For better or worse, post-secondary education comes with a vocabulary all it’s own. While some of this vocabulary may not be common in every-day life, it is key to understanding the how post-secondary education works.


When referring to courses or programs, this typically means it is a ‘university’ academic course that is part of a degree or a course that transfers credit to a university degree, as opposed to those referred to as vocational or career (applied) courses and programs.

Admission Requirements

The minimum courses, marks and other conditions that must be met (and proof provided of meeting them) in order to be considered for admission to any post-secondary program. Meeting the minimum requirements does not always guarantee admission.

Admissions Process

The way in which admission requirements to post-secondary programs are evaluated. There are three basic processes: Open; Limited; Selective.

Associate Degree

An academic credential awarded for two years (60 credits) of study in a defined program of courses in the Arts or Sciences. The required courses were established by the government ministry and is the same at all public institutions where the degree is offered. It is also guaranteed a block transfer of 60 university credits within the BC system.


The BC Council on Admissions and Transfers, a government ministry agency, is where the online BC Transfer Guide is found. This resource shows how academic courses taken at one institution transfer to other institutions in BC ( BC has the most highly transferable post-secondary system in Canada.

Career Path

When researching potential careers, students can map out many different paths that a career field can offer; this is separate from the Education Path that leads to these career opportunities. Completing a diploma or degree in a specific field of study (eg. Computing science) is just the starting point. Students need to understand there will be multiple paths they can follow in any career once they start work. Understanding career path options can help students make choices on courses and other learning experiences while completing their post-secondary program.

Co-operative Education

Usually referred to ‘Co-op’ education, this department at many institutions provides the opportunity for students to gain valuable work experience by competing for ‘fully paid, semester-long work placements’ with employers in jobs that are related to their program of study. Co-op can help students make decisions on career paths, and support financing their studies. Employers use co-op as a way to preview potential future employees.


Public institutions with the title of College in BC are governed under the College & Institute Act, the legislation that defines their role in the post-secondary system. This ensures the quality of courses and programs offered at colleges is of a consistently high standard and supports the transfer system. Colleges used to only offer trades, vocational and applied career programs, as well as university transfer courses in first and second year. Now many also offer a limited number of full bachelor’s degrees, including unique applied degrees.


The formal piece of paper-often framed by graduates-that confirms the student has met all program requirements and awarded their Certificate, Diploma or Degree. Credentials include the name of the program and the formal name and logo or seal of the institution that has awarded it. Confirmation that the credential has been awarded is also included on the official Transcript that records all final results of all courses taken by students.


The ‘numerical value’ given to an individual course, and the basis of how tuition and student fees are calculated, and credentials are structured. Most courses in certificate, diploma and degree programs, at almost all institutions, have a value of 3 credits. Fees are calculated ‘per credit’ in most of these programs and what defines ‘full-time’ vs. ‘part-time’ study is usually based on the number of credits a student is taking in a semester.


There are four major types of degrees available for post-secondary students: Associate, Bachelor's, Master's and Doctoral degrees—a few degrees with the title ‘Doctor of ..’ are not considered to be Doctoral degrees, but unique professional degrees. This is also the sequence in which degrees are typically earned. It can take from 2 - 10 years to complete one or more degrees, depending on the degree and the field of study.

Educational Costs

These are the three kinds of costs directly associated with a post-secondary program of any kind: tuition fees; institutional and student union fees; and books and supplies. In order to accurately calculate the cost of any program, it’s important to include all three. If a student leaves home to study in another city, these educational costs are often less than the ‘living costs’ that must also be calculated separately, to get the total cost of post-secondary.

Educational Path

The sequence of post-secondary programs and credentials that must be earned to achieve the starting point of an employment or career objective. Students often express career plans as “I want to be a …” but they need to map out the path of education and training they will need to get there and then evaluate how realistic that is for them.

Full-time Student

For the purpose of student loans and financial aid, taking three academic courses per semester is normally considered to be ‘full-time’ study; for some scholarships, students may be required to take at least four courses per semester. In many post-secondary programs, students are limited to taking five courses (or 15 credits) per semester, which is considered a typical full-time student course schedule.


This stands for Grade Point Average, which is a calculation of the overall average of marks in courses taken, normally using a 4-point scale. High school GPA can be used as an admissions requirement by post-secondary institutions, and the marks for courses taken in college or university are typically recorded as a GPA for each semester and a cumulative figure (CGPA) for the overall average of marks in the program of study. Each post-secondary institution may have slight variations on how their points are awarded (eg. ‘A’ marks = 4.0).

Health Care

The term that covers the wide range of both programs and occupations related to our health care system. Health care programs, from Certificates to Graduate and Professional degrees, train our health care providers, but there are also many non-medical occupations within the business and administrative side of the system.


The academic disciplines that study human society and culture, typically including ancient and modern languages, law and politics, literature, philosophy, geography, history, religion, visual and performing arts, and musicology.


This third type of post-secondary institution (in addition to Colleges and Universities) often includes the word ‘Technology’ in their name, and typically offers programs focused in a particular field of study. Along with the three ‘public’ Institutes in B.C., there are a significant number of private, for-profit post-secondary businesses using the title of Institute.


The process that allows students to build a second credential on their first one; for example, a Diploma that ladders into a Degree program means students get up to two years of credit for their diploma and only have to complete two more years to earn their degree.

Liberal Arts

The academic disciplines that include the Humanities, but embrace a much broader scope of subjects. A typical liberal arts degree program is interdisciplinary, covering subjects within the humanities, as well as social, natural and formal sciences. A liberal arts education is one that should not only challenge students to consider how to solve problems, but also train them to ask which problems to solve and why, preparing them for positions of leadership and service.

Limited Admission

The process by which students are admitted to programs that have only a limited number of spaces available—most certificate and diploma programs use this process. Rather than reviewing all applications and selecting those considered the best, applicants can be offered one of these spaces as soon as they are deemed to have met all admission requirements. The process continues until all seats are full; some programs may create waiting lists in case there are last minute openings.

Living Costs

Separate from tuition and student fees and books, these are all the living costs that students or families must cover while the student is away attending post-secondary. Students who are moving away from home to live on campus, or on their own need to put together detailed and accurate budgets to ensure they know how much it will cost every month. Even students who still live at home should plan a budget for the expenses they are responsible for now that they are young adults!


The subject that will be the primary focus of studies in the last two years of an undergraduate degree, usually in Arts, Science and Business degrees. In most of these degrees, about 50% of the courses taken in 3rd and 4th year will be in the ‘Major’ subject chosen by the student. Choosing a Major is not usually done until 2nd year, and it’s not unusual for students to change their Major. In fact, in some cases it may not be required to actually have a Major. Knowing your possible Major can be important when choosing (registering) courses in first and second year.


This is a second subject of interest which you can focus on in the last two years of an undergraduate degree, but only if you also have a Major,you can’t do a Minor without a Major. A Minor will usually mean that 25% of courses in 3rd and 4th year will be in this subject."

Open Admission

The non-selective, non-competitive process that most colleges and newer, comprehensive universities in BC use to admit students to first year university degrees in Bachelor of Arts, Science and Business degrees. Rather than requiring students to meet specific course and minimum grade (GPA) requirements, and being selected for admission on that basis, high school graduates are admitted immediately based on successful Gr. 12 graduation with an acceptable English 12 standing. If students need to improve on a high school grade (eg. Math) or take a course that they will need in their degree program (eg. Chemistry 12), they can do this as part of their first year through Upgrading courses these institutions offer.

Part-Time Student

Student taking less than three academic courses per semester are normally considered to be ‘part-time’ and are not eligible for loans and scholarships that require students to be studying full-time. Depending on the program of study, there may be financial aid programs and awards specific to part-time students, so it’s important to connect directly with the Financial Aid office at the institution students are planning to attend to get the most current information.

Practicum Placements

These are work experience opportunities that are built into the course plan of a program, to give students a practical learning experience. A practicum is not normally a paid work experience. It often involves a grade or evaluation that must meet a set standard in order for the student to complete the course and/or graduate from the program.

Private Post-Secondary

These institutions do not receive any funding from government and are essentially private businesses, so their fees are typically much higher than public institutions. There are two categories of private institutions: non-profit and for-profit. The majority of private, non-profit post-secondary options are faith-based. For-profit post-secondary institutions are revenue-generating businesses that may be part of a larger corporate entity based elsewhere in Canada or the U.S.

Public Post-Secondary

These institutions receive some of their funding from the provincial government and their operations and the development and offering of programs are regulated by legislation and agencies of the Ministry of Advanced Education. (All elementary and high school education—public and private is separate and governed by the Ministry of Education).


The process of ‘selecting courses’ in your program of study is called Registration, but students in many programs do not actually need to register as their course plan is predetermined. It’s only in Arts and Science degrees where students may have a lot of choice in terms of what courses they can take, which then requires they understand the process of course planning. Academic Advisors at colleges and university are available to assist students with this process and it can be very important for students to take advantage of this before they register. Most certificate, diploma program and trades programs do not require students to register once they have been admitted.


Modern science is typically divided into three major branches: the natural sciences (e.g. biology, chemistry, physics), which study nature in the broadest sense; the social sciences (e.g. psychology, sociology, economics), which study individuals and societies; and the formal sciences (e.g. mathematics, logic, theoretical computer science), which study abstract concepts. Disciplines that use science, such as engineering and medicine, are described as applied sciences.

Selective Admission

The competitive process that most traditional universities use to admit students to first year university. It requires students to apply before a deadline date and provide proof that they will meet the specific course and minimum grade (GPA) requirements of the degree program they have applied for. After a deadline, students are selected for admission based on the information they provide—Grade 12 students may be required to ‘self-report’ current grades as part of the admissions process, and if their final grades do not meet the expected results they self-report, their offer of admission can be withdrawn.


The post-secondary system operates on a system of three semesters: Fall (September-December); Winter (January-April); and Summer (May-August). While the exact length of a semester may vary slightly from one institution to another, most Certificate, Diploma and Degree programs are based on this structure. The definition of a “year” in College or University is usually two semesters of courses—Fall and Winter.


These are the specific tasks that students learn in a post-secondary program; from repairing an engine or managing a payroll database to giving an IV to patients, there are very specific skills that a student must master to graduate from a program. Typically, the longer the program, the more skills and higher level of training is provided.

Social Sciences

The academic disciplines concerned with the study of the social life of human groups and individuals including anthropology, economics, geography, history, political science, psychology, social studies, and sociology.

Soft Skills/Transferable Skills

These are the skills that students should seek to develop through both post-secondary education and other experiential learning opportunities. They include written and verbal communications, creative thinking, customer service, time management and problem-solving. Increasingly these are the kinds of attributes that employers are seeking, and hiring decisions are being influenced by the ability of applicants to demonstrate these skills.


The broad term that covers a very wide range of programs and subjects related to both the development and the applications of many different technologies. From smartphones, telecommunications, and the application of computerized processes in business and industry to advances in medical science, space exploration and more, technology has become part of daily life. Creating it, managing it and fixing it has created hundreds of new career opportunities that require both creative thinking and strong mathematical and analytical skills to succeed.


This is the very formal and official record of all courses taken, marks achieved, and credentials awarded by a post-secondary institution.


An academic course is transferable when it’s taken at one institution, and later given equal credit for at another institution, allowing a student to change institutions without losing completed courses. In BC, the majority of academic university courses offered at colleges transfer to universities; the online BCCAT Transfer Guide provides this information for all BC post-secondary institutions whose courses transfer. If a complete Certificate or Diploma program (eg. An Associate Degree) is transferable, this is often called a “block transfer” of credits.

Transferable Limit

The general rule is that students cannot transfer more than 50% of the courses required for a credential. This normally means that college students cannot transfer more than 60 academic credits (20 courses) into a degree at a university; this is generally true across Canada, although distance degree programs may have a higher transfer limit.

University Transfer

Many BC colleges that offer first and second year university courses—primarily in Arts, Science, Business and Computing Sciences—will admit students into their University Transfer (UT) program. While UT programs do not offer a credential unless students complete the courses that make up an Associate Degree, UT programs are designed to allow students to complete up to 20 courses that will transfer to a university.

University: College

At one time, there were several University-Colleges in BC as part of the evolution of select colleges to degree-granting institutions, but they no longer exist. They are now all considered ‘regional universities’ by government. However, there are still a number of University-Colleges in other provinces. The original plan saw these institutions offer full university degrees, in partnership with large provincial universities, but most now offer degrees in their own name.

University: Comprehensive/Regional

In BC, the six ‘new’ universities that evolved from their original roots as community colleges are called “Regional Universities” by government. In more practical terms, they are “comprehensive” universities because in addition to undergraduate and graduate degrees, they continue to offer upgrading, trades, certificate and diploma programs and in some cases provide ‘laddering’ opportunities from these programs into their degrees.

University: Traditional/Research

In BC, the three large provincial universities (SFU, UBC, UVIC) and one newer institution (UNBC) are called ‘Research Universities’ by the government. In more practical terms, they are “traditional” universities in that they only offer undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and professional degree programs, and most use selective admissions processes to manage the demand for admission that usually far exceeds their capacity.