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A magnifying glass hovers over scattered letters on a blue background.

A student glossary offers definitions about higher education terms to demystify the college experience.

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Being a first-time college student can be challenging and stressful for a variety of reasons, and for many students, the language of higher education creates its own boundaries to access.

The “hidden curricula” of higher education, as practitioners like to call it, refers to the unspoken rules of how institutions operate. For first-generation students who are finding their own path in higher education, many terms or ideas can be foreign, like speaking a second language.

To better prepare students and unveil the hidden curricula in their institution, colleges and universities have published student glossaries, defining commonly used campus terms.

Inside Higher Ed compiled five tips, using published student glossaries from institutions around the nation as examples, for higher ed professionals looking to create their own glossary.

  1. Sort by concepts.

Higher education has a plethora of divisions and departments with their own language and lingo, making it important to divide topics by academics, general college, admissions or institutional-specific terminology, like Rasmussen University in Florida does. This makes the guide easier to navigate, especially if there are more than 100 terms.

  1. Explain traditions.

Some elements of campus culture may always be shrouded in a haze of mystery, but others are worth taking the time to explain. In a student glossary, Temple University in Pennsylvania includes its mascot, the Temple T, Night Owl Events and the Acres of Diamonds speech, illuminating the college’s history and how it connects to present learners.

  1. Clarify tech tools.

Technology tools like learning management software vary by institution, so breaking down the functionality of each webpage or software application a student may use can help them find their course materials versus their financial aid information.

  1. Involve the whole family.

While students are ultimately the leaders of their education, involving families in learning the structures of higher education can better support the learners. Maryville College in Tennessee offers a glossary of college lingo on its webpage for families of new students. Maryville also offers FAQs for new families that tackle issues in academics, residence life and campus life.

  1. Consider first-gen needs.

The University of Maryland, College Park, offers a first-gen glossary on its website, defining different offices and academic terms that may be unfamiliar and links to different resources that can provide additional information or help.

Do you have a tip that might help others encourage student success? Tell us about it.

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