University Vocabulary Words + Conversation Starters You Must Know For The TOEFL (and The First Week Of School)

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Popular University Vocab for the first week of school + TOEFL

There is no denying it, and it isn't just retail store hype anymore; back to school season is upon us.  Although start dates vary in the United States based on region and the level of the institution (with schools in the American south and colleges typically going back to school well before the first work day after Labor Day, which most primary and secondary schools in the Northern part of the U.S. use as their guideline), the academic year tends to start at the end of August or beginning of September.  Heading back to the classroom can be both exciting and nerve-wracking, especially if you have just enrolled at a new school.  If you are thinking about university-level classes, you will have to deal with specific vocabulary that is unique to the college setting and many of the terms that you will encounter during your first week there are words that you are expected to know.  

Even if you aren't heading to a university yet because you still need to take the TOEFL and get to your goal score, knowing these vocabulary words is essential because they frequently appear on the integrated speaking and listening sections of the exam.  Remember, the TOEFL is designed to mimic actual university situations, so it is quite possible that you will hear a conversation between a new student and a university employee or listen to a lecture that takes place on the first day of class.  By preparing yourself for the exam with this vocabulary, you will also be ready to hear these words when you arrive at your college campus.

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On the first day of class, your professor will provide you with a syllabus.  The syllabus is the formal write-up of all the information that you need to know about the class-- the course description (so you will know what you are studying), the grading breakdown, the required course materials, etc.  You will want to pay particular attention to what comprises the grade for the course.  Is there a midterm, a final paper, or a final exam?  If so, is the final exam cumulative (in other words, does it cover everything from the first day of class or just from the midterm on)?  Although it might seem premature to be thinking about the final exam this early, putting these important dates and knowing exactly how you will be graded might help you decide whether or not this is the right class for you and how you will need to structure your time for the rest of the semester.  The professor will also list their office hours (the times when the professor is sitting in his/her office waiting for you to come in and ask any questions you may have) on this document.  In America, it is not considered rude or insulting to ask your instructor questions, and many professors welcome students who want to know more information about a particular topic.

At many American universities, you have roughly two weeks of school to decide if you are going to keep the classes you initially signed up for or if you are going to make changes to your schedule.  This time is usually called add/drop or shopping period, where you can decide to take (or not take) classes without any penalty.  In order to decide what classes you should take, you should speak with your academic advisor.  This is typically a professor in your department who recommends what classes you should take based on your major, the number of credits you need to take, and the number of electives that you have.  Your major is your primary area of study, so many of the classes that you will take will all be related to this topic.  At the beginning of your time at a particular university, you may have to take some core requirements first-- the types of classes that the university has decided all students must take in order to have a well-rounded education.  Keeping track of how many credits you have-- the worth that the university has assigned to your particular class-- is important because it may determine the price of your tuition for the semester as well as how many classes you should take.  Classes outside of your major are known as electives, and courses you must take before you can take a more advanced level class are known as pre-requisites, all key terms for you to know before interacting with your advisor.

After you have spoken to your academic advisor, you may need to see the registrar.  This is the person who approves the official schedule every student takes.

Hopefully, you are able to take all of the classes you want, but you may encounter problems with registering for classes or moving into your dorm room if you have a hold on your account.  A hold simply means that your account has been frozen-- you cannot do anything-- until something, usually a financial problem, has been cleared up.  Perhaps you did not pay the deposit or submit the appropriate medical forms to the university, for example.  If this happens, make sure you talk to those who work for the university in order to resolve the issue.  On the listening section of the TOEFL, you might hear a conversation when a student visits the registrar's office to discover he can't drop a class because there is a hold on his account.  For this reason,  it is imperative to know these words for the test as well as to address real issues that may arise when you arrive on the college campus.  

During the first few days of school, your RA (resident assistant) will be one of the best resources that you have available to you.  He or she is an upperclassman (an older student), so they will know what buildings you will need to go to, who you need to speak with, and what activities are going on on campus.  

If you are living on campus, the RA will likely have a meeting during the first few days where they explain all of the policies for living in the dorms and the emergency procedures.  This meeting will likely involve an icebreaker-- a get-to-know you activity to help you learn a little bit about the other people living on your floor.

Some of the words on the list are important for making small talk, a type of conversation that is expected and considered polite and appropriate in the United States.  Although there are generally good guidelines for what you should and shouldn't say to those you make small talk with, when it comes to your first meeting, there are several key phrases that make sense for you to draw from.   If you lack some confidence in your own speaking skills, just remember, people love to talk about themselves.  These questions give the other person an opportunity to really expand, and by asking follow up questions or prompting the other person to go into more detail, they will do the majority of the talking.  As a bonus, these are the questions that they are most likely to ask you, so if you have an idea of what you are going to say, you will be even more confident that you will be able to adeptly navigate these interactions.

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