Understanding Key Terms in College

Terms Every Westfield State University Student Should Know

Welcome to Westfield State University! Begin your college journey by familiarizing yourself with important terms. We've compiled a list of key terms to aid your learning and growth. Take a look and get ready to expand your knowledge!


Academic Warning

Students may be put on “academic warning” if their grade point average (GPA) falls below the University’s required number (see student handbook). 


Add/Drop is a period of time near the start of the semester when students can make adjustments to their schedule and add or drop classes. After the add/drop period ends, dropping a course requires the professor’s signature and advisor’s signature. Forms must be submitted to the Registrar’s Office. A notation of “W” will be placed on the student transcript. 

Adjunct Faculty

Adjunct faculty, often referred to as part-time instructors, are individuals hired by the University to teach without being full-time faculty or on the tenure track.


The Office of Academic Advising and Transfer Transition provides students an advising experience that guides their journey of self-discovery and assists them in developing educational plans consistent with their life goals and objectives. Students can turn to the Office of Advising to prepare to register for classes.  


An advisor is normally a faculty member assigned to assist a student with course registration and progress towards graduation. Exploratory students and some underclass students within a major will have advisors assigned through the Office of Academic Advising and Transfer Transition.  An advisor may also be found in some academic support programs.   

Banacos Academic Center

The Banacos Academic Center offers dedicated support through Disability Services and the Learning Disabilities Program. We provide tailored strategies, fostering an inclusive environment. Any student, graduate or undergraduate, can access reasonable accommodations at any time. Prospective students with LD or ADHD can benefit from our free LDP program for comprehensive support.


“Champions” is a term that Westfield State uses to describe any support person in a student’s life: whether they are a parent, guardian, mentor, friend, social worker, or teacher. 

Common Core

The Common Core is a requirement of all WSU students, in addition to completing a major and a minimum of 120 credits. Students must complete courses in a range of subject areas. The Common Core of Studies is divided into 5 sections (Humanities, Social Science, Mathematics/Applied Analytical Reasoning, Science, and Diversity) each having its own sub-categories. 

Credits (credit hours, semester hours)

For each course taken, a certain number of credits are assigned. WSU offers 1-credit, 2-credit, 3-credit, and 4-credit courses. A majority of courses are 3-credits. Students must earn a minimum of 120 credits, complete major requirements, and common core of studies at a GPA of 2.0 or better (other GPA requirements may apply.)  

Day Division

Day Division students are undergraduate students who generally take courses during the day. Full-time undergraduate day division students must be registered for a minimum of 12 credits. 

Dean of Students

Concerned with non-academic matters of students, the Dean deals with all matters in the area of student safety and student life. 

Dean of the College

The College Deans take primary responsibility for advocating for and supporting academic departments and their students. There is a college dean for each of the Colleges: The College of Education, Health, and Human Services; the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences; and the College of Mathematics and Sciences.

Degree Evaluation or Audit

A Degree Evaluation is an online document, in real-time, that lists all the requirements needed to complete your degree including which courses or internships have fulfilled each requirement. It also lists courses in which you are registered that will fulfill requirements on completion. Those are labeled as in progress “IP.” “Degree Evaluation” is the term students will see on the My Westfield student portal; faculty and staff often refer to the same document as “Degree Audit” (the two terms are interchangeable). Your Degree Evaluation is based on the requirements outlined in the University Catalog (for undergraduates), typically from the year, you entered, however, departments have the right to require more recent requirements if you changed your major after starting WSU.  

Department Chair

 Each academic department has a chair who manages the department, works with students interested in entering a major within the department, and resolves academic disputes and appeals.   

Division of Graduate and Continuing Education (DGCE)

DGCE maintains a focus on providing high quality educational programs and serving the needs of non-traditional student populations. This is done through part-time and/or online undergraduate studies, graduate studies, and certificate programming. 

Disability Services

Disability Services is committed to supporting students as they learn to self-advocate and negotiate the campus and academics at the University. The program provides a wide array of reasonable and appropriate accommodations for students with learning, physical, psychological, or medical challenges. Students are expected to provide current documentation of their disabilities.


Electives are courses that are not required, but allow you to explore or develop an interest while earning credit towards graduation or a major. For example, electives are not specified as a major, minor, or Common Core requirement yet they count towards the 120 credits needed to graduate. Some majors allow students to take electives within a major. The Degree Evaluation might show you a number of elective courses, approved by the major department, from which you will need to choose a few to satisfy your major.  


Students enrolled in WSU are considered adults. WSU cannot communicate with anyone– including students’ parents–about anything related to students’ academic performance, housing situation, and tuition bills. Students may (or may not) wish to sign a FERPA waiver that WSU offers that allows WSU offices to communicate with their parents. This waiver can be revoked in writing at any time.  

First-Generation College Student

A first-generation college student is defined as one in which neither parent/guardian (or parent, if the student is from a single-parent household) has a four-year bachelor’s degree. 

Grade Point Average (“GPA”)

A student’s grade point average is computed at the end of each semester based on the grades a student receives and the credit value for each course. The grade point average is calculated for the semester, and a cumulative grade point average is calculated for all courses taken since the student’s matriculation at Westfield (cumulative institutional GPA). Courses accepted in transfer prior to matriculation at Westfield are not a part of the GPA but are included in the overall GPA. 


The academic discipline in which students will earn their degree – exploratory/undecided students must “declare” a major by the end of their sophomore year. 


To be officially enrolled at a college or university.  


Generally, 18-credits of course work in an additional discipline to the major that will become part of the student’s undergraduate record. 

MyWestfield/The Portal

One place where a student can go to access their course schedule, degree evaluation, unofficial transcript, WSU360, email, class cancellations, important messages from University Officials, and campus events. 

PLATO Online Learning

PLATO, the University's online learning platform, facilitates both online and in-person classes by providing a centralized space for sharing course materials like syllabi. Professors may assign papers and tasks via PLATO, and it serves as a venue for class discussions.


Prerequisites are courses or other requirements that must be fulfilled prior to taking another course.  

Reading and Writing Center

Also known as the RWC, is a space where students can work on their writing and reading at any stage of the process.   

Registrar Office & Registrar

The Registrar's Office provides registration and information services, records management, and academic support to students and the campus community. If you need help with any aspect of registering for classes or with questions regarding your Degree Evaluation, you can consult with this office. The Registrar (and Assistant Registrar) are the head staff members overseeing and managing all workings of the Registrar Office. 

Syllabus (syllabi is the plural of syllabus)

For each class, students should receive a sheet with the professor’s contact information and office hours and a list of topics and assignments for each week of the term.


Tenure offers long-term employment to faculty members, contingent on effective teaching, ongoing scholarly contributions, and dedicated service to the institution, as assessed through performance evaluations.

TRIO program

TRIO is a comprehensive academic support program for students who are first-generation college students, students with low income, and/or students with disabilities. TRIO guides students to maximize their resources and opportunities at Westfield State while supporting their growth as scholars and as emerging professionals. TRIO students work one-on-one with a TRIO advisor throughout their time at Westfield State.

Westfield State Experience

A promise to support students’ journey from their pre-university lives to their post-university endeavors. The objective is to encourage students to take advantage of opportunities intended to help them connect in and out of classroom experiences, develop professional skills, and enhance their support network in order to achieve their goals. 

WSU 360

An online resource for students to quickly connect with a wide variety of support services on campus.  A student can see the wide range of services accessible to them at Westfield in one easy location.  Instructors can use this to also let students know how they are doing in their courses and students can also self-identify when they feel like they are facing an issue.   


Cost of Attendance

The cost that is determined by the Financial Aid Office to be the average annual cost to attend Westfield State. This cost includes tuition, fees, as well as averages for housing, dining, books, transportation, loan fees, and miscellaneous expenses. Cost of attendance varies based on whether a student is living on campus, off campus, or commuting, as well as whether they are coming from in state or out of residents.  

Expected Family Contribution (EFC)

EFC is calculated based on financial and household information entered onto the FAFSA form. Your EFC number is used in determining your financial aid.   

Financial Aid Package

A financial aid package is a collection of different types of financial aid (grants, scholarships, work-study, loans, etc.) from multiple sources. It is intended to help you fill the gap between your ability to pay, your expected family contribution or “EFC”, and your Cost of Attendance. 

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (“FAFSA”)

The FAFSA is an application form used to determine your financial aid eligibility.  The FAFSA requires information on student and parent (dependent students only) income and assets to calculate a student’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC).  The FAFSA is completed online by visiting studentaid.gov and should be completed annually. 

Promissory Note

A legal document that a student signs when they take out their student loans promising to pay back the loan money. 

Satisfactory Academic Progress (“SAP”)

Full-time, Day Division students must make Satisfactory Academic Progress toward an undergraduate degree by successfully completing at least 21 credits each academic year (or 10.5 credits if enrolled for one semester). Students who fail to meet this requirement at the end of the spring semester will be notified by the Financial Aid Office and will be ineligible for financial aid for the next academic year. Students who do not earn the appropriate number of credits may use the summer following the academic year to earn additional credits in order to meet the satisfactory progress standard; students may apply for a one-time appeal of the SAP standing. Students in the Learning Disabilities Program or the LEAD Scholars Program are held to a standard of 18 credits each year, or 9 credits for one semester of enrollment. 

Student Accounts/Bursar

The Office of Student Accounts assists students and their families in meeting financial obligations by issuing the student bill and processing payments. If you have any questions regarding your bill, feel free to visit our office, conveniently located in the Horace Mann Center.

Student Aid Report (“SAR”)

The Student Aid Report is a paper or electronic document that gives you some basic information about your eligibility for federal student aid and lists your answers to the questions on your FAFSA. 

Tuition and Fees

Tuition are charges for classes. Fees are charges for other college services. 

Trust-Fund Jobs

Any student is eligible for a trust-funded position on campus regardless of their financial aid status provided that they are authorized to work in the United States. Trust fund positions are posted in the Student Services/Employment section of the “My Westfield” student portal.  

Work-Study Jobs

Federal Work Study (FWS) is a type of financial aid offered to students with demonstrated need based on the FAFSA. Federal Work Study provides an opportunity for part-time employment on-campus, or off-campus with approved community service organizations.   

Looking for Academic Support?

Explore common questions and answers while learning more about support offices.