A Guide to Cornell

In order to help students navigate the Cornell campus, landscape, and community, we’ve provided a list of often used acronyms and terms.  Please find definitions, helpful links, and more below!  Always check with your College to make sure you have the most up-to-date information.

  • Grading system – The official University grading system is composed of letter grades with pluses and minuses. Passing grades range from A+ to D–; F is failing. INC denotes a grade of incomplete, and R is the grade given a for an in-progress multi-semester course. The grades of INC and R do not have quality-point equivalents attached. More information can be found here.
  • Satisfactory/unsatisfactory (S/U) – The purpose of the Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory (S/U) system is to encourage students to venture into courses outside their main areas of familiarity without great risk to academic record.  The distinction between S and U is not the same, however, as that between pass and fail in the letter-grade system. In the S/U system, S indicates performance that would be graded C- or higher, and U indicates performance that would be graded below a C-. Students earn credit toward the fulfillment of graduation requirements for course grades of S, but not for course grades of U. Grades of S or U are not assigned numerical value and thus are not averaged in with other grades in computing grade point averages.  The various schools and colleges differ in the restrictions they place on the election of S/U grading over letter grading.  However, in those courses where college rules and course procedures allow it, the election is a student option that must be exercised within the first 57 calendar days of the term.
  • Credit hours (credits) – the units of value for a university course
  • Take-home exam – a test that students complete outside of a class using their textbooks and notes
  • Prerequisite – a course that must be taken before another course
  • Syllabus an outline or other brief statement of the main points of a discourse, the subjects of a course of lectures, the contents of a curriculum / is an academic document that communicates course information and defines expectations and responsibilities
  • Prelims – Prelims are Cornell’s term for exams. Each course has approximately 2 to 3 prelims in addition to a final exam that tests students on what they learned in class.  Find out more here.
  • Office Hours – Office Hours are sessions held outside of class by professors, instructors, or teaching assistants. Students can utilize this time to receive help on homework assignments or to ask for help regarding an upcoming exam.  Here’s more information.
  • Cornell Academic Calendar – find all important dates for the semester, including holidays here.
  • TA, RA, GRA – Teaching Assistant, Research Assistant, Graduate Research Assistant

Each of the 8 Colleges at Cornell University have shortened acronyms:

  1. CAS – College of Arts and Sciences
  2. CALS – College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
  3. ILR – School of Industrial and Labor Relations (also IL)
  4. CHE – College of Human Ecology (also HE)
  5. SHA – School of Hotel Administration (also HA or BU)
  6. AAP – College of Architecture, Art, and Planning (also AR)
  7. BUAG – Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management (also Dyson)
  8. ENG – College of Engineering (also EN)

For questions about distribution requirements, FWS requirements, enrollment, transferring credits, etc. please consult your College.