People warned me coming back to school would be difficult. What they didn’t warn me about was the terminology used in college that sometimes sounded like complete gibberish.  “What on earth are they talking about?!” and “Smile and nod…just act like you belong here” were two of the most common thoughts that ran through my head in the beginning. It was embarrassing and frustrating, and I want to (hopefully) help others avoid a bit of that. So whether you are at the beginning of your collegiate journey or simply want a bit of clarification, here are a few common college terms I wish someone had explained to me.

Admissions Terms

Registrar – A registrar is the person(s) that handles all things student records. The Registrar’s office is the place to go if you want to get into college, prove residency, register for classes, drop/add/withdraw from classes, transfer to a different college, switch majors or even degrees, or graduate (just to name a few).

Residency – For Colorado tuition purposes, an individual is considered a resident of a state if they have resided in the state for at least 12 months before the first day of class. To prove residency, you need proof you’ve lived in Colorado for those 12 months such as a CO driver’s license, CO vehicle or voter registration, state taxes, or proof of employment. Why is this important? Because you then qualify for in-state tuition which is typically far less expensive than the out-of-state tuition non-residents pay.

Assessment/CCPT – The Community College Placement Test is required for many new students before they can enroll in classes (unless the student qualifies for an exemption). The test involves math and reading assessments as well as an essay portion and is used to place students in the right courses. It sounds intimidating (at least it did to me), but it’s not! You know what you know; the test is just there to figure that out.

Transcript – A transcript is a copy of a student’s academic record. It includes items like courses taken, attendance dates, the major & degree(s) awarded, the cumulative grade point average (GPA), and any honors received.

“How am I going to pay for this?!” Terms

Financial Aid – Simply put, financial aid is any money that a student receives to help pay for college. This aid can come in the form of grants, loans, work study or  scholarships.

FAFSA – This stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Current and prospective students can fill out this application annually and that information is used to determine financial need and how much (if any) federal student aid is to be provided to the student. The FAFSA has been my best friend. I highly recommend filling this out because, for me at least, the federal aid awarded has eased the financial strain of college significantly.

COF – This stands for the College Opportunity Fund. In Colorado, the COF is a stipend that pays a portion of a student’s in-state tuition. The COF is currently $75/credit hour for public college and there is a limit of 145 credit hours it can be applied to. I LOVE THE COF! I’m taking 12 credit hours this semester, so the COF is saving me $900 this semester. How amazing is that? Thank you, Colorado!!!

Work Study – Work study is a type of awarded financial aid that you earn by working part-time (up to 20 hours while classes are in session). You get a paycheck just like a regular part-time job but many of the jobs are on-campus for convenience and can help to develop skills that are useful in your career. FRCC is a big proponent of the Work Study Program and has a  page that better details the work study process if you’d like more information.

(Tip: To be considered for Work Study, you have to first fill out the FAFSA  AND make sure you answer ‘yes’ when the application asks “Are you interested in work study?”)

Disbursement – This is just a fancy word for payment. Disbursement is when your school uses any financial aid awards (grants, scholarships, and/or loans) you’ve received to pay your tuition and fee balances. If the amount of your disbursement is more than you owe, you’ll get a refund for the difference.

Course Terms

Prerequisite – A prerequisite is simply a class you have to take before you can take another class. A common example of this is you have to take ENG 121 (Composition 1) before you can take ENG 122 (Composition 2).

Syllabus – A syllabus is a guideline provided by the instructor of a class that goes over the schedule and expectations of the class, the college, and the instructor. It’s important to remember that this is just a guideline. It can (and probably will) change based on how quickly the instructor and the students can get through the material. But syllabi (yes, that is the plural of syllabus) are extremely useful to help you get an understanding of how the class is going to run and how much work you can expect.

Credit Hour – A credit hour represents the amount of work required by the class. One credit hour is about one hour of classroom instruction and about two hours outside of class a student can expect to work per week. So for 3 credit hour course, a student can expect to be in class about 3 hours and put in about 6 hours week of work outside of class each week.

Drop vs. Withdraw – These terms refer to a student removing themselves from the class roster and no longer attending that class. When dropping a class, a student removes themselves from the class roster early enough that they get a refund and the course will not appear on the student’s transcripts. When withdrawing from a class, the drop deadline has passed. The student can still remove themselves from the class roster, but no refund is provided. A ‘W’ will appear on the student’s transcript, but will not affect their overall GPA.

When in doubt, ask

I know this barely skims the surface of college terms students run into, but I hope this provided some clarity! The best tip I can give, though, is just to ask. I was afraid to for fear of looking silly. But please remember that we were all new to not just college terms, but college in general once so trust me, we get it and we’re here to help.

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