TOEFL Vocabulary: University Words

If you’re going to study in the U.S., then it helps to know vocabulary that describes life at an American university. And even if you’re taking the TOEFL for a different reason—to study at a school outside the U.S., maybe—it helps to know that vocabulary to take the test. The TOEFL includes university-life vocabulary often in the conversations that you’ll hear in the listening and speaking sections of the test. For example, you’ll hear students talking about the cafeteria (where they eat), their dormitories (where they sleep), or their roommates (the people they live with). Let’s look at a few more words for university life that you might not know.


This word is common and very important. In fact, it’s so important, I almost didn’t include it in this list because you should already know it. But in case you don’t know it, I thought I should define it.

The campus is the area where the school buildings are. A college or university that is outside of a city might have a large area of land with fields, dormitory, class buildings, offices and more. All of that area, including the grass, is part of the campus. In a city, a campus is any area of the city that the school owns. Sometimes it isn’t very clear what is “on campus” and what is “off campus.”

This is especially useful when talking about where people live. In the U.S., students often live on campus during college. The buildings where they live are owned by the school. It is less common for students to live with their parents, off campus during college years.

TOEFL example: Hey, Amy! I’m glad I ran into you. I wanted to check and see if you’re going to that jazz concert on campus tonight.



A “dean” is basically a boss at a college or university. It’s not the president of the school, though; it’s a boss of one specific department or responsibility. For example, you might hear a student on the TOEFL talk about the “dean of the math department,” meaning the head math professor. Or you might hear a student talk with the “dean of residential living,” who is responsible for problems with on-campus housing.

TOEFL example: Have you heard the news about Professor Tanaka? She’s stepping down as the dean of the history department because of students’ complaints.


If you’re studying at an American university, you will probably have to go to the registrar’s office if you have a problem with your schedule or need paperwork sent to another school or program.

“Registrar” may be the job title of single person, but often when we say it, we just mean the office in general. It is the office that keeps all records of your studies at the school, including your classes, grades, credits, etc.

TOEFL example: It sounds like you might have a problem with class credits, Charles. I’d say you should head to the registrar’s office as soon as you can to sort it out, otherwise you might not be able to graduate on time.

Grant & Scholarship

These two words are very close in meaning, so I’m just going to write about them at the same time. Both are types of payment from a university or government that help you to pay for school. After all, college and graduate school in the U.S. can be extremely expensive, and many people can’t pay it all. In that case, a grant or scholarship might help.

The line between the two isn’t always clear, but generally, a grant is based on need whereas a scholarship is based on achievement. That is, you might have a scholarship that requires high grades—if your grades get worse, you could lose the scholarship. Meanwhile, a grant has fewer rules. Once you get the grant, it is yours.

The distinction isn’t very important, though. Just know that both words refer to money that will help pay for education.

TOEFL example: I think this project is a great idea, Maryanne. And you know, there is a scholarship for students who work on local environmental issues—you might want to look into that. It could be a great opportunity, financially as well as academically.


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  • Lucas Fink

    Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.