Glossary of Learning Terms

Below is a list of common words, terms, acronyms that are used in Learning and the Education System in Canada. Each word or term has a description to help explain its meaning.

Glossary of Terms posterDownload a PDF version of the Glossary of Learning Terms.

The glossary appears in alphabetical order and is always changing. If you have suggestions for future additions, please contact us.



911: the Canadian emergency telephone number for police, fire or ambulance services.

Academic advisor: An on-campus confidant who helps students select appropriate courses and programs which suit their interests, career plans and academic qualifications.

Academic year: The time during which classes are held. For example, in most Canadian universities the academic year starts in September, ends in May, and is divided into two semesters. The academic year may vary slightly between schools and/or countries.

Adult education: Programs and schools that target students over the age of 18. Adult education may be target literacy, language, technical or professional skills, personal interest, continuing learning, and more.

Bursary: A monetary award distributed to students who demonstrate financial need and/or significant academic achievement in order to help them pay for their university education. Students do not repay bursaries.

Campus: The land on which a school and its related institutional buildings are located.

Career College: A vocational school that provides career-oriented skills training, usually within the trades. Career colleges have a less academic focus than community colleges and universities.

Certificate: An academic credential awarded to a student upon successful completion of a post-secondary program. This document represents a level of qualification within the field of study.

College: In Canada, a college is most often a post-secondary institution which grants certificates, diplomas, and associate degrees, but do not grant bachelor’s degrees.

Community college: A post-secondary institution which offers both academic and vocational post-secondary courses. Community colleges grant associate's degrees, diplomas, or certificates, and often offer academic courses that can be transferred to a university.

Continuing education: Courses designed to be taken by students – usually adults or mature students (over 18) - that already have a post-secondary background. Many universities have Continuing Studies departments that provide professional and post-graduate courses.

Co-op program: A program that combines academic study with work experience. The student spends one semester in-class followed by another semester working full-time in a position related to their field of study.

Credit: A unit ascribed to individual courses which are then awarded to the student upon course completion. Varying amounts of credits are required to successfully receive certificates, diplomas or degrees. Courses can provide one or more credits, depending on the institution.

Credit course: A course that provides one or more credits towards a chosen program.

Curriculum: A description of what is taught within a specific class, and on a larger scale, what courses are necessary to complete a program.

Dean: An administrator that manages a division of a university or college. Each faculty of study has its own Dean (ex: Dean of Fine Arts).

Degree: An academic credential awarded to a student upon successful completion of a 2-4 year university program. Unlike certificates, institutions must be granted the authority to award degrees by government authorities. A degree represents a level of qualification within the field of study.

Diploma: An academic credential awarded by Canadian high schools, colleges, universities and grad schools. Within post-secondary education, it usually represents the successful completion of a 1- or 2-year program. A diploma represents a level of qualification within the field of study.

Distance education: Courses and/or programs in which teacher and student(s) are physically separated. Communication is facilitated by correspondence courses, computer programs, email, live or pre-recorded video, or satellite hook-ups. Online programs are an example of distance education.

Faculty: May refer to the teaching staff of an institution or an academic subdivision of a university, such as the Faculty of Arts.

Grade: Measure of a student's academic performance than may be expressed as a percentage, a letter from A to F, or a ranking scale from unsatisfactory to excellent. The expression varies widely among institutions.

Graduate/Post-Graduate Programs: Programs that require at least a Bachelor’s degree as a pre-requisite. These programs lead to advanced degrees, diplomas and certificates.

Honours: A Bachelor's degree that requires an extra year of study and a slightly higher standard of performance, usually with a grade threshold. Some honours degrees require the student to write a thesis and dissertation.

International Baccalaureate program: International Baccalaureate (IB) programs are at the high school level and they are designed to provide students with an international standard of education for entrance into post-secondary institutions world-wide. The program is currently run in over 130 countries, including Canada. The program includes a diploma exam that is often recognized by colleges and universities.

Internship: A highly supervised, entry-level position for a student or recent graduate that provides practical, hands-on experience within the field of study. Internships can be paid or unpaid.

Lecture: A teaching method wherein the teacher or professor presents information orally to the students, often with supporting visual material.

Major/minor: A specialization within a degree program; a major indicates a high level of specialization with a number of courses drawn from one particular subject area; a minor indicates a lesser level of specialization, with only a few courses drawn from one particular area. Specific amounts of credits are required for both a major and a minor.

Master's degree: An advanced graduate degree that is usually 1 to 2 years in length, after the student has received a Bachelor's degree. A master's degree involves taking courses, writing examinations, and in some cases by conducting research and writing a thesis about a specific topic. High order analysis and critical evaluation skills are required.

Meal plan: A certain amount of meal money or meals per day allotted to a student over a period of academic study. Most residences and some home stay programs offer a meal plan, where meals are provided at a fixed rate as part of the larger accommodation. 


Ombudsman/person: A university official with the authority to investigate student grievances. This official acts as a buffer between the student population and the university at large.

Orientation: An introductory event offered to new students at the beginning of the academic year to familiarize them with the campus and university life.


Prerequisites: Courses that must be successfully completed before taking specific higher-level courses.

Principal: The head administrator of a primary, middle, or secondary school.

Program: A planned combination of courses within a faculty of study, culminating with a particular academic credential and area of specialization.


Scholarship: A financial award to help students finance their post-secondary education. Scholarships are awarded on the basis of outstanding academic achievement and do not need to be repaid.

School district: a geographical area which serves to the administration of local primary and secondary schools.

Semester: Half of the academic year, usually lasting between 15 and 18 weeks. The Canadian academic calendar is comprised of two semesters.

Seminar: A small discussion group comprised of students and a tutor, or professor, who meet regularly. Discussions are based around one topic, reading, or idea. This is the most common form for graduate level classes.

Student loan: Financial assistance in the form of a repayable loan tailored towards post-secondary students. Student loans are available from the federal and provincial governments, or from financial institutions, and are available for every year of study.

Study permit: A document giving an international student permission to reside in Canada for the purpose of study at an indicated institution.


Teaching assistant: An individual, usually a graduate student, who is paid to assist a professor with instructing a particular class. They are also known as TAs and they may be responsible for marking, assisting students with research, and supervising seminars.

Thesis: A written document that presenting the author’s hypothesis, research, and findings in support of a desired degree or professional qualification. Honours, Masters, and Doctoral students will most likely write and defend a thesis in pursuit of their degree.

Transcript: A list of the courses taken and grades earned by a student throughout a program of study. Official transcripts are generally issued as sealed documents by the educational institution.

Transfer credit: The procedure of granting course credit(s) to a student, which can then be applied toward a similar program at another university.

Trimester: In which an institution divides the academic year into three semesters of equal length, as opposed to the normal two semesters.

Tuition: The fee each student pays to their educational institution in return for instruction. May include fees for courses, use of facilities or services provided, and in some cases textbooks or school supplies.


Undergraduate: A university-level program of study leading to a 3 or 4-year bachelor's degree. The term can also refer to a first professional degree, as well as diplomas and certificates below university degree level.

University: A degree-granting post-secondary institution that emphasizes higher learning. Universities focus on providing undergraduate and graduate/post-graduate education, with lecture-based learning at the core of most curricula. Schools must be given the authority to use the term "university" by the government.

University college: University colleges are institutions smaller than regular universities, but nonetheless have the ability to grant undergraduate degrees, in addition to diplomas and certificates. This term is not commonly used.

Upgrading: The process by which a student takes courses or programs, usually in college, which prepare them for further education. They are not typically accepted for post-secondary credit or transfer credit, but act as a precursor to higher learning.

Visa: A document allowing a foreign student to enter the country; usually called a "study permit" in Canada. See Study Permit.

Visa student: An international student who possesses a study permit/visa and is taking courses at a Canadian school, college, or university.

Visiting student: An international student attending a Canadian institution for a short period of time, usually one semester or less. These students are usually taking courses that are part of their studies in their home country.

Vocational school: A school which teaches students the skills they need in order to perform a particular job, usually within the trades. See Career College.

Work-study: A program within a university which provides students with paid working positions at the institution. These students are generally required to demonstrate financial need, and are approved to only work a certain number of hours per week.