Cornell Terms to Know

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.

  • Academic year – The school year that begins with autumn classes. The academic year at Cornell starts in August.
  • Advisor – School official, assigned by your college, who can help choose your classes and make sure you are taking the right courses to graduate.
  • Audit – To attend a class without receiving academic credit.
  • Bachelor’s degree – A degree awarded to undergraduates, usually after four years of college classes.
  • Bursar – The Office of the Bursar is Cornell University’s central billing service center for tuition, fees, and other charges incurred by students.
  • Commencement – The graduation ceremony at the end of an academic year when students receive their degrees or diplomas.
  • Cornell Academic Calendar – find all important dates for the semester, including holidays here.
  • Course load – The number of courses or credits a student takes during a specific term
  • Credits – A unit of measure for college work. Generally speaking, one credit hour represents one hour of classroom attendance each week for one term, plus the study time, homework, etc. that go along with it.
  • Credit hours (credits) – the units of value for a university course
  • Culture shock – Feelings of uncertainty, confusion, or anxiety that can occur when adjusting to a new country and culture that may be very different from your own. You may also experience “reverse culture shock” upon returning to your home country, after you have become accustomed to the new country and culture.
  • Elective – A class you can take that is not specifically required by your major or minor.
  • Extracurricular activities – Groups you belong to outside of class, such as sporting teams, clubs and organizations.
  • Freshman – First-year college student.
  • Full-time student – A student who enrolls in at least a minimum number (determined by your college or university) of credit hours of courses.
  • General education classes – Classes that give students basic knowledge of a variety of topics. Students often must take general education classes in order to graduate.
  • Grade point average – The average of all of the course grades you have received, on a four-point scale.
  • 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.
  • Greek – Cornell’s collection of fraternities and sororities on campus, whose names originate from letters in the ancient Greek alphabet.
  • Internship – A temporary job, paid or unpaid, usually in the field of your major. You may be able to receive college credit for an internship.
  • Junior – Third-year college student.
  •  Major – Your primary area of study. Your college major is the field you plan to get a job in after you graduate (for example: business, linguistics, anthropology, psychology).
  • Minor – Your secondary area of study. Fewer classes are required for a college minor than for a major. Many students’ minors are a specialization of their major field. For example, students who want to become a science reporter might major in journalism and minor in biology.
  • 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.
  • Part-time student – A student who doesn’t enroll in enough credit hours to become a full-time student. Part-time students often take only one or two classes at one time.
  • 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.
  • Prerequisite – a course that must be taken before another course (For example, Math 1110 is a prerequisite for Math 1120.)
  • 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.
  • Semester – Type of academic term. Cornell has a fall semester and a spring semester (each about 15 weeks long), along with a summer term.
  • Senior – Fourth-year college student. You are a senior when you graduate from college.
  • Sophomore – Second-year college student.
  • Student Center – The student portal that allows students the ability to access information related to their academics, including registration status, class schedule, faculty advisor, grades, transcript requests, Pre-Enroll and Add/Drop.
  • 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.  Here is a guideline to help you navigate your syllabus!
  • TA, RA, GRA – Teaching Assistant, Research Assistant, Graduate Research Assistant
  • Take-home exam – a test that students complete outside of a class using their textbooks and notes
  • Transcript – An official academic record that lists the courses you have completed, grades and information such as when you attended.
  • Waitlist – A list that students can join to wait for open seats in a class. If all the seats in a class have been filled and the department decides to open a waitlist,  students can join the waitlist. Then, if a student who has registered drops the class, a seat opens up and is filled by a student on the waitlist.

Common Abbreviations of the 8 Colleges at Cornell University:

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

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