivered by an academic usually to a large amount of students. Interactions and discussion opportunities may vary. Students are expected to take notes and digest the information in self led learning time or during their seminars.


Academic staff at a university who teach on the courses.


Maintenance loan

A loan provided from Student Finance to support students with living costs (i.e accommodation, travel and food).

Masters degree

A higher level degree that allows a student to study a topic in more detail, after their undergraduate degree. For example Masters of Engineering (MEng). Masters degrees are a Level 7 qualification and usually lasts for one to two years (e.g MBA, MA, MSc, Med)

Mature student

A student who is 21 or over when they start university.


A unit of study that explores a specific area within a degree programme. University courses can contain set and optional modules, which allow students to tailor their study to their interests.


An assessment of household income conducted by a student loans company when deducing the amount of student finance a student is entitled to.


National Union of Students (NUS)

The NUS is a group of organisations that support and represent the interests of students in the UK.


Open days

Open days are an opportunity for prospective students and their parents/guardians to look around a university and it's facilities as well as speak to staff and existing students. Activities include subject talks, finance talks, campus tours, accommodation tours and subject specific activities.


Personal statement

A personal statement is a section of the UCAS application where applicants express their suitability for the course(s) they are applying for. There is only one personal statement for all of the application choices.

Personal Tutor

An academic who is allocated to look after your personal well-being during university. Your personal tutor is usually an academic in the same subject department of your course.


This is also know as a doctorate. A PhD is the highest degree you can earn, usually taking a 3-4 years to complete. PhDs are available for students who have already achieved an undergraduate degree. Obtaining a PhD means that you can work as a professional researcher or a university professor.

Placement year (or module)

Work experience or a study placement which can be an optional or compulsory part of the degree. Student have the option to take their placement in a different institution, industry or in another country. (See sandwich course).


A student who has completed their bachelors degree and is studying for a higher degree (i.e. Masters or PhD).

Postgraduate course

A higher level degree course available to those who have passed their bachelors degree. For example a Masters degree which is level 7 or a PhD which is level 8.


An academic member of staff who has achieved the highest academic level.


A book outlining specific information about a university and the range of courses they provide. Propectus' can also be viewed on university websites. Check out BCU's prospectus here.


Sandwich course

This is a course that allows you to undertake a placement in an industry of your choice for one year.


A non repayable financial award based on a certain criteria (i.e achievement, household income). Check out BCU's Up-Grade scholarship.


The academic year divided into study block, similar to school terms.


Smaller teaching sessions where students can engage in discussions with other students and a lecturer. Discussions usually follow on from content delivered in lectures. Seminars are similar to classes at school.

Single honours

An undergraduate degree where you study one subject for your degree.


Societies are groups of like-minded students that share the interests, activity, sports or belief.

Student loan

A student loan is money that can be borrowed from the Student Loans Company to cover tuition fees and living costs. The loan will be paid back once a student has graduated and earning above a certain amount.

Student Loans Company (SLC)

SLC provide financial help to students during their studies and manage the loan repayments after a student graduates.

Student Union (SU)

Student unions are organised by students, for students. They are the voice of students, representing their interests. The student union will often organise activities and events for students. Every university has a student union.

Student Finance England (SFE)

The Government funding body that assess and approve applications for financial support. This includes loans, grants and tuition fees.


Tariff points

A point system used as an alternative to post-16 qualifications for university course acceptance.

Tuition fees

Tuition fees are the cost of your study/course. Universities can charge up to £9,250 per year. Students can apply for a tuition fee loan from Student Finance to cover the costs.


Members of staff within universities who are responsible for teaching and assisting students with their learning.


A tutorial can either be an individual or group session, where students can discuss their work or any issues with a tutor.

Tuition fee loan

Money loaned from Student Finance to cover the cost of tuition fees. This loan is paid directly to the university in instalments.



Universities and College Admission Service is responsible for processing students' university applications. The application process is online via www.ucas.com.

Unconditional offer

A university offer where the applicant has satisfied the criteria for their course and has no further conditions to meet.


A student usually studying their first Bachelors degree, which can last between 3 to 4 years. An undergraduate degree is the first level of Higher Education.

Undergraduate with combined Masters

Usually four to five year degrees that incorporate three years of undergraduate studies with an additional year to gain a Masters qualification.


A Higher Education Institution which awards degrees and has research facilities.

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Parent and guardians' guide to university

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