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Translating Higher Ed-Speak from US to UK

NewCity does a lot of work in higher education. We’ve done a few projects in the UK in addition to our customer base in the US. One of the most fun aspects of that work is learning to translate between Higher Ed lingo in the US and the UK.

It wouldn’t be so hard if it wasn’t for the fact that we use a lot of the same words to mean different things! George Bernard Shaw’s maxim “England and America are two countries separated by a common language,” holds true in higher ed.

Melissa Beaver and I just returned from doing some on-site audience research with the University of Portsmouth, and these are fresh in my mind so I thought I’d share. Please point out any mistakes and let us know what you’d add to the list.

Here are a few tips for anyone else who may want to translate between the two:

 

United States

United Kingdom

College

Used generally to refer to any higher education institution, as in “I went to college at James Madison,” even though James Madison is a university.

May specifically refer to a smaller or more specialized higher education institution.

May specifically refer to an organizational division within a larger university. Students would typically take classes (units) from more than one college while attending the university.

Never refers to a secondary school. 

Often refers to a school for students over 16, as in a “6th Form College” where students prepare for Advanced-Level examinations (A-Levels) required for university admission. Typically a 2 year program in this case. Students in this sort of college will choose 3-5 subjects to study.

May specifically refer to an organizational division within a larger university. Students would typically only study at that one college while at the university. For example, Magdelen College at Oxford University functions largely independently from other colleges at Oxford.

HE

Not really used in regular speech

Abbreviation for Higher Education

Faculty

Refers generally to the people who teach or do research at an institution.

You would say “Dr. Jones is a faculty member” or “on the faculty.”

Refers to an organizational division within the institution. Used more the way those in the US would refer to a college or school within a university. For example, the “Faculty of Medicine” at a UK institution would be analagous to a “School of Medicine” at a US institution.

Not generally used to refer to individuals.

Staff

Refers ONLY to administrative or research staff not involved in teaching.

Refers to all employees of an institution, whether academic or administrative.

University

Typically a larger higher education institution offering a wide array of majors/courses.

A degree-granting higher education institution.

However, some institutions are still called “Colleges” but they are really universities. For example, Imperial College London used to be a college under University of London, but now it is able to grant its own degrees.

School

A generic term that can be used to refer to any educational institution.

Some organizational divisions within a larger university use the term “School” in their name, such as “School of Architecture.”

Refers to a primary or secondary institution, not higher education.

As in the US, can be used as part of the name of an organizational division within a larger university.

Uni

Not used

Short for “university,” Example: “At my uni we do such and such.”

Also used in the plural, as in “What unis are you thinking about?”

Department

Academic or administrative organizational unit within an institution.

An academic department may offer multiple majors (courses in UK).

Academic or administrative organizational unit within an institution,

An academic department may offer multiple courses (majors or minors in US).

Major

The main topic or focus of a student’s study while at an institution. Associated with the degree awarded.

Example: “I’m majoring in Biology.”

Called a “Course” in the UK

Minor

A secondary topic or focus of a student’s study while at an institution. This will be recognized as part of a student’s degree.

Example: “I’m minoring in Psychology.”

 

Course

A single semester or term-long educational experience taught by one teacher. Also sometimes referred to as a “class.” Equivalent to “unit” in UK.

The main topic or focus of a student’s study while at an institution. Associated with the degree awarded. Called a “major” in the US.

Example: “I’m doing a course in Biology.”

A significant difference between a degree course in the UK and a major in the US is that a student will take mostly units (classes) in their course topic, not in other subject areas. There is usually not a “core curriculum” of general education required in the UK as their is at many US institutions.

Class

Used interchangeably with “course” to refer to a single term-long educational experience.

Refers to a specific time or location of a course, such as “He’s in class right now,” or “I’ll meet you after class.”

I’m still a little fuzzy on this one. Help anyone?

Unit

Not used.

A single semester or term-long educational experience taught by one teacher. Equivalent to “course” in US.

Postgraduate

Rarely used, more commonly people will refer to a “Graduate degree” or attending “graduate school” 

“Post” refers to after completion of an undergraduate degree. Same thing as “Graduate” in the US

Preview Day

Not used

A scheduled day in which students who have not yet applied to university can visit the campus and experience some aspects of the university.

Visiting Day

A scheduled day in which students can visit a college or university campus before or after applying.

Not used.

Open Day

Not used.

A scheduled day in which students who have applied to a university can visit and get a more in-depth look at their course of study.

UCAS

 

A centralized admission system for applying to all UK state-governed institutions. Most students apply through UCAS and select 5 institutions to which to send their application.

UCAS Website

Terms for Assessment

Grade

Mark

Preparing for and taking an examination or test

“Studying for exams” or “Studying for a test”

“Take a test” or “I took my chemistry exam this morning.”

“Revising for exams”

“Sit an examination” or “I sat my chemistry examination this morning.”

GSCE

 

General Certificate of Secondary Education - an examination taken usually at age 16, before continuing on to a 6th form college to prepare for A-levels.

The GSCE marks the end of a student’s general education. From this point forward, students specialise, usually in 5 or fewer subjects for A-levels.

A-Levels

 

Advanced Level examinations. Most students applying for university will take A-level examinations in 3-4 subjects that will give them a good foundation for the course (major) they want to pursue. Usually taken at the end of their 12th year.

SAT/ACT

College entrance examinations used in the US. Students typically take them at the end of their 11th year or beginning of 12th (Senior) year.

 

Year at University

Most US institutions use the terms

  • Freshman (1st year)
  • Sophomore (2nd year)
  • Junior (3rd year)
  • Senior (4th year)

to refer to a student’s year in their program of study as an undergraduate.

A few (like the University of Virginia) use the designation “first year,” “second year” etc.

Most UK institutions use the terms “first year,” “second year,” “third year” to refer to a student’s year in their course as an undergraduate student.

Also note that most undergraduate courses in England are 3 years, not 4 as is the norm in the US and Scotland.

Top Person at an Institution

President

A university may have multiple Vice Presidents in charge of various aspects of the university’s mission.

Vice Chancellor in England, Principal in Scotland

Note that the Chancellor in England is usually a ceremonial head and not involved in the day-to-day operation of the institution. He or she may be a public spokesperson for the institution at special events.

**What are some other higher ed terms you’ve heard that are different between the US and UK? Email me at: dpoteet@insidenewcity.com

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