UK Universities: A Dictionary For Parents

If you’re a parent helping your child to apply to university in the UK, you’ve probably come to realise just how many unique terms, acronyms and phrases are involved in the whole process!

It’s probably been a fair few years since you attended university yourself, and perhaps you could use a translator to help you and your child with the entire application journey!

Since university Open Days are all online-only this year, how are you going to find out exactly what all of those mind boggling names and abbreviations really mean

Worry not! We’ve asked our team of Higher Education experts to come to the rescue. They’ve put together this handy dictionary to help you navigate the nuances of university vocabulary in the UK. 

Read it carefully and get ready to impress your child and the other parents with your ‘insider’ knowledge.


A Levels: The common name for the General Certificate of Education Advanced Level certificate (GCE A level), a high school qualification studied in England, Wales and Northern Ireland by pre-university students. They are available in many subjects. They take two years to complete, and three A-levels are often used to meet university entrance requirements. 

BA: Short for Bachelor of Arts. A type of undergraduate degree awarded for studying an arts related subject. Find out more about choosing a university course here

BEng: Short for Bachelor of Engineering. A type of undergraduate degree awarded specifically for studying engineering.

BSc: Short for Bachelor of Science. A type of undergraduate degree awarded for studying a science related subject.

Bursaries: A sum of money given to a student (by the government, the university itself, or another external body) to help with the cost of their course. It’s similar to a scholarship, and usually awarded on a need-assessed basis. Find more information on funding higher education here

Campus: The university or college grounds. Note – not all universities in the UK are ‘campus’ universities, as some have buildings and facilities spread all across the town. 

Clearing: Process allowing applicants with no offers of places on degree programmes to secure places at institutions with vacancies shortly before the start of the academic year. Begins mid-August each year.

Degree Classes (1st, 2.1, 2.2, 3rd): These are the ‘honours grades’ given to students who complete their university courses. A ‘First’ is the highest, and a third the lowest. Most employers ask for a 2.1 (or 2.i) or above. 


Erasmus+:  Erasmus+ offers university students a possibility of studying or doing an internship in another country for a period of at least two months. 

Foundation course: This is a preparatory course which allows students who do not have the required entry qualifications to study for a year and then enter into the first year of some undergraduate courses. It can also be called a foundation programme or a foundation year.

Foundation degree: This is a two year work-related qualification which focuses on practical knowledge and skills and includes work experience in a particular industry.

Freshers Week: Your ‘Fresher’ year is the first year of an undergraduate degree, and ‘Freshers Week’ is the first week of the first term Usually, it involves many introductory events and social gatherings. 

GCSEs: Standing for ‘General Certificate of Secondary Education’, these are exams taken by 16-year-old students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

Halls: Short for ‘Halls of Residence’, this term refers to the accommodation that university students are offered. Usually, students are grouped into flats with shared kitchens and bathrooms. 

IB Diploma: The International Baccalaureate Diploma is a two year course offered instead of A Levels in Europe and some UK schools. 

IELTS: The International English Language Testing System is an international standardised test of English language proficiency for non-native English language speakers. It is jointly managed by the British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia and Cambridge Assessment English. Available worldwide, and one of the most widely accepted qualifications in the English language.


Joint Honours: If you take a JH course, you combine two subjects into one qualification. Common examples are Drama and English, or Business and Economics. 

MA: Short for Master of Arts. A type of postgraduate degree awarded for studying an arts related subject.

MBA: Short for Master of Business Administration. A type of postgraduate degree awarded specifically for studying business administration.

MSc: Short for Master of Science. A type of postgraduate degree awarded for studying a science related subject.

Maintenance Loan: A sum of money loaned by Student Finance to support students’ living costs. Learn more about the costs of university education in the UK here

Oxbridge: This term refers jointly to Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

Personal Statement: Find everything you need to know about Personal Statements here

Postgraduate: A postgraduate degree is a further degree after the completion of your undergraduate degree. 

Russell Group: Normally considered an association of the most prestigious UK universities, the Russell Group is a self-selected association of twenty-four public research universities in the United Kingdom.


Student Finance: A service through which university students access their loans. Learn more about the costs of university education in the UK here.

Students’ Union: A student union represents the student body in the university. The term may also refer to a central building which houses facilities for students. 

TOEFL: Short for Test of English as a Foreign Language. A test to measure a student’s English language ability.

UCAS: Universities and Colleges Admissions Service. This organisation handles all applications for full-time undergraduate courses in the UK. 

Undergraduate: An undergraduate degree if your first degree (often called a bachelor’s degree). An undergraduate is a person studying for an undergraduate degree. 

Year Abroad: Many universities offer students the opportunity to study in a partner university abroad for one year as part of their degree. Find out more about choosing a university course here.

Any further questions for our higher education experts? Ask away!

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If you’re looking for further advice and support with university applications, head to our blog