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    Glossary of Academic Terms


This glossary is intended to provide brief definitions of select academic terms used at Penn State. Because many of these terms refer to complex policies and procedures, links are provided for additional information about and clarification of these terms. Some of the terms below are further illustrated by pop-up notes indicated by the @ symbol.

Additional academic terms and related policies and procedures can be found in the University Undergraduate Advising Handbook.



Academic renewal: A process that permits former students who have interrupted their studies at Penn State for a minimum of four calendar years and have a cumulative grade-point average below a 2.00 to resume study without being penalized for their past academic records.

Administrative course cancellation: A process that allows a student to cancel his or her registration in a course (after the course has begun) if he or she never participated in the course. Non-participation must be verified by the instructor.

Advanced-standing student: A student who transfers to Penn State from another college/university with eighteen or more college credits earned after high school. (A student who completes fewer than eighteen credits after high school or who earns any number of college credits while still in high school can be admitted as a new, first-semester student rather than as an advanced-standing student.)

Advanced Placement (AP): A program administered by the College Board through which a student can earn college-level credit for examinations taken in high school. Students can earn AP credit for art, biology, history, mathematics, foreign languages, and other Penn State courses.

Associate degree: An undergraduate degree requiring a minimum of sixty credits, which are typically completed in two years (four semesters). (See also degree.)

Auditing a course: Officially registering for a course in which a student will not earn a letter grade or credit. The cost is the same as if the course were taken for credit. A student auditing a course may be required to participate fully in the class.

Baccalaureate degree: An undergraduate degree requiring a minimum of 120 credits, which are typically completed in four years (eight semesters), although some baccalaureate degrees require five years to complete. (See also degree.)

Bulletin: Penn State's college catalog. Officially referred to as the University Bulletin (Undergraduate Degree Programs).

Bursar: The University office that has responsibility for billing and collecting payments for tuition, room and board, student activities fees, and related charges.

C-grade requirement: A set of courses designated for each baccalaureate/associate degree major in which a student must earn a C or better in order to graduate.

Campus: One of Penn State's twenty-four statewide locations. The largest campus is the University Park campus, which enrolls more than half of the University's undergraduate students. It also serves as the administrative hub for the University and is the primary site for graduate study. (See also World Campus)

    Undergraduate campuses of Penn State
    Special-mission campuses

Change of campus: Transferring from one Penn State campus to another. A change of campus must be approved by both the student's current campus and the “receiving” campus.

College: One of Penn State's undergraduate divisions, offering a variety of courses, majors, and degrees. There are eleven undergraduate colleges (plus the School of Nursing) at the University Park campus. (See also Schreyer Honors College)

    Undergraduate colleges at University Park
    Undergraduate colleges at other campuses
    Other Penn State colleges

Concurrent majors: Two or more majors completed simultaneously; unofficially referred to as “double majors.” Double counting of some course requirements is possible, but the process of determining concurrent requirements can be complex. Students must work closely with advisers and deans' offices to determine specific requirements.

Course control: A mechanism that prevents students from registering for a course or certain sections of a course unless specific requirements are met. Departments use controls to assure that selected students are able to register for the courses they need. Some controls are lifted at the beginning of classes, while other controls are permanent.

Credit by examination: Earning credits for a course through successful completion (grade of C or better) of a comprehensive examination in lieu of completing the usual requirements of the course. Obtaining credit by examination may not be possible for some courses. Students are charged a non-refundable, per-credit fee to take the exam.

Cross-listed course: A single course that is offered by two or more departments; for example, the course “Canaan and Israel in Antiquity” is cross-listed as Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies (CAMS 102), History (HIST 102), Jewish Studies (J ST 102), and Religious Studies (RL ST 102).

Cumulative credits: Credits used to calculate a student's grade-point average. Cumulative credits include the number of credits scheduled at Penn State for a letter grade (even if a grade of F was earned) but exclude credits earned when no letter grade is associated with the course (e.g., credits earned through Advanced Placement). (See also total credits.)

Cumulative grade-point average: The weighted mean value of all grade points a student has earned by enrollment in Penn State courses through any delivery system and at any campus. (See also grade-point average.)

Dean's List: Recognition of academic excellence. To be on the Dean's List, a full-time student must achieve a semester grade-point average of 3.50 or higher while enrolled in twelve or more credits for fall semester, spring semester, or any combination of summer sessions. Criteria for part-time students are different.

Deferred grade: A delay in assigning a final grade in a course in order to give a student additional time to complete the course requirements; usually granted for extenuating circumstances. The deadline for completing a deferred grade is typically six weeks into the next enrollment period.

Degree: An academic title given to a student who completes the requirements for a major. Penn State confers associate, baccalaureate (bachelor's), and professional degrees (M.S., Ph.D., J.D., M.D., etc.). All baccalaureate degrees require a minimum of 120 credits.

    Associate degrees conferred by Penn State
    Baccalaureate degrees conferred by Penn State

Degree audit: An online report that shows (1) all of the requirements that a student must complete in order to earn a degree in a specific major/option and (2) how the courses the student has taken/scheduled count towards those requirements. Audits are also available for minors. Students and advisers can obtain degree audits from eLion.

Department: An administrative division within a college that deals with particular disciplines or fields of knowledge (e.g., the Department of English; the Department of Mathematics). Some departments administer more than one major (e.g., the Department of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese; the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering).

Division of Undergraduate Studies: An academic unit with five University-wide responsibilities: enrollment for exploratory and transitional students; the educational planning session and academic consultation components of New Student Orientation (NSO); academic information; academic advising and educational planning; and support of advising programs at Penn State and nationally.

Drop/add, course: The process of adjusting a student's schedule by dropping and/or adding courses after initial registration. The deadline for dropping/adding a full-semester course is the tenth calendar day of the semester. The deadline for dropping/adding part-semester courses is based on the beginning and ending dates of that course. (See also late drop and late add.)

Early Progress Report: E-mail reports sent by instructors to first-year undergraduates who have 27 or fewer cumulative credits if the students' performance early in a semester is not satisfactory; copies are sent to each student's adviser.

Education Abroad: A unit within the University Office of Global Programs that provides opportunities for studying abroad. Students can earn Penn State credits from education abroad programs in more than forty countries.

Electives: A graduation requirement in some majors that allows students to select freely from any (non-remedial) courses offered by the University. Courses chosen to meet electives cannot also be used to meet major, option, General Education, or Bachelor of Arts degree requirements (i.e., they cannot double-count with those other requirements).

eLion: An interactive Web-based program for students, faculty, and advisers that provides access to academic records (grades, transcripts, degree audits, class lists, advising rosters, etc.) and processes (final grade reporting, course registration, course drop/add, withdrawal, etc.).

Enrollment controls, administrative: Limits (based on course, grade, and/or grade-point average requirements) on the number of students who may enroll in certain majors due to lack of space, faculty, or other resources. A major must receive administrative approval for an enrollment control.

Entrance to major: The point at which a student enters a particular degree program. Many programs have specific entrance requirements that students must meet. These requirements, which have been approved by the University Faculty Senate, are listed in the University Bulletin.

Full-time status: Enrollment in twelve or more credits in a semester. Different programs and agencies may have different definitions of full-time status, which can have implications for financial aid, tuition and other charges, health insurance coverage, international student visas, athletic eligibility, academic honors, and more.

General Education: A common set of requirements that all undergraduates must fulfill. Baccalaureate degree students must take a minimum of forty-five credits in seven different General Education areas in order to graduate; associate degree students must take twenty-one credits in six areas.

    General Education: Associate degrees
    General Education: Baccalaureate degrees
    General Education: Related requirements
          
Grade-point average (GPA): A numerical indication of the final letter grades earned by a student. Penn State uses a maximum 4.0 scale for both semester and cumulative grade-point averages. A grade of A is equivalent to a 4.0, an A- is 3.67, a B+ is 3.33, and so on. There are, however, no plus or minus grades below a C.

    Letter grades and numeric grade-point equivalents

Grade-point deficiency: A numerical calculation that indicates how far below a 2.00 a student's cumulative grade-point average is. Grade-point deficiencies exist when the total grade points earned are less than cumulative credits scheduled multiplied by two.

Holds (on student registration and records): Actions taken by University offices to restrict a student's registration ability or prevent the student from receiving a transcript or a diploma. Holds are usually placed for academic, financial, health, or disciplinary reasons.

Late add: Adding a course after the drop/add deadline (the tenth day of the fall/spring semester) but no later than the last day of classes. Students must obtain permission from the instructor and must process the late add in the course department or at the Registrar's office.

Late drop: Dropping a course after the drop/add deadline (the tenth day of the fall/spring semester) but no later than the late-drop deadline (the end of the twelfth week of the semester). Part-semester courses have different course drop dates. Students are limited in the total number of late-drop credits they may use. Students can process a late drop on eLion.

Leave of absence: A procedure that allows a student to take a leave from the University for one or more semesters with a guarantee to return without jeopardizing his or her student status. An approved leave begins after the student completes the current semester.

Lower division: A general term describing the first two years of college (a lower-division student) or courses taken in the first two years of college (lower-division courses). Penn State courses with numbers below 400 are generally considered to be lower-division courses (e.g., ENGL 015, BIOL 110, MATH 200, ECON 333).

Major: One of the many academic areas in which a Penn State student can earn a degree, ranging from Accounting to World Languages Education. Penn State has more than 250 baccalaureate majors.

Minor: An academic program that supplements a major. Minors require a minimum of eighteen credits with at least six credits at the 400 level. A grade of C or better is required for each course in a minor. In many cases, courses counting in a minor may also count towards a major.

    Sample list of Penn State minors

New Student Orientation (NSO): A two-day experience presented to incoming first-year students and their families as an introduction to life on campus, in the classroom, and in the community. NSO activities include online placement testing, individualized educational planning, and academic advising for the first semester's plan of study.

No grade: A symbol (NG) used in place of a final letter grade to identify a course still in progress or a course that did not receive a final grade at the end of the semester/session.

Nondegree students: Students who are enrolled at Penn State but who are not in degree or provisional status. Nondegree students schedule classes on a space-available basis after degree candidates and provisional students have been accommodated. They are not eligible for financial aid. Nondegree students are classified as nondegree-conditional, nondegree-regular, or nondegree-graduate.

Option: A specialization within a major; usually a selection of courses with a common theme involving at least one-third of the credits required for the major. Not all majors have options. If a major does have options, a student must select one of the options in order to complete the requirements for graduation (i.e., options are not optional).

    Example 1: Biology major with options
    Example 2: Psychology major with options
    Example 3: Secondary Education major with options

Overload, credit: Scheduling more than nineteen credits in a semester.

Petition (Senate): A student's request to the University Faculty Senate for an exception to academic policies and procedures. Petitions are usually submitted when unusual circumstances have interfered with a student's academic progress and his or her ability to follow normal University procedures. The petition and supporting documentation are submitted by the student's college of enrollment.

Prerequisite: One or more courses that must be completed or other knowledge, skills, or standards that must be demonstrated before a student is permitted to take certain courses. Prerequisites (if any) for a course are listed in the University Bulletin.

    Examples of courses with prerequisites

Provisional students: Applicants to degree status who lack the credentials required for admission as degree candidates. Provisional students enroll in classes on a space-available basis; they may be eligible for financial aid.

Re-enrollment: The process by which a student may be eligible to return to the University after a lapse in enrollment.

Registrar: The University office that has responsibility for student academic records and related processes, including registration, academic transcripts, grade reporting, degree audit, graduation, re-enrollment, withdrawal, and more.

Reinstatement: The process of approving a student for a return to degree status if the student had been dropped from degree status for unsatisfactory scholarship and has subsequently met the appropriate academic requirements.

Resident instruction: Generally, courses taught “in residence” (i.e., on campus, typically during the day) versus courses taught through distance education (the World Campus) or through Continuing Education (commonly referred to as “night” or “evening” classes).

Satisfactory academic progress (for financial aid): Academic requirements set by Penn State for Federal aid. Grade-point averages, credits completed, full-time status, and even specific courses may be required. Questions should always be directed to the Office of Student Aid because each student's situation will be unique.

Satisfactory/unsatisfactory (“pass/fail”): A grading system in which a symbol (SA for C grades or better, UN for D or F grades) is recorded in place of a letter grade. A student's grade-point average is not affected by credits attempted in this manner.

Semester: One of the two main enrollment periods in an academic year. At Penn State, the academic year consists of a fifteen-week fall semester, a fifteen-week spring semester, and two six-week summer sessions.

Semester classification: A measure of how many credits a student has earned. Semester classification determines certain privileges (e.g., registration priority) as well as tuition charges.

    Credits earned and semester classification

Sequential major: A second undergraduate major (baccalaureate or associate) that is completed after the student has earned the first undergraduate major (i.e., has graduated). (See also concurrent majors.)

Syllabus: A document provided by an instructor that describes the content and expectations of a course, the grading policy, the academic integrity policy, a list of assignments and due dates, and related information such as the required textbooks and other course materials, the instructor's office hours, contact information, etc.

Total credits: Credits earned that are used to determine a student's semester classification. Total credits include Penn State credits successfully completed (i.e., passed) as well as credits transferred to Penn State from another institution, credits earned through Advanced Placement, etc.

Transcript: A chronological record of a student's academic work, including courses taken, grades earned, credits transferred from other institutions, credits earned through Advanced Placement, etc. Students and advisers can obtain transcripts from eLion.

Transfer credit: Penn State credit earned for courses taken at other institutions. Students must earn a C or better for credits to transfer to Penn State, but the grade earned at the other institution does not transfer to Penn State. Check the Transfer Course Evaluation Guide for course equivalencies.

University Faculty Senate: The representative body of the faculty of Penn State with authority on all matters that pertain to the educational interests of the University.

Unsatisfactory scholarship: Having a cumulative grade-point average that is less than 2.00 (C). A student can be dropped from the University for unsatisfactory scholarship if he or she accumulates a sufficient number of credits and grade-point deficiencies (i.e., earns a grade-point average significantly below a 2.00).

    Drop action: Associate students
    Drop action: Baccalaureate students

Upper division: A general term describing the third and fourth years of college (an upper-division student) or courses taken in the last two years of college (upper-division courses). Penn State courses numbered 400 or higher are generally considered to be upper-division courses.

Withdrawal: The procedure that allows students to terminate their enrollment at the University during a semester in progress. The deadline for this action is the last day of classes. The student's transcript displays a "W" symbol for each course. Withdrawal has broad implications for progress towards a degree, access to certain majors, financial aid, international student visas, health insurance, and on-campus residency. Students can use eLion to withdraw.

World Campus: Penn State's distance education unit, providing online credit and non-credit courses (graduate and undergraduate), certificate programs, and degrees.



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