Below you will find a list of terms that you may run across during your graduate school process. While this list is not complete, it will provide you with a good starting point. We encourage you to add to this list as you find more useful terms.
Please note that the definitions of these terms may vary slightly from institution to institution.
ABD: An acronym, which stands for “All But Dissertation,” indicates that all of the degree requirements for the PhD have been met, except the writing of the dissertation.
Admission Status: The status of you admission into a degree program is determined by the Graduate Committee of the accepting department: any change to this status requires the approval of the department. Full Graduate Standing means that the Graduate Committee has not placed any conditions or stipulations on your admission. Provisional Status means the Graduate Committee has identified conditions you must meet before you receive Full Graduate Standing. Before you can become eligible to receive a graduate degree, you must remove all undergraduate course deficiencies, take all qualifying exams, or satisfy other conditions established by the Graduate Committee. Non-Degree, Post-Baccalaureate Status means you have been admitted as a student at-large and are not considered to be working towards an advanced degree.
Assistantship: A form of financial aid in which the graduate student is paid for work performed; work which is often related to the student’s studies or area of specialization. Research Assistantship (RA) is a primary form of financial aid for graduate students. It requires that the student serve as a research assistant, generally for one specific professor or group of professors. Research assistantships are more common in science disciplines than in the humanities or social sciences. Teaching Assistantship (TA): another primary form of financial aid for graduate students, requires that the student either assist in teaching a course or courses, or teach introductory courses of his or her own. Teaching assistantships are more common in the humanities and social science disciplines than they are in the sciences.
Curriculum Vita (CV): A special type of resume traditionally used within the academic community. Earned degrees, teaching and research experience, publications, presentations, and related activities are featured. Unlike a resume, a CV tends to be longer and more informational than promotional in tone.
Committee: This may refer to one of several types of important committees: Admissions Committee: applications for graduate school are considered, and admission decisions made by a committee of faculty members within an academic department. Dissertation or Examination Committee: a committee of faculty members usually chosen by the graduate student from within his or her department or from within closely related departments, to help the student plan the dissertation or determine the general content of the qualifying examination or final dissertation defense. These committees usually serve both as advisors to the student and as examiners for the material studied or research performed.
Completion Rate: Of the students entering a particular graduate department in the same year, the percentage who ultimately complete the degree for which they enrolled.
Comprehensive Exams or qualifying exams: Taken by each student- generally at the end of the coursework towards a PhD. Once the exams are passed, the student is generally advanced to candidacy, and begins work on the dissertation.
Defense: A formal meeting between the PhD candidate, his or her dissertation advisor, the dissertation committee, and others, at which the student is examined on the contents of the dissertation. This meeting can take anywhere between one and four hours. After the defense, the committee votes on whether to accept the dissertation. If it is accepted, the candidate must then make the presentation to the graduate dean as the final stop toward earning the degree. If the dissertation is not accepted, the candidate must complete any necessary revisions, and schedule a second defense.
Director of Graduate Study: Also called Graduate Advisor. This is the faculty member in the department who is responsible for disseminating information about the graduate program, answering questions from the applicants, and advising graduate students who have not yet selected a dissertation topic. The Director of Graduate Study usually sits on or chairs the departmental admissions committee, and is the best source of information for the potential applicant.
Discipline: A broad field of study such as psychology, physics, English or computer science.
Dissertation: A scholarly work of original thought and research presented by the candidate as the final step in fulfillment of the PhD. Dissertation writing can take anywhere from two to six years, depending upon the field and other variables.
Dissertation Fellowship: An award of a specific amount of money (generally for a one-year period) to a PhD. candidate that requires the student to work full-time on the dissertation.
Doctorate: See Ph.D.
FAFSA: The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the federal financial aid application that establishes eligibility for all federal programs, including loan programs, and for some institutional aid (aid based on funds from individual colleges).
Fellowship: A fellowship is a form of financial aid comparable to a college scholarship. It is a grant of money for which no work is required, and can cover part or all of tuition and may include an additional stipend for supporting the student while he/she is in graduate school.
Forbearance: Permitting the temporary cessation of repayments of loans, allowing an extension of time for making loan payments, or accepting smaller loan payments than were previously scheduled.
FTE (Full Time Equivalency): The number of hours an employee is expected to work. Forty hours per week is full time or 1.0 FTE. Twenty hours per week is half time or .50 FTE. Assistantships are usually considered half time employment (20 hours per week).
GAPSFAS: The Graduate and Professional School Financial Aid Service. The GAPSFAS form is a standardized, detailed financial aid form many graduate schools ask applicants to complete if they apply for financial aid. GAPSFAS is a Department of Educational Testing Service.
GRE: The Graduate Record Examination is for graduate school applicants what the SAT is for college applicants. It is a standardized test designed by the Educational Testing Service to measure knowledge and skills; it is scored on a 200 – 800 scale. The GRE Aptitude Test has three sections; verbal, quantitative, and analytical. There are also GRE Advanced Tests in specific disciplines, such as French, mathematics, philosophy, engineering, etc. GRE scores are often an admissions application requirement.
General Examination: This is also called the Preliminary or Qualifying Examination. The general exam tests the depth and breadth of a graduate student’s knowledge in his or her discipline. It may be written or oral and is often divided into sections corresponding to special fields within the discipline. It is usually taken after the completion of coursework. The student prepares for it independently. After passing “generals” or “qualifiers” the student begins work on the dissertation.
Institutional Grants and Scholarships: Gift aid that is awarded by colleges from their own resources. This type of aid, awarded based on merit, need, or both, can be very competitive, particularly if merit-based. Grants might be restricted to full-time students; there might be a separate application with a special deadline. Applicants with higher grades might get bigger awards.
Master’s Degree: The degree of professional certification in a field, following the bachelor’s. A master’s curriculum usually rests on one to three years of course work and may involve a thesis or limited research project as the final requirement. The master’s is not often a prerequisite for admission to a PhD program, although a student may choose to earn the master’s degree as a stepping-stone to the doctorate.
IRB (Institutional Review Board): The Institutional Review Board (IRB) is responsible for the review and approval of all projects involving human and animal subjects. The IRB is charged with protecting the rights and welfare of human subjects to ensure that all are treated physically, psychologically and socially in such a way as to minimize embarrassment and stress, and to avoid harm or other negative effects in compliance with the federal, state and university regulations. All projects involving human subjects conducted by faculty, staff and students must be approved by the IRB regardless of the funding source or location and prior to initiating any portion of the activity. Failure to comply with the IRB review may make it impossible for these documents to be accepted by the Graduate School.
Merit-Based Aid: Merit-based financial aid programs determine eligibility by evaluating a student’s ability and/or potential, based on academic records, or athletic ability. Individual characteristics, such as ethnicity, are sometimes considered.
MGSLS: Minority Graduate Student Locator Service is a service offered free to minority students by Educational Testing Service’s GRE Department. Students who provide certain information about themselves, their academic backgrounds, and educational goals are included on lists requested by graduate schools participating in the service. A student who signs up for the Locator Service makes himself or herself available for recruitment by graduate schools that offer an appropriate program.
Preliminary Exams: Written and oral exams taken by doctoral students. These exams are taken near the end of their coursework. The exam is designed by the student’s committee to measure and reflect the specific areas and method’s of each program of study. The written component typically takes place over the course of a week.
Program Advisor: The faculty member appointed to mentor and guide you through the completion of your graduate degree. This person may or may not become the chair of your committee.
Orals: See Defense or General Examination. Depending on the Institution, either may be called “orals.”
Outside Fellowship: A fellowship awarded by a source outside of the student’s university or graduate department, such a corporation, government, or foundation.
Ph.D.: The Doctor of Philosophy degree (also called a doctorate) is a research degree, which usually involves coursework, special and general examinations, a major research project leading to the writing of a dissertation, and defense of the dissertation. The PhD can require between three, six or seven years to complete, depending on the discipline, institutional policies, and the student’s preparedness.
Postdoctoral Fellowship (“Postdoc”): A type of position available in some disciplines (especially sciences) to individuals who have just completed the PhD, and wish to continue research in a university without having to assume teaching responsibilities.
Professional Degree: The degree which certifies one for entrance into a particular profession, such as law (JD) or medicine (MD). The Master’s is the professional degree for many areas: the MA, MS, or MEd for primary or secondary teaching, for example, the MBA for business, the March for architecture, the MSE for engineering. The professional degree does not generally have major research as a component, and frequently has a largely prescribed curriculum.
Presentation: The presentation to the graduate dean or designee is the final formal step in completing the doctoral dissertation. The requirements for presentation vary widely from school to school. In some instances, the student merely takes the bound volume to the dean’s office. At other institutions, the student must make a formal appointment with the graduate dean, and present the volume to him/her in person.
Proposal: Also called a prospectus. A statement or paper, in which graduate student makes a proposal to their departmental committee on a dissertation topic. The proposal details what the dissertation will accomplish, and how the research will be conducted. The proposal must be approved before work on the dissertation formally begins.
Reader: A professor responsible for advising, reading, and making the final approval on a graduate student’s dissertation. A student usually has two or three readers (the “first” reader being the main advisor), all of whom have some special interest or expertise in the student’s special field, and are thus in a good position to help supervise the research and writing of the dissertation.
Research Degree: A degree, like the PhD, which prepares the student for a career in research, scholarship, and college or university teaching. The program of study requires substantial independent research and presentation of the results in a dissertation.
State Grants: All fifty states have grant programs, usually restricted to state residents attending college in the state where they live.
Stipend: A grant of money to a graduate student for use toward expenses above tuition and fees. Graduate fellowships sometimes pay both tuition and a stipend that can be applied toward living expenses.
Subsidized Federal Stafford Loan: A need-based loan made by a bank, savings and loan, or some other lender. Interest doesn’t accrue while the student is in school, and borrowers don’t begin repayment until six months after graduation.
Tenure: Full-time faculty positions at most colleges and universities are traditionally considered tenure track. Junior faculty are hired at the Assistant Professor level, and are generally given seven (7) years in which to distinguish themselves as teachers and scholars. During the seventh year, the assistant professor will go through the tenure review process. The expectations for tenure vary from field to field and institution-to-institution, but typical requirements include the publication of at least one full-length book and several articles in peer-reviewed journals, serving as a student advisor, and receiving good to excellent teaching evaluations. Once tenure is granted, many institutions promote the assistant professor to associate professor, and the professor is guaranteed a job until retirement, barring any serious subsequent downfall from grace. Tenure was conceived as a means to ensure the academic freedom of professors, and is a widely contested perk of academicians at the current time.
Thesis: A research paper presented as a major, and usually the final requirement of a degree program. Thesis is sometimes used interchangeably with “dissertation,” referring to PhD research; more often it refers to a project more limited in scope, completed as a Master’s requirement.
Tuition Remission: A financial aid award from a department or graduate dean that covers the cost of a student’s tuition and fees, typically awarded in conjunction with a TA or RA.