College Terminology 2: Post-secondary Institutions & Programs

As I start writing more blogs for your information, I realize that some of the terminology might be a bit foreign to you. If you have ever done a college visit, your head begins to spin with what they are saying. I have compiled a great list of college terminology that will help you through the entire process, whether you are thinking of the a 2- or 4-year school.

IMAGE CREDIT:  dantesz


Since the list is quite extensive I am going to break it down into easier sections for each part of the process.

  1. High School Related
  2. Post-secondary Institutions & Programs
  3. Admission Process
  4. Financial Aid & Scholarships
  5. On-Campus Terms

Feel free to add more in the comments section if you come across a term we should include!

2 + 2 Program: 

2 + 2 students complete their first 2 years (60 credits or Associates degree) at a 2 year state college or community college and complete their last 2 years at a 4 year institution. Some colleges and universities have matriculation agreements among themselves, meaning if you do the first two years at College X, College Y will accept you.

Art School (Arts College, Art Institute, Conservatory):

An institution specializing in the visual, performing, and/or creative arts.

Associate’s Degree:

A type of degree awarded to students at a US community college, usually after two years of classes. An Associates degree can be earned at two-year and some four-year post-secondary institutions. The hours of credit required varies by the program of study but it typically is the equivalent to four semesters of full-time study, or approximately 60 credit hours.

Associates of Art (AA):

A two year “common core” degree that includes math, science, humanities, communication, social science (~36 credits) and electives (~24 credits). Students seeking an AA degree typically go on to a 4 year university.

Associates of Science (AS):

An A.S. degree is best suited for students that want to enter a career field after two years, but want the option to transfer to a four-year college in a related field. It requires less core coursework than an A.A., and is more specific to particular major or career path.

Bachelors Degree:

A degree awarded to undergraduates, usually after four years of college classes. Bachelor's degree programs typically take four to five years of college-level coursework, and require approximately 120 credit hours to complete. A bachelors degree is awarded to students who fulfill the requirements set by the post-secondary institution. Credentials commonly associated with a bachelor's degree are bachelors of science (BS), and bachelor's of arts (BA)

Certificate Program:

A Certificate program teaches a specific skill set, and allows students to pursue a specialized area through specific training. Certificate programs may be offered at community colleges, technical/vocational schools, or proprietary schools. The length of training varies from 18-47 credit hours on the type of certificate sought.


A college is a common name for post-secondary institutions specifically in reference to institutions that award associates or bachelors degrees. It may also refer to those post-secondary institutions that only service undergraduate degrees and do not have graduate programs. In addition, within some undergraduate programs colleges may refer to an area of study or program, such as the College of Pharmacy or College of Nursing.

Colleges That Change Lives:

A program that consists of 40 colleges that are dedicated to the advancement and support of a student-centered colleges. These colleges have a goal of each student developing a lifelong love of learning and provides the foundation for a successful and fulfilling life beyond college.

Four-Year College/University:

Four year colleges and universities are post-secondary institutions that award bachelors degrees to those who complete the required coursework. Four year post-secondary institutions can be for profit, not for profit, public or private.

Gap-Year Programs:

Year-long programs designed for high school graduates who wish to defer enrollment in college while engaging in meaningful activities, such as academic programs, structured travel, community service, etc. 

Historically Black College:

Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are institutions of higher education in the United States that were established before 1964 with the 5 | | intention of serving the black community. There are 105 HBCUs today, including public and private, two-year and four-year institutions, medical schools and community colleges. Almost all are in former slave states.

Ivy League:

Eight colleges are considered Ivy League because of their selectivity, high rigor, and prestige. They are often ranked some of the best colleges in the world with top access to resources, research, and academic programs.

Liberal Arts College:

Liberal Arts colleges are post-secondary institutions whose curriculum emphasizes broad general knowledge of humanities, and social and physical sciences rather than focusing on a narrow issue or profession (like nursing or social work). Liberal Arts colleges tend to be small in size.

Post-Secondary Education:

Post-secondary education refers to formal education beyond high school. Post-secondary education institutions include: colleges, universities, technical schools and vocational training centers. The lengths of these programs vary, and upon completion of the desired program one may earn a certificate or degree.

Private University:

A university that is privately-funded. Tuition for a private college or university (before scholarships and grants) is the same for all students.

Public University:

A university that is funded by the government. Public colleges and universities are less expensive for residents of the state where they are located.

Religion-Based Institution:

These are colleges and universities established by and currently operating under the sponsorship of a church, synagogue, or mosque; a denomination; or a particular religion.


Selectivity is the degree to which a college or university admits or denies admission based on the individual student’s record of academic achievement. In general, a highly selective school admits 25% of applicants, a very selective school admits 26% to 49% of applicants, a selective school admits 50% to 75% of applicants and a school with open admission admits applicants based on space availability.

Single-Sex (or Single-Gender) College:

This is a college that accepts either women only or men only.

Transfer Student:

A transfer student is someone who has done their first two years of college at one college, and then goes to another college to finish their degree. Typically this term is used from students going from a community college with an A.A. or A.S. to a 4 year university.

Two Year College/Community College:

Two year colleges and community colleges are public post-secondary institutions. Students who complete the required coursework in their respective programs are awarded an associates degrees or certificates. Credits gained at these institutions are designed to transfer to four year colleges and universities if desired.

Vocational or Technical School:

A Technical School or Vocational School is a post-secondary institution that provides specialized training in a career field. Programs offered teach a specific skill rather than traditional academic courses such as English and History. Technical schools often offer associates degree and certificate programs in careers ranging from carpentry to information technology.