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Undergraduate Jargon Buster

Are you or is someone you care about going to University for the first time? 

There will be lots of unfamiliar words and terminology to get your head around when you or someone you’re responsible for is considering attending university as an undergraduate student.

To keep things simple, Northumbria University has put together a list based on the most frequently asked questions from prospective students, parents and guardians.

Get a head start on everything from academic acronyms to course types when researching higher education options.

So, in alphabetical order, let’s start with...

Alumna – A female graduate, or former student, of a university.

Alumni – A graduate, or former student, of a university.

Alumnus – A male graduate, or former student, of a university.

Applicant Portal - The Applicant Portal helps you keep track of your application, as it moves through all the stages of the applicant journey. On the portal you can undertake actions such as viewing the decision on your application, accepting your offer (not for UCAS applicants), updating your personal details if they change, selecting an Interview Date (if applicable), uploading documents, and requesting and receiving for your CAS (if applicable).

ATAS Clearance - The Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) applies to all international students (apart from exempt nationalities) who are subject to UK immigration control and are intending to study at postgraduate level in certain sensitive subjects. If you need this requirement this will be indicated in your offer letter, along with further information on how to apply for clearance.

Buzzword – A UCAS buzzword is like a special password for your school or college. Teachers will give out the buzzword and it is required for an application, if applying with the help of a school or college.

Bachelor's Degree – An undergraduate degree usually with 3 – 4 years of full-time study to complete.

What is the difference between BA and BSc?

BA – Bachelor of Arts. An undergraduate degree which covers the Liberal Arts. This includes subject areas like Fine Art and Performing Arts as well as the Humanities, like English, Music, or History, and Social Science courses like Politics and Sociology.

BSc (Bee-Ess-See) – Bachelor of Science. Undergraduate degrees which have a science focus including Applied Sciences like Chemistry, Biology and Physics as well as areas of study like Mathematics and Computing.

BEng (Bee-Enj) – Bachelor of Engineering. An undergraduate degree which has an engineering-based focus, for example, construction and civil engineering or electrical and mechanical engineering.

BRP - A Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) is a card the size of a credit card issued by the Home Office as evidence of your immigration permission. You will receive a BRP if you apply for your Student Route visa in the UK, or if you apply from outside of the UK for a programme longer than 6 months. Your BRP card is your visa and will contain personal and biometric information of your permission to be in the UK.

BUCS – This stands for British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS), and they are the national governing body for higher education sport in the UK.

CAS – This is a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS). For international students to apply for a Student Visa they must have a CAS from Northumbria University. A CAS is a unique reference number that you will need to put on your visa application.Once you have satisfied the conditions for a CAS, Northumbria University will issue you a CAS Statement which details your CAS number. It also includes all the information that we have based the decision on, which may help you in your visa application.

Clearing – If you do not receive the grades you expected, have changed your mind about what course you want to study, or have received better results than you expected; you can use Clearing to find a place at a different university or on a different, more suitable, course.

Conditional offer – A University offer with conditions attached. For instance, you may need certain grades to be accepted onto the course. This is an offer of a place on a course subject to conditions. To be accepted on the course, you’ll need to meet the conditions – usually related to your exam results. This is a common type of offer for students applying directly from further education.

Credits – At University, each module of study will equate to a number of credits; you must be given a certain number of credits from your courses through grading on exams and coursework to progress to the next year.

Diploma – A certificate to show that someone has completed a course of study successfully, awarded by an educational establishment.  

Enquirers – These are students who have registered their interest in studying with Northumbria University but have not yet made an application. We also sometimes refer to enquirers as prospective students.

Enrolment – Registering at a university to officially become a student.

Firm Choice – Applicants can select one university course based on a conditional offer as their firm choice. When accepting a firm choice, you have formed a contract with that university the terms of which are set out in the conditions of your offer. If the conditions are met, everything will be confirmed, and your place will be secured.

Foundation Degree – A four-year degree with a foundation year incorporated into the course to gain more knowledge of the subject before beginning your official first year at university.

Honours (Hons) – "(Hons)" following a degree such as BA or BSc indicates an Honours degree which depends on the grade you achieve upon completing your studies. If your overall mark surpasses 40%, you may be granted an Honours degree, such as BA (Hons) or BSc (Hons). If you final mark is below 40%, you may attain an ordinary degree, indicated simply as BA or BSc (this may differ across university institutions).

Insurance Choice – This is an offer you accept as your second choice – just in case you don’t meet the conditions of your firm offer.

LLB (Ell-Ell-Bee) – A Law degree programme equivalent to a BA or BSc offered by UK universities offering a stepping-stone to becoming a solicitor or barrister.


MMath (Em-Math) – Master of Mathematics. Students who study an MMath course start as an undergraduate. They study for 4 or 5 years and are awarded a complete Masters degree when they graduate.

MChem (Em-kem) – Master of Chemistry. Students who study an MChem course start as an undergraduate. They study for 4 or 5 years and are awarded a complete Masters degree when they graduate.

MEng (Em-Enj) – Master of Engineering. Students who study MEng engineering courses start as an undergraduate. They study for 4 or 5 years and are awarded a complete Masters degree when they graduate.

These are courses which are often referred to as ‘Integrated Masters’ – where the masters qualification is integrated into your complete study. For more information about, head to our dedicated webpage.

Offer Holders – These are students who have applied to study with us and are in receipt of either an Unconditional or Conditional Offer.

Personal ID/UCAS ID Number – A 10-digit number, used to identify students on UCAS. It is can also be referred to as a UCAS ID.

Pre-Departure – This is an online event (webinar) for international students to find out about everything they need to know before arriving in the UK to begin their studies.

Sandwich Degree – A sandwich degree is one which offers a year of practical experience in industry. This usually includes a work placement or internship between your second and third year of study.

Student Visa – A Student Route Visa allows international students to study in the UK. To be eligible for a Student Visa, you must have received a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS).

Tariff – A system which allocates UCAS points based on a mathematical system using qualifications and grades to generate a total number of points. Certain courses will require a higher number of UCAS Points than others.

UCAS – The Universities and Colleges Admissions Services – in charge of everything to do with university applications and places.

UCAS Extra – UCAS Extra is the official process for late applications, those who have declined their offers, or have not received an offer yet.

Unconditional Offer – A university offer which does not have any conditions to meet. Once accepted, you will be guaranteed a place at the university and be ready for enrolment.

VIRS – This stand for the Volunteer & Internship Recognition Scheme (VIRS). This is a scheme ran by Northumbria Sport to recognise and reward the vital contribution that volunteers and interns make to student sport at Northumbria.

Applying for University

Find out more about the application process.

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Application Guides

Undergraduate – A university student who is undertaking a bachelor's degree- usually their first degree.

Postgraduate – A university student who has completed a bachelor's degree and is studying at a more advanced level. For example, a master's or PhD.

A Level – An exam taken after GCSEs in England and Wales by young people usually aged 17 or 18.

AS Level – An exam taken for the General Certificate of Education with a smaller course content than A level, it can either be taken as the first part of a full A level or as its own qualification.

T Level – A 2-year course which can be taken after GCSEs instead of A levels which is broadly equivalent to 3 A levels.

If you have any questions about anything covered in this jargon buster guide, or applying to Northumbria, you can reach out via our social channels where our team is on-hand to support you.

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Northumbria Open Days

Open Days are a great way for you to get a feel of the University, the city of Newcastle upon Tyne and the course(s) you are interested in.

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