The most common university terms explained

Are you confused by all the lingo and acronyms universities use? We've got you covered! Read our handy decoder guide.

3D art of a woman holding her hands out in confusion surrounded by question marks

It can be overwhelming when you're brand new to university and you suddenly have this whole new academic language to get used to. But we promise once you get the hang of it, you'll be throwing around lingo like “academic standing” and “major” with the best of them. 

Here are the most common terms you’ll come across as a current or soon-to-be student, with easy-to-understand definitions.

Your university lingo decoder guide

Associate degree: An undergraduate qualification with lower entry requirements than a bachelor degree. It takes two years of full-time study to earn.  

ATAR: Otherwise known as the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank. It’s a performance ranking that all Year 12 students get when they finish high school. Some courses list a minimum ATAR score that you need before you can enrol. But through Open Universities Australia it’s possible to get into many courses without an ATAR

Bachelor degree: The most common undergraduate qualification, which will prepare you for entry-level work in nearly all industries. It takes three to four years of full-time study to earn.  

Census date: The last date you can withdraw from a subject without paying for it or being graded for it. It’s an important date to have in your calendar. Go to our key dates page for specifics.  

Commonwealth supported place (CSP): A government-subsidised place in a university course. When you secure a CSP, you only pay part of your course fees through a HECS-HELP loan, and the government covers the rest. Most undergraduate degrees offer you the chance to apply for a CSP, but some postgraduate courses do too

Core subject: A compulsory subject you must complete to earn your qualification.

Credit: You can earn "credit" towards your degree if you have relevant work or study experience in that field. This allows you to skip subjects you're already familiar with and graduate faster. 

Diploma: A short practical qualification that will prepare you for a trade or support-level profession. It generally takes 12 months of full-time study to complete and can help you meet the entry requirements for an associate degree or bachelor degree.

Elective subject: An optional subject you complete as part of your degree. Electives give you the chance to explore interests outside of your main field of study. You’re usually given a list of elective subjects to choose from.  

Entry requirements: The admission criteria that you need to meet before you can enrol in a course. 

Graduate certificate: A short postgraduate qualification that takes six months of full-time study to complete. It’s a good option if you already have a bachelor degree and you want to upskill in a new area, or if you want to meet entry requirements for a masters degree. 

Graduate diploma: A postgraduate qualification that sits one level above a graduate certificate. It takes 12 months of full-time study to complete. 

HECS-HELP and FEE-HELP: Student loans offered by the Australian Government under the Higher Education Loan Program (HELP). You will most likely pay for the cost of your undergraduate degree through a HECS-HELP loan, and your postgraduate degree or single subject through a FEE-HELP loan. 

Learning management system (LMS): The online learning platform that you use to access your course when you study online. Your university will set you up with a login.  


A laptop with a megaphone coming out of it

Leave of absence:
An approved break from study. Your university will hold your place in the course until you return. It’s best to enquire about this directly with your university, because they each have different rules around how long a leave of absence can be. 

Major: The main focus of your qualification. You generally complete six to eight specialised subjects to form a major (for example as a Bachelor of Arts student, you might major in journalism. So you would complete up to eight journalism subjects as part of your degree).  

Masters degree: An advanced postgraduate qualification that will make you a specialist in your field. It takes two years of full-time study to earn and often involves a significant research project. 

Minor: A secondary area that you can specialise in as part of your qualification. You will usually need to complete between two and four subjects to have a minor.

Non-award: A unit of study that doesn't count towards a university qualification. For example, a subject that prepares you for the International English Language Testing System test (and then allows you to enrol in university) is non-award. If a subject is non-award, it will be clearly marked on our website. 

Single subject: A standalone subject that you can complete through Open Universities Australia without committing to the whole degree. Some students complete single subjects purely to upskill. But you can also complete set single subjects to meet entry requirements for a degree.  

Special circumstances: Circumstances in your life that are beyond your control and that have affected your ability to complete a subject. Applying for special circumstances may help you get a refund on your subject fees or have academic penalties (such as a failing grade) removed. Read more about applying for special circumstances.

Student advisor: Helpful staff who are employed here at Open Universities Australia to answer your questions about enrolling, subject selection and university administration. If you have issues with your course’s content or learning management system, you should contact your university directly. 

Study period: This is a term used by Open Universities Australia to describe the 13-week periods when classes are in session. We have four different study periods throughout the year. 

Undergraduate certificate: An introductory undergraduate qualification that you can complete to meet the entry requirements for a bachelor degree. It only takes six months of full-time study (or the completion of four subjects) to earn one.

Check out our full glossary for even more definitions.   


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