Help with words like: University, Graduate, college... etc..

I think I am getting confused lately by american words for higher level education… so please clarify what exactly is meant by:

University vs College. Difference ? Other words too ?
Graduate student… undergraduate… post graduate. Bachelor’s Degree… etc…
I wonder if you use Master’s Degree and Doctor’s degree the same way.

Also technical differences between majoring in this or “minoring” in that. Having a minor in a certain subject is very easy ?


A University is a large institution which may consist of several specialized colleges, such as a College of Liberal Arts, College of Business, College of Science, and so on. Colleges may also be independant and not affiliated with a University.

A bachelor’s degree is what you get at the end of a college education and usually requires about four years of study. A person studying for a bachelor’s degree is an undergraduate. After you earn a bachelor’s degree, you may enter a graduate program, which may take anywhere from two to five more years of study, depending on the field, and will result in a master’s degree or doctorate (or both.)

A major is your chosen field of study for a bachelor’s degree. For example, if I say I have a bachelor’s in Computer Science, that means Computer Science was my major. Many schools also require a minor, which is a limited amount of study in a different field. For example, a bacehlor’s degree in Computer Science with a minor in Economics.

An associate’s degree usually requires two years’ study.

A bachelor’s degree is the basic degree earned and usually requires four years’ study. A job that requires a “college degree” or “college education” generally requires a bachelor’s degree.

A master’s degree is earned after one or two years’ additional study (and perhaps a thesis) following a bachelor’s degree.

A doctorate is generally the highest degree in a subject area and requires a thesis. It is not always necessary to earn a master’s degree between bachelor’s and doctorate.

Professional degrees – such as those for physicians and lawyers – are often doctorate degrees as well.

A “graduate” can be the graduate of anything – kindergarten, junior high school, high school, whatever. In practical terms, “graduate” has no meaning in the U.S.

An undergraduate student is someone who is studying to earn a bachelor’s degree.

A graduate student is someone who is studying to earn a master’s degree.

A post-graduate student is someone who is studying to earn anything higher than a bachelor’s degree.

In practice there is no difference between a “university” and a “college.” All students at such institutions of higher learning may be referred to as “college students.”

A “university” is generally larger and is more likely to offer a wider range of degrees. A “college” is generally smaller and is more likely to offer a narrower range of degrees. But this generalisation does not always hold. Boston College and Boston University are both large institutions (unrelated to each other) offering a wide range of degrees.

You generally get a degree in a specific subject. That is your “major.” Some institutions also allow you to get a “minor” in addition. It’s not that it’s very easy, but it requires less work that a major.

In colloquial American, “university” and “college” mean generally the same thing–four or more years of optional higher education after one has graduated from (mandatory) “high school” (at age 17-18).

A Master’s and a doctor’s degree are totally different.

You get your bachelor’s degree first–that’s the first four years of college generally. You are an “undergraduate” while you’re doing this.

Then you can go on to additional education, which is when you become a “graduate student”. You get your master’s degree, and then you can go on to get your doctorate, and this is what gives you that coveted “Ph.D” after your name.

A university generally means a large school with a wide vareity of courses of study, and offers bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees (more on that later). A college generally means a smaller school with more limited or specialized courses, and may only offer associate’s degrees. However, some universities have administrative subdivisions called colleges. Also, if someone says “I went to college” they could mean either.

Undergrad(uate) degrees:
Associate = 2-year program, often vocational study or just the basics of a particular field.
Bachelor = 4-year program, fairly comprehensive study in a field, but also including basics of other fields the school deems necessary for a well-rounded education. The specific bachelor’s degree earned (or that you are working on) is your major. If you also studied a specific secondary field, according to school guidelines, this will be indicated on your diploma as a minor.

Grad(uate) degrees:
Master = In a broad sense, an intermediate level of study between a bachelor’s and a doctorate degree, but this can vary rather wildly between fields. More in-depth study of a specific field.
Doctorate (PhD) = Generally the highest degree. Very detailed study in a specific field, often in a subset of a larger field. Some professions may have different degrees.

This is wrong, as I understand it–both Master’s and PhD students are called graduate students; post-graduate is anything done after completing a PhD (also called post-doctorate study) short of becoming a professor or paid researcher.

You understand it incorrectly. Both masters and doctoral students are called graduate students, but “post-graduate” and “graduate” mean the same thing. They are not the same as post-doctoral positions. And post-docs ARE paid researchers.

“Post-graduate,” by the way, is mostly a mostly British term for what we in the U.S. usually call “graduate.” But it’s the same thing.

So a graduate student is in fact a “graduated” student… and a undergraduate is a “Un-graduated” one :slight_smile:

Ok so I had most of the terms correctly down… except for the undergraduate that is different from anything we have in terms of vocabulary.

Any Brits minding pointing out how things are different in Britain ?

Thanks guys…

Undergraduate Brit checking in,

College usually refers to post-16 education, for example 6th form college. And institutions that provide pre-degree level qualifications.

College can also refer to an institution that provides degree level qualifications, and possibly following a US institution many people refer to Universities as college.

Universities proved degree level qualifications which can be. . .

Bachelors degree, if you’re studying for one of these, you are an undergraduate. This usually takes three years, but doesn’t usually follow the Major minor system, although some universities offer this. I’m studying Drama, and that’s it, nothing else at all. Joint Honours degrees are also offered, which is an equal balance of study between two subjects.

If you continue study after getting your bachelors, you become a post-grad student, and will usually be studying for a Masters degree, which is usually an additional year of study in a much narrower field of study than your undergraduate degree.

(Some under-grad degrees are MAsters, these are integrated four year courses, in which you never get a bachelors degree, but after four years have a masters)

From here you can continue study as a post-grad student to get a Phd. (Doctorship), this entitles you to be called Dr someone, but in my experience Dr. someone is usually only used for official correspondence.

To become a professor, you must enter academia and be promoted to this position by peers in your fields, this take years and years, and probably won’t happen until your in you 50’s/60’s.

There’s lots of other qualifications as well. But I hope that helps, and is fairly clear.

Gartog writes:

> To become a professor, you must enter academia and be
> promoted to this position by peers in your fields, this take
> years and years, and probably won’t happen until your in you
> 50’s/60’s.

And that’s one of the differences between the titles in American and British academia. In the U.S., usually after getting your Ph.D. when you’re hired to teach at a university, you spend your first six years as an assistant professor. In your seventh year the other faculty in your department (with the approval of the university administration) vote whether to give you tenure. If you get tenure, you become an associate professor and can only be fired for good cause after that. If you don’t get tenure, you get a one-year teaching contract and are told to find another job. Sometime later in your career (perhaps ten years after this), you become a full professor. Very good research performance can shorten the time spent as an assistant or an associate professor. There are a fair number of American universities with a significantly different system (including some without tenure) - too many for me to easily summarize all the variants.

In the U.K., you work your way up through a bunch of other titles - reader, lecturer, etc. (Somebody from the U.K. can explain this perhaps.) It’s only fairly late in your academic career that you can expect to get the title of professor, and most academics never get that title. Being a professor in the U.K. is thus like either having a titled chair or being a department chairman in the U.S. - not something that most academics will ever achieve. I’ve been told that this was because the original idea (in the U.K. and most of the rest of Europe) was that there would be a single professor in each department. As the number of professorships grew, this meant that it was necessary to split the departments up into subspecialties so that each professor would have his own department. Later it became clear that this was too cumbersome, so it became possible for there to be more than one professor in each department.

Wendell Wagner writes: 'In your seventh year the other faculty in your department (with the approval of the university administration) vote whether to give you tenure. If you get tenure, you become an associate professor and can only be fired for good cause after that. If you don’t get tenure, you get a one-year teaching contract and are told to find another job. Sometime later in your career (perhaps ten years after this), you become a full professor."

A few quibbles:
the tenure process takes places in the middle of your sixth year; in other words, the decision to grant tenure (or not) is made around the time you’ve been an assistant professor for five and a half years. Then, depending on how the decision goes, in your seventh year you’re offered a ‘terminal contract’ (specifiying that unless you appeal the negative tenure decision successfully, that this will be your final contract) or else you’re offered a ongoing position. At my institution, this seventh year for a successful applicant for tenure is referred as a ‘probationary’ year, one in which your status is still the same as before (untenured and unpromoted), but with the understanding that both will change in your eighth year.

Although not necessarily. There are people who get tenure without promotion. At my university, a year after getting tenure it was common to go through the whole process of applying for promotion to Associate. This saves the (cheaper) universities the expense of paying the higher, Associate prof salary for an extra year, and many young profs are so glad to get tenure they don’t fight the system unless they’re very overqualified for just tenure, and can get a job easily if anyone on the tenure board should be foolish enough to regard the earlier promotion as nervy.

Finally, you can apply for a full professorship after a certain number of years in rank, usually around three. It’s actually pretty rare for there to be a gap as long as ten years between Associate and full professor, in my experience.

As I understand it: a post graduate student is anyone studying after they get their Bachelor’s. Whether they’re studying for a Master’s or a Doctorate it doesn’t matter.

In the US, a Bachelor’s degree normally takes around four years of full-time study, whilst in the UK, Australia and HK to name a few, a Bachelor’s would take just three years, due to a different schooling structure. A degree in Hotel Management, for example, is one that takes four years to complete in these regions.

Sorry, you’re right, pseudotriton ruber ruber. That was a case of bad editing on my part. I should have said “In your sixth year . . .” in the third sentence of my last post.

As I said, very good research work can shorten the length of your time as assistant or associate professor. I’ve known people who went more than fifteen years as an associate professor before getting a full professorship. I’ve also known one person who got his Ph.D. at 21 and was a full professor in a top department at 26.

Just nit picking, but the correct term is a ‘doctorate’. It certainly is possible to become a professor much earlier than 50 years of age. It is based primarily on the quality and amount of the research you have carried out. Newer universities and fields or study are quite likely to have younger professors. My own PhD supervisor was awarded his chair in his early 30s. Additionally it’s not a case of being promoted by your peers. It’s a job like any other and as such your employers, i.e. the university, make the decision. It is likely, of course that they will gather opinions from a prospective opinions peers via references or some other formal review process.

Lecturers/senior lecturers are normally expected to hold a PhD and carry out a mixture of teaching and research. There are national pay scales for these jobs, and the terms and the job requirements are pretty standard. However the teaching/research balance can vary. For example I spend around 75% of my time on research.

Readers and professors hold local contracts, meaning the terms, conditions and pay are set by the university. They would almost always have a PhD. A reader could be considered a junior professor.

To expand of Wendell’s point, professors may or may not hold a chair. Having a chair is more prestigious. Those having just the title are more likely to be heads of department/school/faculty etc. and their institution felt it appropriate to give them a more prestigious title. Thus in this case the title is not directly or necessarily related to their research success.

It is possible to do higher doctorates. I’ve not checked out the details of this, but my understanding is that this awards would be based on a selection of your post doctoral work woven into a thesis.

Here is another word for you: graduand

A graduand is a person who has completed his studies and passed the exams, but whose degree has not yet been conferred.
Once it is conferred he is a graduate, so most people are only graduands from the day the results come out until the day of the graduation ceremony.