Futureproof University Jargon Buster — woman on bed with laptop and textbooks
Futureproof University Jargon Buster — woman on bed with laptop and textbooks

Student Beans’ University Jargon Buster

Your beginners’ guide to university lingo to help you hit the ground running.

Starting university may seem like a daunting experience. The intimidating terminology of higher education can be nerve-wracking for you uni newbies (and most people TBH). Credits, dissertations, UCAS — what on Earth does it all mean?

You’re not alone in worrying about the big wide world of university jargon and vocabulary you’ve never heard of before. We’re here to help answer your jargon buster prayers.

What is clearing? What is a bursary? Need help with having uni credits explained? We’ve got you covered. We want to futureproof your career and life after university, helping you to gain the confidence you need to thrive. 

Our Student Beans university jargon buster is here to save your back from awkward blunders and blank facial expressions. All the beans for your brain in one handy place.

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University Jargon Buster

Your A-Z university jargon buster to help you sound like an academic genius — or at least help you look like you know what you’re doing…


Alumni meaning: Former students who have attended and graduated from a particular university, school, or college. Alumni will typically stay in contact with the university they graduated from and may help raise awareness of the school. They are often looked at as examples of students who have gone on to do bigger and better things after graduation.

Examples of notable alumni include:

  • Francis Bacon (Cambridge Trinity College)
  • Hugh Grant (Oxford University)
  • JK Rowling (Exeter University)
  • Emma Watson (Oxford University)

It could be you one day!

Bachelor’s Degree

Wondering what is a Bachelor’s Degree?

A Bachelor’s degree is a qualification (also known as an undergraduate degree) that normally lasts between 3 and 4 years. This is normally the first degree a student can attain, before Master’s and a PhD.

You can have a Bachelor’s Degree in any area and will be awarded either a BA (Bachelor of Arts), BSc (Bachelor of Science), or a BEng (Bachelor of Engineering) depending on which subject you study. i.e. if you study English Literature, you’ll receive a Bachelor of Arts after you’ve graduated.


As if university isn’t difficult enough, the term bursary is thrown around a lot and you’re expected to act like you know what they’re talking about. But, what is a bursary?

A bursary is financial help that is offered to individuals who are in financial need or as a reward of achievement. They’ll usually have to fulfil specific criteria to be awarded a bursary.


University clearing is a system operated by UCAS that allows students who have not yet got a place at university to apply for any spaces available on a variety of courses and universities (and a range of different levels, e.g. foundation).

Conditional Offer

What is a Conditional Offer? Hopefully, you’ll be familiar with this but if not, a conditional offer is an offer made by the university you’ve applied to that depends on you achieving specific grades or criteria. If you achieve the required grades, your place will be confirmed. The requirements will often be the minimum A-Level grades for the subject.


Need to have uni credits explained to you? We don’t blame you.

Credits are gained for each module you complete during university. Credits are important because they are used to determine how far you’ve progressed through the course and are evidence of your passing and marks.

Typically, students need 120 credits to pass each year for an undergraduate/Bachelor’s degree and for a Master’s Degree you’ll need 180 university credits a year.


Deferral meaning: to postpone an action or an event. Regarding university, you can defer when you start, i.e. you apply for university but request to start the following year rather than the present year. People who take a gap year often defer the start of their entry as their place is still secure.

Degree Grades

Degree grades are a little different to grading at GCSE or A-Level/B-TEC.

During your undergraduate/Bachelor’s degree, you’ll likely be graded using the following:

  • a First — 70% and above
  • an upper Second (2:1) — 60-69%
  • a lower Second (2:2) — 50-59%
  • a Third — 40-49%
  • a Fail — 39% and below

A Master’s degree and PhD are graded differently, and it’s important to note that there may be some differences between grade boundaries depending on the school so always double-check with your university.

Dissertation — what is a dissertation?

If you’ve just started university, you might not be thinking about what is a dissertation just yet. But, it won’t hurt you to know, as you’ll be hearing it thrown around here, there and everywhere before your final year.

A dissertation is normally a final year piece of work/essay/assignment on a topic of your choice (within your degree subject). It’s a heavily detailed piece of writing that has been thoroughly researched and usually between a word count of 8,000 to 12,000. The word count for dissertations may differ depending on university, subject, and degree level (Bachelor’s, Master’s, PhD).

A dissertation is worth a significant part of your final grade.

Distance Learning

We all know what long-distance relationships are, but what is distance learning?

Distance learning is when students study from home using online resources provided by their university. An example is studying via The Open University which has distance learning courses and degrees so you’re able to get higher education without having to attend a traditional brick and mortar university.

Distance learning is a great option for those who may need to fit studying around work and/or home life.


Enrolment is the formal act of registering for a course or module at university (or any higher education/school).

A student will typically receive the essential information they need during enrolment, such as their university timetable, ID card, and student documents.

Entry Level

Entry level is the lowest level you can begin to study. Entry level, meaning the most basic level of qualification, recognises basic knowledge and skills, with the ability to apply your learning.

Foundation Degree

What is a foundation degree? A foundation degree is an alternative university degree for students who may not have met the course entry requirements. A foundation year is typically the first year of your foundation degree studies (‘year zero’) in order to provide you with the basic knowledge, understanding and support before you move into the first year of the chosen course.

The foundation degree or year is designed to help students grasp a certain amount of knowledge in the subject area. Foundation degrees are useful if you want to study a subject you have no prior experience or knowledge of.

Fresher/Freshers’ Week

A Fresher is an informal term for a first year undergraduate student (like the American term ‘Freshman’). But, what is Freshers’ Week?

Freshers’ Week is a week dedicated to welcoming first year students to university. Freshers’ Week is a week of fun, socialising, and signing up to various clubs and societies, as well as going out to the club and meeting like-minded uni newbies.

Find out more about what Freshers’ Week involves and how to make the most of it.

Here’s what you can expect when you go to university…

Further Education (FE)

FE, meaning Further Education, is any continued education after secondary school.

Further Education includes A-Levels, BTECS and vocational courses that you may study at college. Further Education is the step before higher education, meaning university or diplomas.

Gap Year

A gap year is a year students take out before they attend university or it can be the year after they have graduated. During this gap year, students are often travelling and seeing the world, or gaining work experience (and some extra cash) before studying.

Gap years are great if you’re wanting to go to university but currently can’t due to your current physical or mental health, or personal circumstances that may prevent you from attending straight away.


A graduate is a student who has completed their studies and has passed their degree, receiving their qualification. Hopefully you one day.


You know what a graduate is, but what is graduation?

A graduation is a ceremony/celebration for students who have completed their degree and have become graduates.

Students graduation ceremony - university Jargon buster


A university grant is a form of financial aid. A grant doesn’t need to be paid back and is available for anyone who meets the specific criteria.

Halls of Residence

Halls of Residence, meaning university-owned accommodation, are buildings that students can live in while studying. They’re usually on university campus or in and around close to the city.

Insurance Choice

An insurance choice is a student’s second choice of university or course on UCAS. This is essentially a reserve choice in case you don’t get into your first choice of course or university.

International Student

An international student is someone whose normal home/residence is outside of the UK, or sometimes outside of the EU (European Union), who study in the UK.

Joint Honours/Degree

What is a joint honours degree? It’s a degree allowing students to combine two subjects (normally split 50:50). Sometimes a student will spend more time studying one subject which would be considered their Major, and the other subject their Minor.

Some examples of joint honours degrees include:

  • English Literature and Creative Writing
  • Ancient History and Archaeology
  • English and History
  • Journalism and Literature
  • Maths and Computing
  • History and Politics

There are plenty of possibilities for joint honours, so if you’re tempted to study two subjects, check to see which universities offer joint honours degrees.


If you’re wondering what is a lecture, you’ve come to the right place.

A lecture is a lesson that is delivered by an academic in that subject area. Lectures are usually in front of a large amount of students and you’re expected to take notes and learn the information taught to you. Think of lectures as a larger version of a class you might have taken during A-Levels or college.

You may be more familiar with the ‘lectures’ your parents give you about not tidying up your room, doing homework, etc.

Lecture hall at university with students attending a lecture - university jargon buster

Maintenance Loan

A maintenance loan is a loan provided by Student Finance. The aim is for the loan to help out with living costs, like accommodation, travel, food, and socialising.

Not every student will need a maintenance loan, some prefer to live off their own earnings if they work or if they get help from family, as maintenance loans will add to the student debt you’ll have to pay back.

The amount of maintenance loan you get is dependant on your household income and circumstances. Here’s everything you need to know about maintenance loans. Or if you’re wondering when maintenance loans are paid out, we’ve got the loan payment dates for 2023/2024.

Master’s Degree

You’ve learned what a Bachelor’s degree is, but what is a Master’s degree?

A Master’s degree is a high level degree after your Bachelor’s or Undergraduate degree, that goes into the topic in more detail and at a higher level.

Mature Student

A mature student typically refers to someone who attends university of college after some time-out of full-time education. Mature students are over 21 years old and are at the beginning of their studies (undergraduate) or over 25 years of age and at the beginning of their postgraduate studies.


NUS stands for the National Union of Students. The union represents the interests of the students in further and higher education.

Personal Tutor

A personal tutor is someone, usually a member of staff that is an academic in your degree subject, who looks after you during your course. They’re there to help support you during your studies, including your personal well-being and professional development.


Wondering what does PhD stand for? You’re not alone.

What is a PhD degree and does it stand for anything? A PhD is the highest degree you can attain and is also known as a doctorate. The degree takes around 3 to 4 years to complete full-time (up to 7 if you’re part-time) and enables you to work as a professor at university or as a professional researcher.

PhD stands for Doctor of Philosophy and involves producing work that is heavily researched and original.

Placement Year

What is a placement year? A placement year is a year during a student’s university course where they can gain experience in the workplace. It can be optional or compulsory depending on your degree. Students will have the option to take their placement in another industry, institution or even another country.

A common example is a nursing degree. During your nursing studies, you’ll be expected to spend a placement year applying your nursing knowledge in real-life to achieve the required competencies to succeed.


Plagiarism is taking or copying someone else’s work without acknowledgement and passing it off as your own. Universities will have disciplinary procedures in place for anyone found to be plagiarising.


Scholarships are similar to grants and are a means of additional financial support for students who are eligible. You don’t have to repay scholarships.

Scholarships are awarded on a basis of personal circumstances or outstanding individual achievement


Semesters are similar to school terms, meaning the division of blocks of study. University teaching normally takes place over 2 semesters in blocks of 14 weeks.

  • Semester one: Start of academic year in September and ending before Christmas.
  • Semester two: Starts in January and runs until the summer break (June normally)


Seminars are a type of teaching session that is more interactive than a lecture. Students engage in discussions with their peers and the lecturer based on topics discussed in the lectures. These are normally more student-led and can involve peer-reviewing each others work and discussing the overall topic/project.


At university, a society, meaning a group of like-minded students, involves sharing interests, beliefs, activities, or a sport. They’re essentially a club run by the students and are a great way to meet people interested in similar things and hobbies.

Examples of societies include:

  • Rugby
  • Gymnastics
  • Weightlifting
  • Women’s hockey
  • Business and Finance
  • Acapella
  • LGBT and allies
  • Comics

If there isn’t a society at university that interests you, you can also see if you can start one yourself.

Student Finance

Student finance is money borrowed from the Student Loans Company. Student finance is used to cover tuition fees and living costs (maintenance loan). These loans you’ll have to repay once you graduate and earn over a specific wage.

Student Union

A student union is a student-run group that dedicates itself to the student community and, effectively, acting as the voice of students. Think of it like a school council.

Student unions will often be the organiser of student activities and events like summer balls and fundraisers. Not every university will have a student union, or they’ll be labelled differently like a body or an association.

Tuition Fees

Tuition fees are the pricey bit of university — costing up to £9,250 per year.

You have to pay for university (unless gifted a bursary, grant or scholarship you don’t need to pay back). As the tuition fees are higher than many can afford, students are able to take out a loan with Student Finance that covers the tuition fees of your university. These loans will often go straight to the university and you won’t see it in your bank account.

Once you’ve graduated and are earning over the threshold, you’ll be expected to start paying off any loans you borrowed as a student.


You’ve probably heard of YouTube tutorials, but what is a tutorial in university?

A tutorial is either an individual session with a tutor, or a group session where you discuss work or any issues relating to your work with your tutor and/or peers. They’re useful for collaborating with your course peers and to get feedback on your own work.


UCAS (The Universities and College Admission Service) is responsible for uni and college applications. The organisation processes applications and is where you’ll have to go to start your university journey.

Unconditional Offer

If you’ve opened your university applications and seen ‘unconditional offer’ in bold, you’ve probably wondered what does unconditional offer mean (congrats BTW). We touched upon conditional offers — where you have to meet specific criteria/grades to receive your offer, but unconditional offers are slightly different.

Unconditional offers are similar, but instead, they’re offers where the applicant has already satisfied the criteria and has no further conditions left to meet. It’s a definite and secure place at your university.


An undergraduate is a student studying their first degree (Bachelor’s). Undergraduate degrees last 3 to 4 years.

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