We-Ha.com will be publishing a series of essays/blogs/reflections on the issue of going to college – primarily a set of thoughts and musings, along with some practical advice, intended to support students and parents as they embark on this journey. While many of our readers are experts in this topic, many others are less knowledgeable and have little outside support. We hope this is helpful to all readers as they go through the various stages of getting into and getting something out of college.
By Adrienne Leinwand Maslin
This article was written with assistance from Susan Salowitz, Registrar Emerita, Middlesex Community College. We have divided the contents into two parts. You can find Part I in the March 28, 2022 issue of We-Ha.com.
My colleague, Susan Salowitz, and I worked together at Middlesex Community College for about 18 years. During that time we made it our mission to improve students’ chances for success. One way in which we did that was to begin to explain more thoroughly some of the jargon students hear on college campuses. It can be dizzying. It is our hope that this collection of terminology is helpful to you.
Registration: The act of registering for classes. This is customarily done online these days but many colleges still allow students to bring registration forms into a Registrar’s Office to register. If you do not “register” for a course, you will not be able to sit in the class or receive a grade. It is important to see your advisor prior to registering so you know you are taking the right classes and meeting all necessary requirements. And, it is very helpful to register early. Courses allow a maximum number of students and if you want to be sure you get a certain class you either want or need, you will want to register before all the slots are taken.
ID Number/Card: Every student is given a specific identification number and an ID card. The number allows the student access to their own “file” in the institutional database. This file will generally contain academic information such as the courses a student has taken, the courses they are currently registered for, the number of credit hours of each course, the progress a student is making towards their degree, and the student’s grades. It also contains financial information such as tuition payments and financial aid awards. The ID card provides a student access to buildings, the gym, the dining hall, library, or student center. The ID card may also carry information about meal plans or laundry accounts and can be used to pay for a variety of on-campus items. At some institutions, ID cards are a physical card about the same size as a driver license or credit card. Other colleges give students the option to have a digital card that the student carries on their phone.
Progress to Degree: This may have different names at other colleges but essentially, it is a way of visually determining the courses a student has taken and whether they apply to the degree program for which the student is registered. You can easily see if you still need to take other requirements towards your degree. Remember, you can’t just take any courses you want. You need to consider whether the courses apply to your major or to other requirements your college might have.
Full-time/Part-time: A student who takes 12 or more credits is considered to be full-time for federal financial aid purposes. Fewer than 12 credits indicates part-time student status. One tricky thing, however. While you might be a full-time student because you are taking 12 credits, at many colleges 12 credits will not be enough to allow you to graduate within a two-year or four-year time frame. So, if you expect to graduate within this time frame, you might need to take 15 credits per semester.
Advising: At most colleges, every student is assigned an advisor. This person is normally a faculty or staff member who is familiar with the curriculum and the college’s requirements. This person will help you plan your academic program and will also help you with other issues such as acclimating to college or helping you determine what office to go to to solve a particular problem. Advisors are very helpful and you should always make it a point to meet with your advisor at least once a semester.
Office Hours: When a professor says, “My office hours are Mondays and Wednesdays from 11 a.m.- 1:30 p.m.” it means the professor will be in the office and available to meet with students. It generally does not mean that it is the only time you can meet with this professor, only that they are guaranteeing they will be there at that time. Office hours are times when a student can just “show up” and meet with the professor; no appointment necessary. My suggestion is that even if you do not have a specific question, you might want to stick your head in the door and say “hello” to your professors. The professor will usually invite you in and engage you in a bit of conversation. It’s one way for professors to get to know their students and learn how the course is going. And it’s a good way for you to get to know them.
Grade point average: We sometimes refer to grade point average as a GPA. Colleges typically assign letter grades as a way of indicating a student’s performance in a class. Each grade has a point value that, most frequently, is on a scale of 0, in cases where a student failed a course and earned an “F,” to 4, where a student earned an A. If a student earns an A in each of five courses, the student would have a GPA of 4.0. The number is an average of the grades of all classes taken. Plus or minus grades, such as a C+ or A- have point values as well and are figured into the final GPA. Students will have a GPA for each semester and also a cumulative grade point average, at some institutions referred to as a CGPA. This is the average for all classes taken throughout all semesters at the college.
Academic Probation: When a student’s GPA drops below a certain point they may be placed on academic probation. This gives the student the opportunity to bring their GPA back up to an acceptable level as determined by the college. If the GPA is not brought back up to standard within a certain amount of time the student will most likely be dismissed from the college.
Add/drop Period: The add/drop period is the time during which students may add additional classes to their schedule or drop a class or two from their schedule. Adding and dropping classes must be done within a certain time frame for a number of reasons. When adding a class, it is important to do it before too much material has been taught. Missing even one class can put a student behind in terms of missed material and assignments. Most colleges believe it is detrimental to student success for a student to add a course after the first week or two. Dropping classes after the official add/drop period results in the designation of “W” on the student’s transcript. (See “Withdrawal” below) And, there might be financial ramifications to dropping a class. In either case, it is important to bounce these decisions off your academic advisor before adding or dropping a class.
Withdrawal: In the context of higher education, a withdrawal typically means that a student has dropped a class after the official add/drop period. Usually a student will withdraw from a class when they don’t believe they are doing well. Instead of receiving a poor letter grade, or even an F, which will negatively affect a student’s GPA, the student may choose to withdraw. The student will have a “W” designation on their transcript which will not affect their GPA. It is inadvisable to withdraw from too many classes as too many “Ws” may not look good to a future employer, could result in being placed on academic probation, and there may be ramifications regarding financial aid. The federal government will only provide financial aid to those students who are making adequate progress towards their degree. Even for students not receiving financial aid, students typically receive only partial tuition reimbursement or possibly none, depending on the college’s policies. And, the student will have to either retake the withdrawn course or take another course in its place, which will have to be paid for.
Orientation: This is an activity for students new to the college. At some colleges orientation is for a couple of hours and at others, several days. Still at others, orientation is online. Orientation helps students learn about the college including the location of buildings, specific college policies including those dealing with sexual harassment and assault, safety issues, the use of and policies surrounding technology, and provides a mechanism for students to begin making friends and feel they belong at the college. At many colleges, new student orientation is mandatory. If not, the decision to attend new student orientation is one of the best decisions a student can make for themselves.
Residence hall: As the name suggests, a residence hall is where students live. Some colleges require all first year students to live on campus in a residence hall and to have a meal plan (see below). Others do not. Some colleges, in particular, many community colleges, have neither residence halls nor meal plans. Residence halls may be mixed gendered or single sex. Many colleges have themed houses where students who share an interest, such as speaking French, may choose to live together in a residence hall or small house where the expectation is that the residents will speak French to each other, even when they’re not in class. It gives them more practice with the language and they become better speakers.
Meal plan: A meal plan requires students to pay for a whole semester’s worth of meals up front. The meals are eaten in the college’s dining hall(s). Colleges frequently have several meal plans that students can choose from. Most colleges have a super-duper meal plan that allows a student to eat 21 meals a week, have a number of snacks, have a couple of guest passes to bring friends or family into the dining hall without additional expense, order a limited number of times from Grub Hub, and perhaps get a cake on their birthday. From there, the plans are scaled back, perhaps allowing for only 15 meals a week or 100 per semester. Some colleges require freshmen to have a higher level meal plan – so they don’t get distracted from their primary purpose of being at college by having to shop and fix meals, or by eating out.
Dining hall: This is the place where students eat. Some colleges have many dining halls on campus while others only a few. Most colleges offer a wide range of food options and try to accommodate students who have special food requirements. This might include vegan and vegetarian, gluten free, kosher and halal, and just plain healthy. If you have special dietary needs, ask how these can be accommodated as you conduct your college search. Most colleges are now familiar with the wide range of dietary needs and do their best to meet those needs.
Student Activities: Sometimes referred to as co-curricular and extracurricular activities, these are in addition to taking classes. Co-curricular activities are those that supplement the curriculum a student is taking. An example might be a Finance Club where students can implement some of their classroom learning, if they are taking business, finance, and economics classes, in a less formal way. Of course, usually anyone is welcome to participate. Extracurricular activities are typically those that are fun but not necessarily classroom related such as varsity or club sports, student government, or clubs for fun and relaxation such as a Chess Club or Frisbee Club.
Varsity and Club Sports: Most colleges and universities have both varsity and club sports. Varsity sports are those that require a certain – often quite high – level of ability. Students who play varsity sports represent their college as they compete against other colleges in their athletic division. Some colleges recruit students who have great ability in a particular sport to play for that college’s team. Other colleges allow any student to try out for a varsity team at the beginning of each academic year. Colleges participate in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) at either the Division I, II, or III level. Division I is the most competitive, then Division II. The least competitive is Division III. Club sports are typically available to anyone who wishes to participate. Club sports provide students with opportunities to learn a new sport or play a familiar sport with others at the college. Club sports also provide opportunities for competitive play through either an intramural tournament (i.e., only students within the college) or by playing clubs from nearby institutions.
Accreditation: Higher education in the United States has a process called accreditation. Through this process, regional accrediting agencies review an institution’s policies and practices as measured against a set of standards. It is through this process that accrediting agencies assure the public of an institution’s quality. Accreditation is a peer review process that is entirely voluntary for institutions of higher education. However, if a college or university is not accredited, its students are not eligible for federal financial aid funds.
Dean of Students/Chief Student Affairs Officer: So forgive me, but I am going to indulge myself here. Yes, this was my title during my years at Middlesex Community College (Middletown, CT), but I do think it’s important to mention this for a moment. Every college has someone like this. The titles may vary slightly but there is someone in charge of student affairs. If you are having a problem with something or someone and you don’t know where to go for help, go to the Dean of Students. Sometimes, for those not familiar with college campuses and how they work and who is in charge of what, the Office of the Dean of Students can be a friendly, supportive place where the dean or the office staff can help you locate the help you need. They will frequently run interference by placing a phone call to the correct office explaining that you will be coming by with a problem that needs attention. While it was always my expectation that everyone who works at a college be a supporter of students, it is the most intimate aspect of the Dean of Students’ job. Don’t hesitate to ask for the help you need.
Adrienne Leinwand Maslin recently retired from a 45-year career in higher education administration. She has worked at public and private institutions, urban and rural, large and small, and two-year and four-year, and is Dean Emerita at Middlesex Community College. She has held positions in admissions, affirmative action, president’s office, human resources, academic affairs, and student affairs. Maslin has a BA from the University of Vermont, an MEd from Boston University, and a PhD from the University of Oregon. She is presently creating a TV/web-based series on life skills and social issues for 9-12 year olds believing that the more familiar youngsters are with important social issues the easier their transition to college and adulthood will be. Information about this series as well as contact information can be found at.
Like what you see here? Click here to subscribe to We-Ha’s newsletter so you’ll always be in the know about what’s happening in West Hartford! Click the blue button below to become a supporter of We-Ha.com and our efforts to continue producing quality journalism.