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New For the Glossary: Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, Senior


FILE - A student works on her computer sitting on a bench at Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Women's University in Peshawar, Pakistan, Oct. 19, 2017.

Our Glossary of Confusing Words is really growing, thanks to your suggestions and submissions!

The latest words you asked us to define are: freshman, sophomore, junior and senior - the words to describe what year of school someone is in.

It took me a little while to learn that when I first got here. I knew "freshman"; that makes sense, as does "senior", but I didn't know why a "sophomore" should come before a "junior". The word comes from the ancient Greek and combines the roots for "wise" and "fool". Being a "wise fool" definitely reflects the kind of self-confidence that characterises second-year college students.

Let's clear up the confusion. The four years of undergraduate education are called:

(1) freshman year, and someone in their first year is a freshman. You might sometimes hear this shortened to "frosh."

(2) sophomore year, and someone in their second year is a sophomore. Sometimes sophomore is shortened to "soph."

As a side note, the word "sophomoric," means juvenile or, as Merriam-Webster's dictionary puts it, "conceited and overconfident of knowledge but poorly informed and immature." Not that that describes college sophomores, right?

(3) junior year, and someone in their third year is a junior. Junior can be abbreviated as "jr." in writing.

(4) senior year, and someone in their fourth year is a senior. Senior can be abbreviated as "sr." in writing.

These same terms apply in the same way to the four years of a standard high school: 9th grade is freshman year, 10th grade sophomore year, 11th grade junior year, and 12th grade senior year.

But these same words are not used to describe the years of graduate school. Years of graduate school are often just referred to by number; for example, "I'm in my first year" or "I'm a first-year." Some types of graduate school may have other ways of delineating years as well. The three years of law school can be referred to as 1L, 2L and 3L. And medical school is often broken up into preclinical (the first two years) and clinical (the second two years), which are followed by an internship and residency - it takes a long time to become a doctor!).

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