HE jargon explained

Like every other walk of life, UK Higher Education has its own distinct terminology and jargon.  To help you make sense of this we have listed the most common terms that you are likely to come across when navigating the UK university process.


Academic year: This is the university year, which usually runs from September to July.

BA: This is the abbreviation for Bachelor of Art. This is a type of degree traditionally awarded to those subjects based in the field of Art. However, this is a very broad category and can include subject areas such as Social Sciences and English.

Bachelor degree: A degree awarded by a college or university to a person who has completed undergraduate studies.

BEng: This is the abbreviation for Bachelor of Engineering. This type of degree is awarded to those subjects based in the field of Engineering.

BSc: This is the abbreviation for Bachelor of Science. This type of degree is traditionally awarded to subjects based in the field of Science and Social Science. The BSc degree is not limited to traditional sciences.

Conservatoire: A provider of performance-based music, dance and drama courses.

Combined or Joint Honours degree: A type of degree where you study two subjects.

Dissertation: A dissertation is normally a long report, based upon research undertaken by the students themselves.

First class honours: Most UK universities use a degree classification system. First class honours or a ‘first’ is the highest level degree awarded.

Foundation Degree Programme: This is a programme designed to prepare students who have acceptable qualifications for general university entry, but do not have the appropriate level or coverage for a specific degree programme.

Fresher: This is the term commonly used to describe students in their first year at university.

Graduate: This is the term used for a person who has completed and passed his or her degree and been awarded their qualification

HE – Higher Education: This is education and training for students of 18 years and older, who have completed the required amount of study in further education, (college or sixth form). Institutions such as universities often provide Higher Education in the form of degree programmes.

Honours Degree (Hons): This is a degree programme taken at university. It is normally a first degree which lasts three or four years. An honours degree requires extra modules/units to be studied in comparison to an Ordinary Degree, often in the form of a dissertation.

Humanities: Typically covers ‘Arts’ subjects such as history, literature, Classics, theology film, modern languages and drama.

LLB: Bachelor of Laws. The accreditation given to Law degrees which allows for progression onto further training to become a barrister or solicitor.

Masters degree (MA, MSc, MPhil, MEd): Masters degrees are taught courses which allow students to extend their learning for one to two years after they have graduated from their first (Bachelors) degree. MA is the abbreviation for Master of Arts, a postgraduate qualification, but it can also be an undergraduate degree studied at one of the UK’s ancient universities such as St Andrews, Oxford and Cambridge.

Module: A module is a unit of study that explores a specific area within a subject.

Ordinary degree: Generally this is a degree passed without honours. Some universities offer ordinary degree courses in their own right but ordinary degrees can also be awarded to those students who complete an honours degree but without achieving the conditions required to gain honours.

Placement Year/ Sandwich Year: This is a year of either work experience or study placement in another institution, which can be an optional or compulsory part of a university course. Students can opt to take their Placement Year in another country.

PhD: Also known as a doctorate, this is the highest form of degree awarded and involves you carrying out research with little or no teaching. You need to have completed at least an undergraduate degree to study at this level.

Postgraduate: A student who has completed an undergraduate degree and is studying for a higher degree such as a Masters or PhD.

Sandwich course: The year of an undergraduate course where you work in an area relevant to the course you are studying.

Second class honours: Most UK universities use a degree classification system. The highest level is ‘first’ with second class honours broken down into two further classifications – upper division (2:1) and lower division (2:2). An upper second or first class degree is often required for entry into postgraduate courses in the UK.

Single Honours: This is an honours degree course in which a student studies a single subject.

Third class honours: Third class honours is typically the lowest degree classification awarded.

Undergraduate: A student studying for their first degree on a programme which normally lasts for three or fours years.

Undergraduate Masters: Four year degrees such as Masters of Engineering (MEng), Masters of Science (MSci) etc which comprise three years of undergraduate level study, with a further year to gain a Masters qualification.

University: A university is an institute of Higher Education which has the authority to award bachelors and higher degrees and which usually has research facilities.

Student life 

Catered halls: Accommodation where you are provided with meals that are included in your rent.

Fresher: An informal name for a first year student

Halls of Residence:  buildings where students live.  Most first year students live in halls, either on a campus or close by.

Lectures: Large classes in a room with a lecturer talking at the front while students take notes

Self-catered halls: Accommodation where students share a flat with a communal living and kitchen area where they cook their own meals

Seminar: Small group teaching, where students engage in discussion with other students and a member of staff

Students’ Union or Students’ Guild: An organisation that is run by students, is dedicated to the representation and support of the students at the university and promotes social activities

Tutorial: Tutorials can be on an individual or group basis. It is an opportunity for students to discuss their work, or any issues with a tutor.

Applying to and choosing a university 

Adjustment: If on results day, you have met and exceeded the results needed for your conditional offers then you can use the UCAS Adjustment service to see if you can get on a course with higher entry requirements – while still holding your original confirmed place.

Agent: Sometimes also known as consultants or educational advisers, agents are representatives from around the world who represent UK universities and colleges. They typically have a contractual relationship with one or more course providers who pay them commission for each student placed on their courses.  UKSO are independent advisers and are not agents for any institution.

Apply: The name of the UCAS online application system.

Campus university: A university situated on one dedicated site, with student accommodation, teaching and research facilities, and leisure activities all together.

Changed course offer: You might get one of these if you haven’t met the conditions of the offers you accepted. It might involve a different start date or a different course altogether.

Clearing: Clearing is a system that operates after A Level results are published. It allows prospective students without a university place to apply for courses at universities where there are still vacancies.

Conditional Offer: This is an offer of a place on a course, but to be accepted on the course you will need to meet the conditions – usually related to your exam results. This is the common type of offer made to students applying directly from school or college.

Deferred entry: A student can apply for a university place but request that they start it the following year, thus deferring entry. Students who wish to take a GAP year do this to ensure they have a place at university for when they complete their year out.

Extra: In a UCAS Undergraduate application, Extra is a service you can use to apply for alternative places if you do not hold an offer from your first five choices.

Firm choice:  The university you accept as your first choice in the UCAS application.

Gap year: A year away from education that some students take before going to university. Often students will use their gap year to travel or to gain work experience and additional qualifications.

Higher Education (HE): The level of education that involves undergraduate and postgraduate degrees.

Insurance choice: The university you accept as your backup choice in the UCAS application.

Open days: Days when the university is open to students who are considering applying. They often include activities such as campus tours, subject talks, accommodation tours and finance talks.

Oxbridge: This is the informal name for both Oxford and Cambridge universities.

Prospectus: These are guides produced by individual universities detailing the unique information about that university and the courses it offers. These are also available online via university websites.

Tariff: The tariff system is a points system for entry into Higher Education. Some Higher Education institutions express their offer of a place at university in terms of a tariff point score rather than as grades.

UCAS: Universities and Colleges Admissions Service. This is the organisation that handles nearly all university applications.

Unconditional Offer: This is an offer made by the admissions team which is not dependent on students reaching certain targets. This is often used when a student has already taken their exams and achieved the required grades.