Alumni DVC Idioms, Expressions, Vocabulary University Transfers Vocabulary

Vocabulary for College Transfer Students

February 14, 2017

With IEC, you’re just a step away from college study in the U.S.: the majority of IEC@DVC students attend Diablo Valley College after graduating from IEC’s English program! This college transfer student vocabulary list includes words that you will often use as a college student in the U.S. How many of these words do you know?


Vocabulary for College Transfer Students


A semester is the length of time (about 15 weeks) when students take and complete a college class. Most schools have three semesters: Fall Semester, Spring Semester, and an optional Summer Semester. Usually Summer Semester is shorter than the Fall and Spring Semesters.

In California, community colleges (such as Diablo Valley College) and California State schools (such as Sacramento State and Chico State) use the semester system.


Schools in the University of California system (such as UC Davis, UCLA, and UC Irvine) do not use the semester system. Instead, the schools use the quarter system. With the quarter system, schools have Fall Quarter, Winter Quarter, Spring Quarter, and then an optional Summer Quarter. Quarters are roughly 10 weeks in length, plus an additional week for final exams.

Note: UC Berkeley is one University of California school that does not use the quarter system. Instead, UCB uses the semester system.


Midterms are the tests taken in the middle of the semester or quarter. The tests are a good indicator of how much the student has learned. Usually, midterms are worth a large portion of the student’s final grade (but not as much as the final exam).


“For my midterm, we had to identify all of the muscles in the human shoulder and arm.”


Finals are the tests students take at the end of the semester or quarter. We use the phrase “finals week” to talk about the week of testing.

Some classes will not have finals. Instead, the professor might require a final paper or project. The professor will make this clear in the class syllabus.


A syllabus is a document from the professor that explains the class structure, rules, and requirements. Syllabus information is typically:

  • The professor’s contact information
  • An overview of the class purpose
  • The materials and books required
  • The midterms, finals, essays, and/or projects that must be taken or completed
  • A class schedule



GE stands for “General Education.” It is the 60 credits (approximately 2 years of study) that students complete, and the education includes a variety of subjects. For most college transfer students, the GE is completed at a community college before the student attends a four-year college or university.

The idea of GE is that all college graduates must take courses in subjects other than their main studies. For example, everyone who graduates should take a math class (even if you want to be a Spanish teacher). Similarly, someone studying mathematics would still have to take some form of an art class, such as an art history course. This creates graduates who have an education in many areas of study, which makes the students more well rounded!


“Prereqs” (slang word for “prerequisites) are the classes students must take before they can take more advanced classes in the same field. For example, a student might have to take an “Intro to Writing,” or an “Intro to Poetry” class, before he or she can enroll in a Shakespeare course.

Upper division courses 

Upper division classes are the classes students take after they complete their prereqs. Usually these classes are more specific: instead of taking “Intro to Chem,” students take a class such as “Organic Chemistry.”

Upper division classes are the classes students take after they complete their prereqs. Usually these classes are more specific: instead of taking “Intro to Chem,” students take a class such as “Organic Chemistry.”


Basic Biology is a prereq at many schools. You must take it before taking classes on anatomy and other subjects.


GPA stands for “Grade Point Average.” This is the average of all of the grades a student receives in his or her courses. Remember that college transfer students must keep a high GPA in order to easily transfer to a four-year university!


A major is the main subject a student studies while in college.

“To major” is also a verb, and it is used with the word “in”:

  • I majored in English.
  • I was going to major in BioChemistry, but I changed my major to Biomedical Engineering.


A minor is a subject a student studies while in college, but the student does not take as many courses as with a major. A minor is a great way to study a second interest and help prepare the student for a more specific career.

As with the word “major,” the word “minor” is both a noun and a verb. We use MAJOR + IN when using the verb form.

  • I majored in International Relations and I minored in Mandarin.
  • She has a major in Business and a Spanish minor because she wants to work in Central America.
  • I knew that it would be difficult to be accepted to medical school, so I majored in Biology and minored in Music to show the universities that I am a well rounded person.


What happens if you haven’t chosen a major or minor? You are “undeclared!” When you choose a major, you “declare” a major. Students who aren’t quite sure what they want to study can continue taking General Education courses until they decide what they want their academic career to be. This is another advantage of General Education: it exposes students to many subjects!


Units (or credits) are the “points” students earn after passing a course. To graduate, students must receive a certain amount of units/credits. Some majors require more units than others, and each class is worth a different amount of units/credits (typically, each class is 2-4 credits).


Some classes do not give students a grade (A, B, C, etc.). Instead, students either pass the class, or fail. These classes are simply referred to as “pass/fail” classes.

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