What’s this?? Just when you thought it was safe to kick back and relax you suddenly realise it’s time to think of applying to college or university. Aaarrrggghhh!!!!!!!!

Never fear – LIFT OFF has created this page to guide you through.

The Jargon Buster glossary will answer those nagging doubts about just what “matriculation” is, the difference between a lecture and a seminar, what “joint Honours” means and much more. If there’s an education-related term we’ve missed, just contact us and ask – we’ll post it straight up.


Academic Reference

Required in the UCAS form, this is written by someone who is able to comment on your ability to do the course. This will normally be a teacher or a tutor, and cannot be a friend or family member.

Access Course

If you know what you want to study, but leave school disappointed in your exam results, a college access course could be right for you. Access courses are designed to lead onto, and prepare students for further study in their chosen subject areas.


The department within colleges and universities that will initially deal with all applications.

Asking rates

This is another way of saying “entry requirements”. For example, people who want to study medicine will have to gain many Highers at a high grade and do so over one year.

Articulation route

This is an agreement, either formal or informal, between a college and a university. An Articulation agreement means that a university has agreed to look at students with HNC or HND qualifications for entry into year 2 or (sometimes) year 3 of a degree course. (See Stepping Higher, in Materials).



The campus is the grounds and building of the college or university when they are built together. Not all institutions are campus-based. Older universities, such as Edinburgh or St Andrews for example, have many buildings placed around the cities they are in. Some institutions have several different campuses – e.g. Dundee College has four – Constitution, Kingsway, Graham Street and Melrose.


Students who are unsuccessful in gaining a place on their first choice of course or university can enter the UCAS clearing system. This system helps to find students suitable alternative courses.

Conditional Offer

This is an offer made by a university or college, where you have to fulfil certain criteria before you will be accepted onto the course.


You wil receive confirmation, either when you meet the criteria of your conditional offer and it becomes unconditional, or when your application is declined.



This is when you have been made an offer, and decide to delay taking it up for a year.


In Scotland, an “Honours” (Hons) degree usually takes four years to complete. In the final (Honours) year, students have the opportunity to become much more specialised and write a dissertation on the subject of their choice.

Direct Entry

This describes entry to a degree through an articulation route (i.e. into year 2 or 3).



A group of academic departments grouped together for teaching purposes e.g. Arts & Social Sciences.

Fresher / Fresher’s week

“Freshers” are new students. “Fresher’s Week” runs the week before all the other students come back and is designed to familiarise people with their chosen college or university, while also providing ample opportunities for socialising and making friends.


Gap year

Some people decide to take a year off between leaving school and starting college or university, either to travel or to work and save up some money


Hall of residence

“Halls” are student accommodation that are usually owned by the college or university. All halls are different – some have en suite bathrooms, others offer shared facilities. Some will have only single rooms; others may have some twin rooms. Some halls are very close to where the students study, others may be on the outskirts of the town or city. Many students stay in halls for their first year – they’re great for meeting lots of people who are in the same boat.

Higher Education (HE)

This describes anything from an HNC up to an Honours Degree.  HE can be studied at college or university.

HNC – Higher National Certificate. (1 year full-time study)
HND – Higher National Diploma. (2 year full-time study)

HNC’s and HND’s are available in a wide range of subjects and can be studied at college. Both are classified as Higher Education, and can lead onto further study at university. (See Stepping Higher, under “Materials” section)

Honours or Hons

This refers to the four year Scottish Degree. Students completing their final Honours year can specialise in a particular area.


Joint Honours

Students can elect to specialise in two rather than one subject in their degree. There are loads of different possible combinations – you need to check out what’s available in the university prospectus.



Lectures are very different to classes at school. Some first year university lectures can have hundreds of students in them at a time, and they usually last a lot longer than a school class period! It’s up to the students to take notes while the lecturer is talking. They need to pay attention – the lecturer won’t slow down to accommodate slow writers!



This is the formal process of registration for students. Matriculated students get a card (a “Matriculation Card”), which is their official student I.D. and allows them to access many different student reductions.


Open days

Colleges and universities hold open days for those potentially interested in studying with them, where there’s loads of information about the institution and the chance to visit departments and speak to lecturers and students. If you’re serious about becoming a student, it’s a really good idea to visit as many of the colleges and universities you are interested in as possible.

Ordinary Degree

Students can choose to graduate after three years of a Scottish Degree. This means they will gain an Ordinary, not an Honours Degree.


Personal Statement

Another requirement on the UCAS form, this is where you have a chance to talk about yourself, why you want to study the course you’re applying to and what you would bring to it. A good personal statement is essential.

Personal Tutor

Students are assigned a personal tutor once they have matriculated. This is someone on the academic staff who will be there for students to talk to if they have any problems or issues they want to discuss.


Post-Graduate Certificate of Education. People who are interested in becoming teachers after they have completed their first degree usually need to study for another year to gain this qualification first.


A post-graduate is someone who has already got a first degree (e.g. an Honours degree) and has continued to study. Provided students do well enough in their first degrees, there are lots of options for post-graduate study, including Masters (usually one year full time), PGCE (usually one year full time) and Ph.D’s (usually at least three years full time).


Colleges and universities produce prospectuses for potential students, which are essentially, course catalogues. They highlight all the courses that are available and also contain details on asking rates and other relevant info.



Some colleges and universities work on two semesters per academic year, others on three terms. Semesters and terms both describe different ways of breaking down an academic year into blocks.


Seminars tend to be less formal than lectures and have fewer students in them. Students have the opportunity to explore the subject in more depth and can discuss ideas with each other and with academic staff.

Student Support Services

Student Support Services do what it says on the tin! This is where students can access help and advice about loads of different issues, including finance and accommodation.

Student’s Union / Student’s Association

This is the part of the college or university that is run by students, for students. The union is run by a committee of students who are elected by the student body. The people who are in charge of the college or university will liaise closely with the president of the Student’ Union and his or her committee when making decisions that will affect students. Student’s Unions also run loads of social activities.



The organisation responsible for managing applications to higher education courses in the UK.  Applications are usually made through their website www.ucas.ac.uk which also has loads of useful information.


Vocational Courses

This is a word used to describe any college or university courses that have been created with a specific job in mind at the end of them. They often have quite a practical element to them. Good examples of vocational courses are hairdressing, catering, building surveying and medicine.