10 really confusing college-related terms every high schooler should know

10 really confusing college-related terms every high schooler should know


For anyone considering college, the first hurdle is to go through the application process, then take college placement tests, and of course pick out a new laptop.

Yet when you actually arrive on campus, you might discover there are unusual terms and acronyms people use that sound like a foreign language. Some might seem confusing at first, especially since other students already know the terms. They’ll tell you about their R.A. and flex dollars, then talk about a new “work study” program.

To help you figure out this unique language, here are the top terms to know and their definitions. Still have questions? Drop us an email.

1. PSEO

Minnesota offers a unique college enrollment option called PSEO — you may have heard the term already. It stands for Post-Secondary Enrollment Option and it’s fantastic. As a high school junior or senior, you can enroll as a full-time student for classes either on-campus or online. The tuition is totally free, and you can even participate in clubs and campus activities.

2. Flex

During the college application process, someone might use the term “flex” dollars when discussing various meal plan options. Flex plans vary and are designed to better accommodate student needs, work schedules, etc.  An example might be a plan that includes say, 10 meals per week with allocations that be can be used throughout a semester.

3. Practicum

As you might guess, a practicum is where you practice. It’s a technical term that means you are fulfilling an assigned number of hours for your major. For example, a Communication major might work as a writer to fulfill their practicum; an Education major might work in a classroom. Majors have different requirements, but typically a practicum is not paid.

4. Mu Kappa

This term might come up if you are applying to a Christian college. It’s essentially a fraternity for Missionary Kids or those who grew up overseas. Mostly, it’s a group of like-minded students who enjoy spending time together, holding events and activities as a social outlet.

5. Residency

Most of us know the term “residency” from the medical field. If you want to become a doctor, you might serve as a resident in a hospital. Yet, for anyone considering college, a residency is much broader. It can mean any long-term role at a job that helps you learn the ropes. It’s different from an internship in that it typically involves housing and more hours of work.

6. Work Study

Is it work or is it study? For college students, it’s a little bit of both. (If you work at the receptionist desk at your college, it literally is both.) Technically, a work study means you do a job that helps you in your field on campus. Also, the money you make comes out of the financial aid received through your college, although you are actually paid directly. Some students choose to apply their work study income directly to their tuition.

7. R.A.

Everyone will talk to you about an R.A. when you enroll in a college, and they do not mean “ra ra ra” even though that would be cool. It stands for Resident Assistant and, for those living in a dorm, it’s the person who acts like your fill-in parent. Also, your boss. And, your mentor. An R.A. helps you feel welcome in your new dorm room.

8. SAS

This acronym is confusing because, honestly, it depends on who you ask. In most cases, it stands for the School of Arts and Sciences which is a division of the college offering various degree programs, typically on-campus. Others may use it for a School of Advanced Studies. Then there’s SOS, which might seem like what you say when you have too much homework but stands for the School of Online Studies.

9. Internship

This term really has two distinct meanings. If you’re enrolling in college, you will likely need to take an internship for credit that occurs during the semester. It’s an official internship and can sometimes even replace a few classes. After graduation, an internship that’s not for credit is designed to give you experience in your field. Some are paid and others…not so much.

10. FAFSA

Pronounced just like it’s spelled (faf-sa) instead of how everyone seems to pronounce it (fa-sa), this is a term every high schooler really needs to know. It stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid and it is how you apply for financial aid. Fun fact here: the U.S. government recently changed how FAFSA works. It is now based on your parents’ income from two years ago. Prior to 2017-2018, it was based on the previous year.

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