• University Glossary

TSR Wiki > University > Applying to University > Applications to Higher Education > University Glossary

NB: Within this article, links in bold will take you to another Glossary definition; normal links will take you to another Wiki article or an external site.


Before you get there…

UCAS Terms

  • Admissions Cycle - The admissions cycle encompasses the whole university admissions procedure: it begins in September, and carries on for a year; after which time the next cycle starts. Applications made within one admissions cycle are for the next academic year: i.e. if you apply in the 2009/2010 cycle, your first year of university will be the 2010/2011 academic year (or the 2011/2012 academic year, if you apply for deferred entry).
  • Application Number - This number is given to you when you complete a UCAS application. It is unique to you, and comes in the format "XX-XXXXXX-X". It will be printed on every letter you receive from UCAS, and you'll need it to sign into UCAS Track.
  • Apply - UCAS Apply is the name of the UCAS online system for university applications.
  • Clearing - If you have not obtained a place at any universities by the end of the admissions cycle, you may use Clearing to secure a place at a university which still has places.
  • Conditional Offer - If your offer is conditional, it means you have to meet (or exceed) certain conditions in order to begin that course. For example, your condition may be "AAB", in which case you would have to achieve AAB grades in your A-levels to qualify for that course. You can find the usual conditions for most courses within university prospectuses, or by using the UCAS Course Search facility. Conditional offers may also be based on Tariff points.
  • Course Code - Every higher education course in the country has a code; for example A100 is Medicine, M100 is Law and Q300 is English. The letter at the start of the code shows you which group the course falls under (e.g. group A is medicine and dentistry; group M is law and group Q is linguistics and classics). The second character indicates the subject area within a group (e.g. A100 is a medical course; A200 is a course in dentistry); and the latter part of the code indicates the specific course title (e.g. A100 is the five-year medical course; A101 is the four-year graduate-entry medical course; A104 is the six-year foundation medical course). Different universities often use the same course code for their particular course: for example, the Universities of Birmingham, Bristol and Brunel all offer the course "English Q300". However, this does not mean the course will be identical from one university to the next - their syllabi may be very different, and therefore it is a good idea to check individual prospectuses to see which specific course structures suit you best.
  • Decline - When you make your Firm and Insurance choices (it'll just be Firm choice with no Insurance if your offer was Unconditional), if you have any other offers, you will have to decline them. For example, if you receive conditional offers from Durham, Edinburgh and Leeds, you may wish to make Durham your Firm choice, and Leeds your Insurance. If that is the case, you must also decline your Edinburgh offer. As you make all of your responses to universities at the same time, you must decline any outstanding offers at the same time that you confirm your Firm and Insurance choices. If you are dissatisfied with all of your offers, you may also opt to decline them in order to use the UCAS Extra facility.
  • Deferred Entry - This is when you apply during one admissions cycle for a course that will not commence at the start of the next academic year, but the academic year after. Applicants choose this option if they wish to take a gap year directly after finishing secondary school. An example would be if you applied during the 2009/2010 admissions cycle, for university entry in the 2011/2012 academic year (in which case, your gap year would be the 2010/2011 academic year). If you wish to apply for deferred entry, the option to say so is included within your UCAS form.
  • Extra - UCAS Extra is a facility for students who are rejected from all five of their choices. If you have had some offers (or even five offers) from your chosen universities, but you are dissatisfied with those offers, you may also use UCAS Extra - but you must first decline any offers you have already received. Through UCAS Extra you may apply to one extra university at a time (NB - not all universities participate in Extra - the UCAS website will have information on which universities are participating and which are not). If a university makes you an offer through Extra, you may accept it; if the university does not make you an offer, you may apply to another, and so on, one at a time. UCAS Extra begins towards the end of February in any admissions cycle.
  • Firm - Once you've received offers from some or all of your choices, your Firm choice is the university you most want to go to. You will notify UCAS that this university is your Firm choice by logging in to UCAS Track.
  • Institution Code - Each of the higher education institutions in the UK has an Institution Code. You need this when you fill out your UCAS Form, and it helps make sure that UCAS knows you are applying to Manchester (University of) as opposed to Manchester (Metropolitan). You can find the Institution Code for a university by using the search function on the UCAS website.
  • Insurance - If you receive more than one conditional offer, you may choose an Insurance option in addition to your Firm option. It is wise to make sure that your Insurance choice has lower entry requirements than your Firm: that way, if you miss the grades for your Firm choice, you may still be able to go to your Insurance university instead. As with the Firm choice, you will notify UCAS that you have decided on an Insurance choice by logging into UCAS Track. You may only have an Insurance choice if your Firm choice has a conditional offer attached to it; if your Firm choice made you an unconditional, you cannot have an Insurance choice.
  • Personal I.D. - When you register to use UCAS Apply, you will be assigned a Personal I.D. number, which comes in the format "XXX-XXX-XXXX". You should make a note of it, but do not confuse it with your Application Number, because they are not the same thing!
  • Personal Statement - The personal statement forms part of the UCAS Form. It is your opportunity, as an applicant, to "sell yourself" to the universities you're applying to. TSR offers extensive help with writing personal statements, including wiki articles; a Personal Statement Library and an Ask a PS Helper forum where you may confidentially submit a draft of your personal statement and receive advice from current university students.
  • Point of Entry - This is a part of the UCAS Form that often causes confusion! "Point of Entry" simply means the part of the course you will be starting at. For most applicants, they will start at the beginning of a degree course, so they may ignore this section. It only generally matters to applicants who have already completed some or all of a degree elsewhere, as they may be entitled to start the course at a different point, for example they may start in the second year instead of the first.
  • Reference - The reference is another part of the UCAS Form. If you are still in school, your teachers will normally take care of it for you. If you are applying as an independent student, you will either have to provide your referee with your login details so that they can access your application online, or obtain a reference from them on paper and type it into the reference section yourself. Referees will almost always be someone who knows you in an academic capacity.
  • Route A - This is the way to apply for almost all UCAS courses. This flowchart shows how Route A applications work.
  • Route B - This is an alternative way to apply, and is mainly (but not solely) used by Art and Design applicants. This flowchart shows how Route B applications work.
  • Tariff - Instead of making a grades-based offer (such as AAB, etc), universities may opt to make a points-based offer (e.g. 300 points), using the UCAS Points Tariff. It is not used by all universities.
  • Track - UCAS Track is an online system which you can use to keep up to speed with responses from your chosen universities. After you initially complete and send off your UCAS Form, UCAS will send you a letter with your login details, including your Application Number. For the impatient amongst you, you may be able to obtain your Application Number before you receive the letter, by hitting the "Forgot My Details" link on the Track login page, as doing this will generate an email containing your Application Number. However, this has resulted in glitches in the past whereby students received messages saying their applications had been cancelled, so you are advised to wait for the letter unless you can brave the potential panic! You can also amend some of your personal details (e.g. your address) via Track.
  • UCAS - UCAS stands for the "University and Colleges Admissions Service". They are responsible for handling almost all higher education applications in the UK.
  • UCAS Form - This is your UCAS application in its entirety. The form (which is only available online) consists of sections for your personal details; your education history and qualifications; your university choices; your personal statement; and your reference.
  • Unconditional Offer - If your offer is unconditional, it means you have already met (or exceeded) the entry requirements for the course. Unconditional offers are usually given to students who have already taken their A-levels. For example, if the requirements for a course are BBB, and you have already achieved BBB or above in your A-levels, you will have achieved the grades needed for that course. So if the university makes you an offer, it will be unconditional as there are no outstanding conditions for you to achieve.
  • Withdrawal - You may withdraw your application at any time in the admissions cycle up until, and including, Results Day. You may wish to do this if you change your mind about your proposed course. If you exceed your own expectations on Results Day, you may also feel you have undersold yourself, and therefore may wish to withdraw and reapply next year with your new achievements in mind. You may also withdraw your application to individual universities: for example, if you have received offers from your favourite two universities and wish to use these as your Firm and Insurance choices, you may withdraw your applications to the other three universities in order to confirm your choices on UCAS Track (you cannot make your Firm and Insurance choices until you have either received all five responses, or you have withdrawn from those that have not yet replied).

University Terms

  • Admissions Office - This is the university department at the centre of the admissions procedure for any given university. If you have general queries, the Admissions Office should be your first port of call. They are also usually responsible for providing prospectuses. The Admissions Office is general (i.e. not specific to a department), and is therefore unlikely to be directly involved in the decision-making process; but correspondence is fairly likely to pass through them nonetheless.
  • Admissions Tutor - Individual(s) within an academic department at a university, who will normally be responsible for deciding which applicants will receive offers. If you have any queries relating to the course, it is probably best to address your email or letter to the Admissions Tutor, rather than the Admissions Office.
  • Course - This will be a programme of study that will lead to a degree (or a pre-degree qualification such as a Foundation Degree); in much the same way that the courses you study in school will lead to qualifications such as GCSEs and A-levels. A university course will, however, be different from an A-level courses in a number of ways. For example, your study periods will now probably constitute of a mixture of lectures, tutorials and seminars instead of the classroom-based study you have been used to. Also, at A-level, you probably had to rigidly adhere to a set syllabus in order to pass your exams; at university, you will probably be able to choose your own modules up to a point, and you are likely to be encouraged to think for yourself within those modules. There is also less pressure to turn up to your classes than there would have been throughout secondary school, so you may also find yourself having to pick up skills in personal motivation!
  • Department - As is often the case with schools, universities generally consist of a number of different academic departments. For example, there are four main academic departments within Oxford University (Humanities; Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences; Medical Sciences; Social Sciences), and each department presides over a number of related courses: for example, the courses within the Humanities division can be seen here.
  • Degree - Broadly speaking, a degree is simply a university qualification. Undergraduate degrees may have a variety of titles, but the most common are Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Bachelor of Science (BSc) degrees. Whereas A-levels are classified using alphabetical letters, degrees have numerical values attached to them: namely, you may graduate with First Class Honours, Seconds Class Honours (2i or 2ii), or Third Class Honours. If you do not meet the requirement for Third Class Honours, you may still get a "pass" degree, which is simply a degree with no honours. This classification system does not apply to medical degrees: medical students are simply awarded a pass, a degree with honours, or a distinction. Degrees with honours are much less prolific in medicine than in the majority of academic areas. More information on degree classification is available here.
  • Halls of Residence - The majority of first-year students will move into university accommodation known as Halls of Residence. Most universities have a variety of accommodation to choose from, details of which are usually available on their websites. When you confirm a university as your Firm choice, they will usually send you the necessary forms so that you can begin applying for your accommodation; some universities will do the same thing if you have confirmed them as your Insurance choice, but others will not. Halls of Residence are generally cheaper than private accommodation; many will also cater for you if required, though this is rarely compulsory as most Halls have personal catering facilities, which you will normally share with other students. TSR provides some individual University Accommodation Guides to help you get a better picture of the accommodation at your chosen universities. If you cannot find the information you are looking for, you may find it with the A-Z of Universities pages, or perhaps on the universities' own websites.
  • Open Day - These are events held at universities throughout the year. They will usually involve short, informative talks by university representatives and tours of the facilities and accommodation, as well as the opportunity to speak informally to staff and current students. You will generally be able to take one or two guests with you, and there are often concessions for car-parking and meals whilst you're there. Open Days can be a fantastic way to learn about your course and also to get the "feel" of the university and the town/city surrounding it, so they are well worth attending; however, if you cannot make any of the Open Days listed on the university's website, you may find that the university is willing to make alternative arrangements for you if you contact them.
  • Postgraduate - Postgraduate students will have already completed a Bachelors degree and will be studying for a higher qualification, e.g. a Masters (MA/MSc), a doctorate (PhD), or another postgraduate course such as a PGCE.
  • Sandwich course - Mostly commonly this is a three-year degree spread across four years, so as to incorporate a year in industry. Your industry year will usually occur between years two and three of the regular degree.
  • Undergraduate - Undergraduate students are those studying for a qualification below postgraduate level, e.g. a Bachelors degree, a Foundation Degree or a Higher National Diploma (HND).

Student Finance Terms

Student finance is full of complicated terms. Get your head around them by reading our dedicated Student Support Glossary. You'll find out what 'non-income assessed' means, who the Student Loan Company are and what tuition fees currently cost.

Once you're at university…

General University Terminology

  • Academic - "Academic" is the general name given to members of university staff who are directly involved with the education of students. For example, a tutor would be an academic; a receptionist at the main office would probably not be an academic.
  • Academic Dress - This is the name given to the outfit you will probably have seen at graduation ceremonies. Though the term most commonly refers to a gown and a mortarboard, there are many different types of academic dress. If you wish to find out more about academic dress, Wikipedia has a useful article on the subject.
  • Finals - These are exams taken in your final year. The results determine what class of degree you have achieved.
  • Freshers - First-year students. It is normally more common to refer to first-year students as "freshers" at the beginning of their course rather than for the entire duration of their first year.
  • Graduation - From a student's viewpoint, this is the act of receiving a degree. Graduation ceremonies usually involve large numbers of students, who will be awarded with their degrees in succession.
  • Lecture - A large gathering of students, listening to a "speech" made by one academic. Lectures generally take place in lecture theatres (large rooms with graduated seating).
  • Matriculation - Generally speaking, this is simply the process of a student "registering" with their university, and there is no official ceremony attached. At certain UK universities (including Oxford, Cambridge and Durham), however, matriculation is a formal ceremony where students will probably be expected to wear full academic dress.
  • NUS (National Union of Students) – A union for students, to protect and promote their welfare. Amongst other services, they provide a type of student card (the NUS card) which can be used to obtain a variety of discounts (usually ca. 10%, but occasionally more). For more information, you can visit the [www.nusonline.co.uk NUS website].
  • Seminar - The closest you are likely to get to a classroom lesson at university. Typically, there would be less students present at a seminar than there would be at a lecture; but there would be more students present at a seminar than there would be in a tutorial.
  • Tutor - An academic who presides over the work of a number of individual students.
  • Tutorial - This usually involves one academic and a small number of students (up to six students at most universities; though some universities, such as Oxford and Cambridge, regularly hold tutorials involving just one or two students).


  • Gap year - A year "out", usually between secondary school and university, which may or may not be planned. Some students opt for a gap year because they want to travel or to get work experience; others may find themselves having an impromptu gap year if they do not do well enough in their A-levels to go to their university of choice.

--Pitseleh-139893 04:27, 2 April 2008 (BST)

Try Learn together, TSR's study area

revision notes




a study planner

of discussions

The home of Results and Clearing


people online now


students helped last year
Will you be tempted to trade up and get out of your firm offer on results day?

The Student Room, Get Revising and Marked by Teachers are trading names of The Student Room Group Ltd.

Register Number: 04666380 (England and Wales), VAT No. 806 8067 22 Registered Office: International House, Queens Road, Brighton, BN1 3XE