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School Life Vocabulary: Starting School

In my last school life vocabulary post, I talked about the language of applying to universities. Today, let’s look at the vocabulary you’ll use after you’ve been accepted. There are certain English words that are good to know as you start your new life as an international student.



A commitment is a responsibility, something someone has to do, or has agreed to do. Commitments are very important in students’ lives. Your class schedule will be a commitment— you will need to attend all of your classes. The clubs or other activities you sign up for are commitments as well. You will be expected to do certain things when you register for student organizations.

The amount of commitment in each class and activity is not always obvious. It’s important to figure out how much time you’ll be spending on anything you sign up for. Before you agree to do anything, check with others to see how big of a commitment it is. Be especially sure you know the “time commitment”— the amount of time you’ll be expected to spend.


Go over

Here we have another phrasal verb. You will often hear the phrase “go over” on campus, especially as you begin school. “Go over” can mean to study or pay attention to something so that you can understand it. You may be asked if you’ve gone over the rules for living in student housing, or gone over your new schedule.

“Go over” can also mean to explain something so that someone else understand it. If there is something you don’t understand about your new life on campus, you can ask someone if they’ll go over it with you, so you understand. And if a professor says something you didn’t quite comprehend, you can raise your hand and politely ask “Can you go over that again?”


Heavy load

The pace of college studies is something new students need to adjust to carefully. This is why you want to be cautious about taking a “heavy load” in your first academic term.

What is a heavy load? On an English language campus, this idiom refers to a really busy schedule of classes. Often, a heavy load involves taking as many classes as you possibly can in one term. But it can also relate to taking a few very difficult classes at once. As you plan your first class schedule at your new school, be sure to ask university staff if your possible schedule will give you a heavy load. First year students who take on a heavy schedule may find themselves getting bad grades and having little time to make friends or enjoy their lives.



“Inclined” has a number of dictionary defintions. And when you combine “inclined” with certain adverbs, the word takes on a new meaning related to the skills and talents a person has.

This sense of “inclined” will be important when you have conversations about the kinds of classes you should take. For example, if you’re musically inclined, you may want to take a piano or guitar class. If you’re mechanically inclined, a class on engineering might be good for you. Dramatically inclined students may want to take a theater class. And so on….



I’ve already talked to you about the general idea of opportunities on campus in a past vocabulary study. During your first semester of school, the word “opportunity” will take on a special, more specific meaning.

When your advisors, professors, and other staff talk to you about opportunities, they will often be talking about chances to participate in clubs, special research projects, campus employment, and other formal activities. These opportunities can help you start building your resume years before you graduate. As you start school, be sure to find out what opportunities you should pursue.



“Orientation” has several different definitions. But when you’re starting out school, it can only mean one thing: it refers to scheduled activities before the first day of school.

Orientation activities are meant to help new students understand the campus and learn about student living. At most universities, orientation is something you must do. It is a requirement. So once you’ve been accepted, make sure you get information about orientation— the days and times, and any fees you need to pay to participate.


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