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New in the Glossary of Confusing Words: Testing Acronyms

dictionary and thesaurus
dictionary and thesaurus
This addition to the Glossary of Confusing Words has been a long time coming, but at long last, here it is: Your guide to the mess of letters and numbers that describe the standardized tests you might have to take when applying to a university in the U.S.

Not all universities require these exams - some colleges, for example, are test-optional - and highly specialized programs may require different or additional exams. But these ones are the most common that you will encounter.

Tests of English
Most schools require international students to prove their English proficiency by taking one of these exams. Some undergraduate programs may accept SAT subject tests instead, and some programs may waive this requirement if you've already completed a part of your education in the U.S.

TOEFL - Test of English as a Foreign Language
or
IELTS - International English Language Testing System

Tests for undergraduate admission
Most schools that require standardized tests accept either the ACT or SAT exam.

ACT
or
SAT

SAT II - Subject-specific exams

Tests for graduate admission
Many graduate applicants will have to take the GRE, but certain graduate subjects require a different, specialized exam instead. Older students can sometimes substitute work experience for exam scores.

GMAT - Graduate Management Admission Test (business school)
or
GRE - Graduate Record Examination
or
LSAT - Law School Admission Test (law school)
or
MCAT - Medical College Admission Test (medical school)

Did you know our Glossary of Confusing Words is entirely made up of words submitted by you? Share words that have confused you or that might confuse others about studying in the U.S. and we’ll add them to our growing list! Leave your suggestions in the comments, or use the form below.

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US remains top choice for Indian students going abroad

FILE - Students attend classes in Ahmedabad, India, Sept. 1, 2021.
FILE - Students attend classes in Ahmedabad, India, Sept. 1, 2021.

About 69% of Indian students traveling abroad for their studies chose the United States, according to a Oxford International’s Student Global Mobility Index. Other popular choices were the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.

Education Times reports the main influencers for deciding where to study abroad – for Indian students and others – were parents. (April 2024)

Malaysian official: Schools can’t turn away from global tensions

FILE - Malaysian's Zambry Abdul Kadir is shown at the 56th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia, July 12, 2023.
FILE - Malaysian's Zambry Abdul Kadir is shown at the 56th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia, July 12, 2023.

Zambry Abdul Kadir, Malaysia’s higher education minister, said protests spreading across universities in the United States show that schools can’t ignore political tensions.

Helen Packer, reporting in Times Higher Education, said the minister reminded educators that universities are key in the development of leaders, individuals and societies. (April 2024)

Social media breaks are difficult, but necessary

FILE - A person uses a smart phone in Chicago, Sept. 16, 2017.
FILE - A person uses a smart phone in Chicago, Sept. 16, 2017.

Between online classes, maintaining social connections and working on projects, college students can have a hard time disengaging from the demands of technology.

In Florida International University’s PantherNOW, Ariana Rodriguez offers strategies for taking a break from social media. (April 2024)

Many master's degrees aren't worth the investment, research shows   

FILE - Graduates at the University of Toledo commencement ceremony in Toledo, Ohio, May 5, 2018.
FILE - Graduates at the University of Toledo commencement ceremony in Toledo, Ohio, May 5, 2018.

Nearly half of master's degrees have a negative financial return, according to new research by the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, an economic research organization.

The study indicates that many graduate degree programs do not increase lifetime earnings enough to be worth it.

While 23% of bachelor’s degree programs yield a negative financial return on investment, 43% of two-year degrees and master’s degrees fail to deliver a return, according to the study by Preston Cooper, a senior fellow at FREOPP.

Cooper assessed the return on investment for 53,000 degree and certificate programs to determine whether a student’s lifetime earnings outweigh program costs and the risk of not completing their degree.

His findings show that a student’s field of study was the overriding indicator of return on investment at the undergraduate and graduate level.

FILE - Students walk past the 'Great Dome' atop Building 10 on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus, April 3, 2017, in Cambridge, Mass.
FILE - Students walk past the 'Great Dome' atop Building 10 on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus, April 3, 2017, in Cambridge, Mass.

Engineering, computer science and nursing bachelor’s degrees have high financial returns on investment, while programs in education, fine arts, psychology and English usually have low returns.

Graduate degrees in medicine and law tend to have strong payoffs. But a large share of master’s programs, including the MBA, frequently have low payoffs, according to Cooper.

Although workers with master’s degrees earn 16% more than those with only bachelor’s degrees, Cooper says the figure fails to account for students who had “higher preexisting earnings potential.”

“MBA students typically have high preexisting earnings potential, having often chosen high-ROI undergraduate majors such as finance and economics,” Cooper writes. “So the MBA adds little value on top of that.”

The study indicates that high starting salaries are predictors of high returns on investment. Degrees with starting salaries of $57,000 a year or more deliver the best lifetime returns.

But the return on investment of a degree can vary depending on the educational institution.

“Students interested in fields with low average pay can still find some schools that do well transforming those fields of study into high-paying careers,” Cooper writes.

The name for the University of Southern California is displayed at a campus entrance in Los Angeles, April 16, 2024.
The name for the University of Southern California is displayed at a campus entrance in Los Angeles, April 16, 2024.

The quality of an institution also matters, said William Tierney, professor emeritus of higher education at the University of Southern California.

“An MBA from Harvard is a likely ticket to a good job,” Tierney told VOA. “An MBA from the University of Phoenix, less so.”

But students pursue graduate programs for more than just financial reasons.

“Some degrees open up careers in fields that students may enjoy, such as in the performing arts,” Robert Kelchen, head of educational leadership at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, told VOA.

“Others can help gain access to social networks or simply help students learn about a topic that is of interest,” Kelchen added.

Cooper told VOA that it might make sense for students in degree programs with low returns on investment to switch majors if they can still graduate on time.

He found the worst outcome for a student’s return on investment is dropping out of college “because they must pay for one or more years’ tuition and spend time out of the labor force.”

Lawmakers who fund higher education have a responsibility in ensuring “higher education delivers on its promise of economic mobility,” Cooper said.

FILE - A graduation themed printed mural is seen on the Howard University campus, July 6, 2021, in Washington.
FILE - A graduation themed printed mural is seen on the Howard University campus, July 6, 2021, in Washington.

Nearly a third of federal funding, including Pell grants and student loans, pays for higher education programs that fail to provide students with a return on investment, according to the study.

Cooper’s view is that “some schools should shut down low-ROI programs and reallocate institutional resources to programs with a better return.”

“There's definitely this narrative out there that higher education is always worth it, and you should always try to get that extra degree because it will increase your earnings,” he told VOA. “That's reinforced by colleges who make lofty promises regarding their graduate degree programs' outcomes, which all too often fall short.”

Harvard students end protest as school agrees to discuss Gaza conflict

FILE - Harvard University students said on May 14, 2024, that they were voluntarily dismantling their encampment in Harvard Yard, shown here on April 25, after university officials agreed to meet and discuss the school's investments in Israel and businesses that support it.
FILE - Harvard University students said on May 14, 2024, that they were voluntarily dismantling their encampment in Harvard Yard, shown here on April 25, after university officials agreed to meet and discuss the school's investments in Israel and businesses that support it.

Protesters against the war between Israel and Hamas were voluntarily taking down their tents in Harvard Yard on Tuesday after university officials agreed to discuss their questions about the endowment, bringing a peaceful end to the kinds of demonstrations that were broken up by police on other campuses.

The student protest group Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine said in a statement that the encampment "outlasted its utility with respect to our demands." Meanwhile, Harvard University interim President Alan Garber agreed to pursue a meeting between protesters and university officials regarding the students' questions.

Students at many college campuses this spring set up similar encampments, calling for their schools to cut ties with Israel and businesses that support it.

The Israel-Hamas war began when Hamas and other militants stormed into southern Israel on October 7, killing some 1,200 people and taking 250 hostages. Palestinian militants still hold about 100 captives, and Israel's military has killed more than 35,000 people in Gaza, according to Gaza's Health Ministry, which doesn't distinguish between civilians and combatants.

Harvard said its president and the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Hopi Hoekstra, will meet with the protesters to discuss the conflict in the Middle East.

The protesters said they worked out an agreement to meet with university officials, including the Harvard Management Company, which oversees the world's largest academic endowment, valued at about $50 billion.

The protesters' statement said the students will set an agenda that includes discussions on disclosure, divestment, reinvestment and the creation of a Center for Palestine Studies. The students also said that Harvard has offered to retract suspensions of more than 20 students and student workers and back down on disciplinary measures faced by 60 more.

"Since its establishment three weeks ago, the encampment has both broadened and deepened Palestine solidarity organizing on campus," a spokesperson for the protesters said. "It has moved the needle on disclosure and divestment at Harvard."

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