Student Advice

Decoding University Jargon: A Glossary for Year 13 Students

Ben Maples  · Aug 4th 2023  · 22 min

The jargon of university and the application process can be confusing for anyone. Don’t worry; even the seasoned pros struggle with some of the vocabulary that describes university life.


Whatever else can be said of them, colleges and universities love to talk in riddles, acronyms and abbreviations. Whether it be a way to make themselves seem more important than they are or simply to make conversations flow quicker, there are hundreds of different words, acronyms and abbreviations that can make university confusing for anyone.

Luckily, we have a glossary of common terms that will help you on your journey. You probably know most of them already, but there will be plenty that you don't.

University glossary


A Levels

The most commonly accepted qualification in the UK for students looking to go to university. These are generally the qualifications you will have studied before attending university. However, it is also possible to study other qualifications too.

Academic year

The year you will be studying in. Generally, this is around September/October and ends around June/July. Not all university academic years are the same, and many can also vary depending on your course.


A process for students looking to go to university. It is a process wherein students who have higher grades than expected can apply for different universities beyond their usual firm or insurance choices.

Adjustment, as a named process, was ended in 2022. Now, students “release themselves” into Clearing (see below) and consider alternative courses or universities beyond their original choices.


The people who process all student applications and make various course offers.

Admissions tests

University admissions tests are tests that students may need to sit. These are tests set forward by a university when they have too many applicants for their courses or to maintain certain academic standards when taking students on. Not all universities will have admissions tests.


Someone who will provide students with information, guidance, advice and support. Advisers can be anyone, be it a student, a teacher, a tutor, counsellor or an agent.


People who have already completed their studies and have graduated from university.


Bachelor’s degree

The main term to describe an undergraduate degree. Generally, this is a three-year course and may have several different designations (see below). Some Bachelor’s degrees may take longer than three years. However, this depends on the course you are studying.

Bachelor of Arts (BA)

An undergraduate degree for students who are studying in a specific subject area. In this case, those studying arts, humanities or social sciences.

Bachelor of Engineering (BEng)

An undergraduate degree for students who are studying in a specific subject area. In this case, those studying Engineering.

UK university glossary

Bachelor of Laws (LLB)

An undergraduate degree for students who are studying in a specific subject area. In this case, those studying law.

Bachelor of Science (BSc)

An undergraduate degree for students who are studying in a specific subject area. In this case, those studying a science-based subject or a social science.


The BMAT is an admissions test for students looking to study for a medical-based degree. The following universities require the BMAT to be sat:

If you do not study the BMAT, you may be asked to sit the UCAT (see below).


The second most commonly accepted qualification in the UK. A BTEC is a vocational qualification and covers a wide range of sectors, including:

  • Applied sciences
  • Art and Design
  • Business
  • Childcare
  • Construction
  • Engineering
  • Media
  • Health and Social Care
  • Hospitality
  • ICT
  • Land-based
  • Performing Arts
  • Public services
  • Sport
  • Travel and Tourism

BTECs will soon be phased out. The UK government wishes students to study T Levels between 2023 and 2025.


The British Universities and Colleges Sport. A competitive inter-sports league that universities from around the country compete in. Not all universities compete in this league.


A bursary is a type of financial aid offered to students. Bursaries are given to students based on personal circumstances or to reward achievement for those excelling in their studies. Bursaries do not need to be paid back.



The buildings and grounds of the university. Some universities may have multiple campuses across several different cities or even countries.

CATS Tests

CATS Tests are Cognitive Abilities Tests. Sometimes referred to as CogAT (or, at one point, the Lorge-Thorndike Intelligence Test), these are tests designed to test the general intelligence of a student.


Clearing was previously a system for students to find a course with lower grades than they were predicted. Nowadays, Clearing is a ubiquitous term used to describe the process for all students who are looking to apply for a different course or university besides their initial choices. It now also includes the Adjustment (as mentioned above).

Uni glossary

Clearing Plus

Clearing Plus is a tool that allows students to find personalised courses during Clearing. It is a new system developed by UCAS that helps students who still need to find a course.

Students can access Clearing Plus through their UCAS Hub (see below). Students will receive suggestions related to previous choices and can apply from there.

Combined or Joint Honours degree

A type of degree that allows you to study two subjects at the same time. This is then studied as one degree.

Commuter student

A student who lives at home and then commutes (or travels) to university.

Conditional offer

A conditional offer made to a student by a university that is contingent on the achievement of certain criteria. If the student meets the terms of the conditional offer, they will be offered a place at that university.

Course rep

A course rep is a course representative. This is a student who is elected to represent the students of their course. They will gain student feedback, views and opinions and then relay these back to course tutors and lecturers.


CPCAB qualifications are specifically for students looking to study specific courses. Specifically, they are designed for students looking to study counselling, psychiatry and life coaching courses.


A cross-credit is effectively two points. This subject is taken towards one award and included in the required credit points for the second award.


Deferred entry

This is when a student has applied to a university but wishes to start the following year. This is usually a chance for students to take a gap year or gain industry-related work experience.

Not all universities allow for deferred entry. Most will allow this. However, others may ask that students apply again next year, rather than deferring the year.


An academic course and qualification that is achieved after graduating from university. This can be at an undergraduate or postgraduate level (see both below).


A long essay on a student’s chosen subject, related to their degree. This is generally the final piece of work you will do for your final project and will make up a large portion of your overall grade for that year.

Not all courses require students to complete dissertations. Some may require you to complete a final project instead. They are generally done in the final year, though some courses may occasionally ask students to complete them before then.

Distance learning

When students study from home. This generally means that you use online resources provided to you by the university.

UK uni glossary

Degree classification

Your final grade for your degree. Your classifications are scored out of 100, and they will break down like this:

  • 3rd: 40-49
  • 2:2: 50-59
  • 2:1: 60-69
  • 1st: 70 or above

If you fail to achieve a third, then you be awarded your degree without honours. Though this may depend on how much you missed the mark by. Anything too significantly below that will mean you receive no degree at all.



When a student officially starts at a university. This is when a student will be given all the essential information they require for their year, such as their timetable, student ID card and any relevant documentation.

Enrolment can be completed either in person or online.

Entry requirements

University entry requirements are the specific criteria a university sets to allow a student to attend that institution. Not all universities or courses will have the same entry requirements.


An EPQ is an Extended Project Qualification. These are usually studied as part of an A Level.


Erasmus+ is a programme established to allow students to study abroad for a set period. The system was previously known as the Erasmus Programme (which was believed to stand for EuRopean Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students, but, if we’re honest, it was named after Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus). It is now known as the Turing Scheme (see below).


Exemption is when a student can waive the requirement to complete a certain course or module. Exemptions must be agreed on by the university they are attending.

Extenuating circumstances

These are exceptional events that prevent a student from completing elements of their course or exam. Evidence for such events must be provided.

UCAS glossary


Firm choice

A student's first choice of a university or course is a firm choice. This is selected via UCAS.

Foundation degree

This is an alternative route to university for students. A Foundation degree is a degree that allows students who do not meet the initial entry requirements of a degree to study a year-long course (though these can sometimes be longer) before studying the full degree later.


A colloquial name for students in their first year at university.

Fresher’s week

A week dedicated to welcoming new students to the university. This is when universities will lay on certain events or activities for new students to integrate them into the student society.

Not all universities offer a Fresher’s week. Local businesses (usually pubs, nightclubs and restaurants) will also offer them.

Further education

Any education studied after GCSEs, at either sixth form or college, but before university.



The GAMSAT is a medical-based degree admissions test.

The following universities require the GAMSAT:

GAMSAT stands for Graduate Medical School Admissions Test.

Gap year

A year taken by a student after completing either A Levels or BTECs, before attending university. Not all gap years are taken at this time, as some can be taken midway through university. However, this is the most common.

Gap years can be used for anything a student wants. They can be taken for travel, work experience or volunteering, among many others.

UK UCAS glossary


The GMAT is the Graduate Management Admission Test. It is an aptitude test that some universities may ask students to sit when they apply.


A student who is about to receive their degree.


A student who has completed their degree and has received their official qualification.

Graduate Entry Medicine

Graduate Entry Medicine is an accelerated programme for students who want to study medicine. Not all universities require this to be sat.


Graduation is an event for students that commemorates those who have completed their course.


A grant is a non-repayable fund. It is a source of money that governments or universities, and some non-affiliated third parties offer.


Halls of residence

A building designed specifically to house the student population of a university or college. Halls of residence are not always offered, and those that are, are often sprinkled around the city the university is in, rather than all being in one place.

Harvard Referencing System

This is a citation system used by universities. It is a system wherein a university can attribute quotes, theories and work to specific authors.


Higher Education Provider. This can be anything from a university to a college to a conservatoire.

Higher education

The next stage after further education. This is restricted to further education colleges or universities.


A Higher National Certificate is a work-related vocational higher education course is studied at Level 4. It can also be “topped up” to an undergraduate degree when combined with an HND (see below).


A Higher National Diploma. This too is a vocational course. However, this is studied at Level 5. It can also be “topped up” to an undergraduate degree.

Honours degree

A more in-depth and voluminous undergraduate bachelor’s degree. Honours are usually indicated by the word “Hons” appearing at the end of the degree.



The IELTS is a qualification designed purely for international students looking to study in the UK. The IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System. Not all universities require international students to have studied the IELTS.

Independent study

Learning that is done by a student on their own, away from lecturers or other members of the university faculty.

Insurance choice

A student’s backup choice if their firm choice does not work out.

Student glossary

Integrated degree

An integrated degree is a degree that combines two courses into one. This is sometimes referred to as a combined degree or a joint honours degree.

International Baccalaureate

Like the IELTS, an International Baccalaureate is a qualification designed specifically for international students. Not all universities require international students to have studied for the International Baccalaureate.

International students

Students from abroad who study at a university in the UK.


A work placement that is usually unpaid. Sometimes, students may receive pay, but it is not uncommon for this to be considered a voluntary placement. This is done to gain industry work experience.


A university interview is an interview attended by a student to determine whether they will attend a university. In this interview, you will be asked a series of questions and asked to demonstrate skills or present work to an admissions officer or panel.


An invitation is something extended to a student when applying to a university. This is usually an invite to an interview or an audition, or to provide a piece of work or portfolio.


Joint Honours Degree

A joint honours degree is a degree that combines two subjects. It is often referred to as an integrated degree or a combined degree.


League tables

University league tables are collections of rankings for students. These allow students to see which universities rank highest for each category.

At Uni Compare, the league tables offered are:

As well as region-specific league tables, such as:

Uni Compare has over 13,000 verified reviews from Uni Compare users.


A lecture is a lesson that a teacher or lecturer delivers to a large group of students. Students are free to take notes or record them for later consumption. Not all lectures are delivered to large groups. Some are delivered to much smaller groups, though this will depend on who you have giving the lecture.


Academic staff who will teach a course. Some universities may refer to them as teachers or tutors.


The three levels of study in an undergraduate degree: 4,5, and 6. Level 4 refers to year one of an undergraduate degree, Level 5 for year two and Level 6 for year three.


The LNAT is the Law National Aptitude Test. The test assesses whether applicants are ready to study for a law degree.

UK student glossary


Maintenance loan

A loan that is provided to students to support them with living costs. Unless part of a bursary, grant or scholarship, these must be paid back.

Major/Minor Honours

A degree that typically focuses on two subjects. The main subject is considered to be the “major”, while the second subject, which is studied in far less detail, is referred to as the “minor”.

Master’s degree

A Master’s degree is a postgraduate course. These are usually one year. However, they can be longer.

Masters in Education

A Masters of Education is a degree designed for students looking to become teachers. It is sat after sitting a PGCE degree (see below).


A MATS Test is a test for university admissions. It is designed to test a student’s proficiency in mathematics.

Mature student

A mature student is a student over 21 who attends university.


A means of determining how much financial support is due to a student. This is usually based on the income of a parent or guardian and the overall household income.


The MFDs stands for The Diploma of Membership of the Faculty of Dental Surgery. It is a postgraduate diploma for students studying dentistry.

Mitigating circumstances

Mitigating circumstances are similar to extenuating circumstances. These are events or situations that affect your ability to complete the course.


The MLitt is a postgraduate course for humanities subjects.


Topics that will be taught over the course of your degree. Some will be optional, while others will be compulsory.


An MPhil is a Master of Philosophy. It is an advanced postgraduate degree that is a mixture of taught subjects and researched subjects.

MRes degree

The MRes degree is a postgraduate degree. MRes stands for Master of Research and is specifically for research-based postgraduate qualifications.


The MRCS is a postgraduate diploma. It stands for Membership of the Royal Colleges of Surgeons and is studied on an intercollegiate basis (between college and university).

University student glossary


National Union of Students (NUS)

An organisation that supports and represents students. It will also provide students with discounts in shops through the TOTUM Card.

NHS Bursary and NHS Learning Support Fund

The NHS provides an NHS bursary. While the NHS Learning Support Fund is designed for students studying the following courses:

  • Dental therapy/dental hygiene (Level 5 and Level 6 courses only)
  • Orthotics and prosthetics
  • Midwifery
  • Paramedics (DipHe and Foundation degree students not eligible)
  • Speech and language therapy.
  • Orthoptics
  • Operating department practitioner (Level 5 and Level 6 courses only)
  • Nursing (includes adult, child, mental health, learning disability and joint nursing/social work (although this could also be covered by the NHS Social Work bursary))
  • Radiography (diagnostic and therapeutic)
  • Dietetics
  • Occupational therapy
  • Podiatry/chiropody
  • Physiotherapy

Applications are dealt with fairly quickly.


An NVQ is a National Vocational Qualification. It is a work-based qualification designed to enhance and validate a person's skills and knowledge required for a specific job or career.


Offer holder day

Invite-only events (usually) that allow students to attend activities that are specific to their course. It will enable students to meet their classmates and become familiar with the course’s faculty.

Open days

An open day is a day that allows a student to visit a university and look around before applying. Students can experience the facilities and speak to staff members and previous university alums.


A portmanteau referring to the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge.


Personal development plan (PDP)

A plan devised by lecturers to help students with their goals moving forward. This is generally a way to help struggling students, but other students may also be placed on one if needed.

UK university student glossary

PGCE degree

A PGCE degree is for students looking to work in education. All teachers, lecturers etc., must sit at least a PGCE degree.


A PgCert is a Postgraduate Certificate. It is often referred to as a “mini master’s” and is sat after an undergraduate degree. It is shorter than a general Master’s degree.

Personal statement

A personal essay written by a student for their university application. All students are required to write a personal statement. Students will only write one personal statement covering all the courses they apply for and all the universities they apply to.

Personal tutor

A member of staff who will help students at university. This is usually related to helping with any academic subject, but also helps with any personal issues you may be experiencing.


Also known as a doctorate. A PhD is the highest degree a student can attain and generally takes 3 to 4 years to complete. You can only study for a PhD if you have also studied and been awarded an undergraduate degree.

PhD Studentships

PhD Studentships are a form of academic scholarships for PhD students.

Placement year

This is a work experience placement taken over the course of a year. These are often compulsory parts of a degree, though some courses have them as optional. It is usually studied as part of a Sandwich course (see below).


Copying another person’s work and presenting it as though it were your own.


Participation of local areas at university. It encourages participation in programmes for learners that may benefit from different university activities.


Any qualification (or student) beyond undergraduate level. Must be studying for advanced further qualifications.

Undergraduate university glossary

Postgraduate researcher

A postgraduate researcher is someone taking on a specific set of postgraduate courses. These courses are:

  • MPhil
  • MMus
  • MRes
  • MLitt
  • PhD
  • PhD with integrated study
  • EngD
  • DDS
  • MD
  • DD
  • Higher doctorates
  • Professional doctorates

This is only for research-based postgraduate qualifications.

Pre-sessional courses

Pre-sessional courses are courses that are designed specifically for international students. They are designed so that, if passed, international students will not need to take an English language test before applying.

Predicted grades

A grade that a teacher or lecturer expects a student to achieve.

Problem-Based Learning (PBL)

A teaching method. A method wherein students are given a real-world problem and asked to work separately or in a group to solve the problem. Generally more common in medical or healthcare courses.


An academic member of staff.


A prospectus is a brochure given to students to inform them about a specific university. These are generally available either in print or online.



The Research Excellence Framework. This system is used to assess the quality of research at a UK university or college.


Someone who can supply a UCAS reference for an application.

Residence requirements

Criteria set forward by a university for those looking to claim residency in their halls. You must meet the criteria to use the residency.


Resits are where students can resit exams, courses or even whole modules again.

Russell Group of Universities

The Russell Group of Universities is a group of research universities in the UK. There are 24 different universities, which are:

These universities are generally regarded as the best universities in the UK. They also have some of the highest university entry requirements.


Sandwich degree

A sandwich degree is a course that allows students to carry out a work placement as part of their course. This is usually done in either the second or third year of study.


A scholarship is non-repayable financial aid for students who meet specific criteria. Scholarships may be given for academic achievement or sporting prowess but may also be provided based on personal financial circumstances.

SCITT Programme

A SCITT Programme is designed specifically for teaching training. It is a teacher training course that can also help students to achieve a PGCE degree (see above).


An act where a student relinquishes themselves from a firm or unconditional offer from a university (see below). By doing this, a student is no longer attending that university or studying that course and drops into Clearing.


The different terms in an academic year. There are usually only two semesters per academic year.


A teaching method. Usually following a lecture, a smaller group of students will discuss a lecturer’s topic and their findings with the group at hand.

Undergraduate uni glossary


University societies are groups for students to share hobbies and interests and pursue extra-curricular activities.


STEM is used for science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses.

Student finance

Student finance is money that can be borrowed from the Student Loans Company. All student finance is repaid after a student graduates and begins employment, provided they earn above a certain amount.

Student Finance England (SFE)

The England-specific student finance company. Owned by the government, the SFE will assess and approve applications for financial aid.

Student Loans Company (SLC)

The company (owned by the government) that assesses and approves applications for financial aid.

Student Support Services

A service offered by a university to help students with various aspects of university life. They can provide mental health support, counselling, law-enforcement liaison and help with studies if needed.

Student’s Union (SU)

A union organised and run by students of the university. They will represent the student body in key decisions and give students a voice at certain events or meetings.

Every university will have a student union. It is also designed to support and aid students who need it.

Study abroad

When a student decides to study all or part of their course in a different country, outside of their own.

Postgraduate university glossary


An SVQ is a Scottish Vocational Qualification and is the Scottish equivalent of an NVQ.


T Levels

T Levels are a new type of qualification that will, eventually, replace BTECs. Not all universities currently accept T Levels, which is expected to change over the coming years.

TEF Awards

Tef is the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework. The TEF Awards are awards given to academic institutions to grade them on their overall teaching standards.

These are done on three levels: Bronze, Silver and Gold. Some institutions can only be graded if they meet the minimum requirements for a Bronze. But if there isn’t enough overall data available for a full assessment, the college or university will receive a provisional (and unrated) award.


TEFL is an international language qualification. Specifically, it stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language.


The TMUA is a mathematics admissions test. The following universities require students to have sat the TMUA:

TMUA stands for Test of Mathematics for University Admission.

Top-up degree

Equivalent to the final year of an undergraduate degree. These courses usually allow students to “top-up” their HNC or HND to a full undergraduate degree.


TUNDRA stands for tracking underrepresentation at universities by area. It tracks the representation of different societal groups at a university, usually through participation programmes.

Turing Scheme

A The Turing Scheme was brought in to replace the Erasmus+ programme. This is a means for students to study a section of their course abroad, usually at a foreign institute.


Turnitin is the name of plagiarism detection software. Not all universities will use Turnitin. However, it is by far the most common system used.

It is also used as a means for students to submit their work.


Members of staff at a university or college who will help with a student’s learning experience.


A teaching method. Tutorials can be carried out individually or as a group and is a chance for a student to raise questions to the course tutor. Somewhat similar to a seminar.



UCAS is the Universities and College Admission Service. It is the service responsible for processing student applications for university or college.

Not all university applications have to go through UCAS. Some can be made to the university directly, but this is rare and will depend on the institution.

UCAS application

A UCAS application is a student's application when applying to a university.

UCAS Conservatoires

UCAS Conservatoires is the application service for performance-based university and college courses.

UCAS Discover Days

UCAS Discover Days are exhibition days for students. These are organised and presented by UCAS, either in-person or virtually.

Postgraduate uni glossary

UCAS Extra

UCAS Extra is an option for students who do not currently have any choices. UCAS Extra allows them to have an additional choice when selecting a college or university.


Formerly known as UCAS Track. Your UCAS Hub is where all your application information is stored. You can track application progression, accept or decline offers and change important details where necessary.


An application number generated for each student who begins their UCAS application.


The UCAT is an admissions test for medical-based or dentistry degrees. The following universities require it to be sat:

Not all universities will require applicants to sit the UCAT, as you may need to sit the BMAT instead.

Unconditional offer

An unconditional offer is made to a student with no set criteria. Effectively, if the student wants to attend that university, their place is guaranteed.


Students studying for their first degree.

Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP)

UROP is a research opportunities programme. It is designed to help students participate in various research programmes related to their course.


An institution that provides Higher Education. Sometimes referred to as “Uni”.



When the student, university, or college withdraws an application or offer from a UCAS application.

undergraduate Uni's

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