Academic Glossary

Adjusting to college can be a confusing process for anyone, and especially for international students and U.S. students who live overseas. Unfamiliar academic terms, new educational concepts, and new words often confuse international students when they arrive. This glossary or “dictionary” is designed to explain some of the academic terms used frequently in the process of advising and registration.

Liberal Arts

Lewis & Clark, like many other U.S. colleges and universities, is a liberal arts institution. This means that we believe that an “educated person” is one who is familiar with a broad range of academic areas—natural sciences and math (biology, chemistry, physics, calculus etc.)., international issues (history, economics, international affairs, political science, etc.), the arts (art, theater, music, etc.), languages and so forth.

The liberal arts concept is very different from that followed by most European and many Asian educational systems where students are encouraged to focus on a particular area of study. In the liberal arts system, students are encouraged to explore, to gain a broad-based education, to question, and to see how academic fields interrelate. In the U.S. students begin to focus on their major in the last two years of study.

Through the liberal arts system, Lewis & Clark encourages students to formulate independent thought by the acquisition of as much available knowledge as possible in their four years of higher education.

At Lewis & Clark some courses called “General Education” or “Gen Ed,” or “Core” courses are required. These include two core courses for first-year students and other courses involving the areas of Bibliographic Research and Writing; Creative Arts; Culture, Power, and Identity; Global Perspectives; Historical Perspectives; Natural Sciences; Physical Education and Well-Being; and World Language.

The Semester System

Lewis & Clark currently operates on the “semester system.” The semester system divides the year into two academic sessions - fall semester and spring semester, each lasting approximately fifteen weeks. Fall semester begins in late August or early September and continues through mid-December. Spring semester begins in mid-January and continues through early May. Most students attend only the fall and spring semesters, but some enroll in the optional summer semester to make up work or to graduate early.

Student Status

Under the current semester system, a full-time student must take a minimum of 12 credits per semester. However, to graduate on time, it is advisable for students to take 16-18 credits per semester. A student taking less than 12 credits is considered to be a part-time student (a violation of Department of Homeland Security rules for international students). Each class listed on the registration website has its value of credits adjacent to it. Most academic classes are four credits each, and most students at Lewis & Clark take four classes per semester plus a physical education (sports), music, or activity class.

Student status—freshman (first year), sophomore (second year), junior (third year), or senior (fourth year)—is determined by the amount of credits you earn. To make normal progress toward graduation it is advisable to take between 16 and 18 credits per semester, thus maintaining a 32 credit average per year.

Class Hours or Credits

The amount of course credit is usually determined by the amount of time spent in the classroom, the amount of homework required, and the difficulty of the course. Most courses at Lewis & Clark are 4 credits. PHIL 101 (Logic) , ECON 210 (Financial Analysis), PHYS 110 (Great Ideas in Physics), and SOAN 100 (Introduction to Sociology) are all 4 credit courses. If the course is worth four credits, a student can usually expect to be in class for three to four hours per week, and spend at least 8 hours on homework for the class. (We usually say that for each one hour in class, you need to study for three hours outside of class). U.S. students refer to their total class hours in many different ways but it all means the same thing. For example, students may say, “I’m taking “sixteen hours” or “sixteen semester hours” or “sixteen credits” or “sixteen credit hours.” All in all, this simply refers to the number of credits that the classes are worth academically.

Some courses are worth less than four credits. Some theater, music and physical education (sports) courses are like this. For example, PE/A 101 (Beginning Tennis), MUP 131 (Voice Class), and TH 107 (Ballet) are worth only one or two credits because they require less homework, meet less often, or are not as academically difficult.

To graduate from Lewis & Clark College a student needs to complete a minimum of 128 credits. This normally takes 4 years. If a student goes to summer school, the time required to graduate can be reduced.

A typical class schedule for an incoming freshman might look like this for the fall semester.

(Beginning Japanese)
Meets M,W,Th, F
from 12:40 - 1:40
4 credits
PE/A 101-38
(Weight Training)
Meets T,Th
from 9:45 - 10:45
1 credit
(Core 120)
Meets M,W,F
from 1:50 - 2:50
4 credits
BIOLOGY 100-01
Meets M,W,F
from 10:20 - 11:20
4 credits
BIOLOGY 100-02
Meets T
from 3:30 - 6:00
0 credits
THEATER 113-02
(Acting 1:  Fundamentals)
Meets T,Th
from 1:50 - 3:20
4 credits
Total   17 credits

Therefore, this student has a total of 17 credits for the fall semester.


Most upper division courses (courses numbered 200 or above) e.g. MATH 315 (Number Theory), or IA 430 (International Affairs Seminar) have certain prerequisites that must be completed before enrolling in the course. These prerequisites are designed to ensure that all students enrolled in the class are at the same level of expertise, and have covered and are familiar with material that will be studied. These prerequisites are not designed to keep anyone out of a course.

For example, ECON 215 (Game Theory) has a prerequisite of ECON 100 (Principles of Economics). Therefore, before students can register for ECON 215, they must first pass ECON 100.

If there are recommended courses listed, then it is not mandatory for students to have completed them in order to enroll in the class; merely advisable.

Grading System

Most courses at Lewis & Clark are graded courses which mean that students receive A, A-, B+, B, B-, C+, C, C-, D+, D, or F. The system for grading in each class is determined solely by the instructor and is not standardized. Most instructors provide information about grading with the course outline or syllabus. All students are thus given equal opportunity, and maximum time to obtain the best grade possible.

Some courses may be taken “credit / no credit” (“CR/NC”) which means that a student takes the class but does not receive a letter grade. If students pass the course, they receive the grade of “CR” which means “Credit.” If students do not pass the course, they receive a grade of “NC” which means “No Credit.” Grades of A, B, C, D, or F are not given in CR/NC courses and the results do not affect the students grade point average. Important to note: All “General Education” or “Core” courses must be taken for a grade.

To select a CR/NC designation, you must obtain the signature of the instructor (forms are available at the Registrar’s Office), and file the form within the first ten days of the term. Once this form is filed, it is impossible to change to a letter grade.

Adding / Dropping a Course

A student may “add” or “drop” a course within the first two weeks of the semester. Adding a course means registering for the course. Dropping a course means stopping the course. All regular add/drop registration is done via WebAdvisor. During the ADD/DROP period you must obtain the permission of the faculty instructor to register for all courses. If the instructor agrees to give permission, the instructor will record permission via WebAdvisor. Once this is done, you will be able to register for the course section on WebAdvisor, provided a seat is available. Courses that are dropped in the first two weeks of the semester are not recorded on the student’s transcript.

Withdrawal from a Course

While students may initiate a course withdrawal (for all courses except CORE 120/121) up until the end of the 10th week deadline, faculty may not override the deadline by permission. The deadline is a hard deadline.

If for any reason a student cannot complete the requirements of the course within the semester, an incomplete grade (“I”) may be issued, with the permission of the instructor. This allows the student to complete all the requirements at a later date, and thus still receive credit and a grade for the course. A grade of “incomplete” will change to a predetermined grade if the work is not completed before the deadline.


A transcript is the student’s academic record. It lists all courses and grades, including withdrawals, in a student’s academic history. The transcript also notes if a student has been on academic probation or suspended from the college. In the U.S. the transcript may be examined by employers when the student applies for a job. The transcript is more important to U.S. students than the “diploma,” which is a ceremonial document.

First Year Seminars (Core 120 and Core 121)

The first year seminars (Core 120 Words and Core 121 Numbers) are required courses for all first-year students. It is a two-semester course and enrollment is limited to twenty or fewer students in each section. The seminars are taught by faculty members from many different departments and academic disciplines.

Words teaches students to explore the meaning and significance of texts via close reading and analysis, and to express that analysis in writing.

Numbers teaches students to interpret quantitative information presented in various forms and contexts; to understand the logical structure of quantitative arguments; and to use quantitative models, theories, and data to simplify, explain, and make predictions.


All Lewis & Clark College students—Americans as well as international students—are assigned an advisor, a professor, when they arrive on campus. The advisor’s duty is to help the student make intelligent decisions about class load, course selection, academic goals, meeting college requirements, and so forth. First-year students must have the signature of their advisor in order to register for classes.

Advisors are assigned carefully, not randomly, especially for international students. We try to pair advisors and advisees (students) who have a class together. Department chairs serve as advisors for transfer students.

Students may change their advisors at any time. It is easy to do so.

GPA (Grade Point Average)

GPA means grade point average. Employers look for students with a “good” or “high” GPA. Students want to have a “high GPA”. 

In the U.S. system, the GPA range is listed below:

A = 4.0 C+ = 2.3 F = 0.0
A- = 3.7 C = 2.0  
B+ = 3.3 C-=1.7  
B = 3.0 D+ = 1.3  
B-= 2.7 D = 1.0  

A student who has a 4.0 GPA (average) is an excellent student. That student has an “A” average. To graduate from Lewis & Clark, a student must have a GPA of at least 2.0 or “C.”

Look at the example student record below:

History 110 4 credits X   B (3.0) = 12 points
Mathematics 131 4 credits X   A (4.0) = 16 points
Words 4 credits X   B (3.0) = 12 points
Psychology 100 4 credits X   C (2.0) = 8 points
Total 16 credits     48 points

The student took four graded classes and passed all of them. He earned 16 credits toward graduation. If you multiply the number of credits (4) by the points of the grade (A=4, B=3, C=2, D=1), the student earned 48 points. To get the GPA, divide the points by the credits (48 divided by 16). The student will have a GPA of 3.0. That is the equivalent of a “B” average.