Alphabet soup: third-level terms explained

Starting college in the autumn? Do you know what a fresher is? Have you ever stood under the Campenile? Where’s the Quad? What does a students’ union do? The following is a selection of words and terms relating to third-level in Ireland that you may or may not be familiar with...

Part of the historic Quadrangle at Ollscoil na Gaillimhe/University of Galway campus.

Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Gaeilge – A research and teaching institute at Ollscoil na Gaillimhe (aka University of Galway) which offers courses, research opportunities, and other resources related to the Irish language and culture.

Accommodation crisis: Finding affordable and suitable housing options while attending college or university has been a challenge for many students in recent years. A shortage of purpose-built student accommodation and the lack of affordable rental properties has had significant impacts, causing high levels of stress and financial hardship for many students. The crisis is particularly acute in urban areas such as Dublin, Galway, and Cork.

Artificial Intelligence (AI): Quickly became the bane of many educational institutions. Some are restructuring courses or are taking preventative measures to prevent cheating while some are also adopting the technology to enhance their course delivery.

The Bailey Allen Hall: A multipurpose venue on the NUI Galway campus used for large capacity events.


Balls: These are formal events that are typically held annually by college societies.

Belfield: The main campus of UCD located in south Dublin.

Boole Library: The main library at UCC, named after George Boole, the famous mathematician and UCC’s first professor of mathematics.

Bursary: A monetary award or grant given to a student based on financial need, academic merit, or other criteria.

Campanile: A bell tower located in the centre of Trinity’s Front Square, built in the early 19th century it was donated by then Archbishop of Armagh, Lord John Beresford and designed by Sir Charles Lanyon.

CAO (Central Applications Office): The centralised application system for undergraduate courses in Irish third-level institutions.

Céimí: An Irish term used to describe a university or college graduate in Ireland.

Conferring: A ceremony held by a university or college to award degrees to graduating students.

DARE (Disability Access Route to Education): A third-level admission scheme for students whose disabilities have had a negative impact on their second level education.

Dean: The person who oversees a particular faculty or department within a university.

Denaming: Refers to the practice of removing individuals’ names from buildings in light of their previous involvement with the slave trade or their support for other repugnant activities.

Digs: Lodgings or accommodation provided by a homeowner to a student for a fee.

Dissertation: A project completed as part of an undergraduate or postgraduate degree.

Dramsoc: Drama society – most universities will have a dramsoc charged with staging all manner of theatrical performances.

Elective: A standalone module that is not required for a particular course but can be chosen by a student as part of their overall coursework.

Erasmus: A European Union programme that allows students to study abroad for a period of time as part of their degree.

Fresher: Short for junior freshman, the term used to describe someone who is in their first year of college.

Front Gate: The main entrance to Trinity College, located on College Green in Dublin.

HEA (Higher Education Authority): The statutory body responsible for the funding and regulation of higher education in Ireland.

HEAR (Higher Education Access Route): A third-level admission scheme for students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds (

Junior Dean: An administrative official who is responsible for student discipline.

Mardyke Arena: The Mardyke Arena is a sports and fitness centre located on the UCC campus.

Matriculation: The formal enrolment of a student in a university or college. In Ireland it refers to the minimum requirements needed for entry to university.

Michaelmas Term: The first term of the academic year at TCD (Sept - Dec). It is followed by Hilary Term (Jan - March) and Trinity Term (April - June).

PLC (Post-Leaving Certificate): A further education qualification that can be used as a pathway to higher education in Ireland.

Ollscoil na Gaillimhe: The Irish language for Galway University (formerly known as the National University of Ireland, Galway).

Plagiarism: To be avoided at all costs. The word refers to the practice of passing someone else’s work off as your own without giving a proper citation. It is considered a very serious academic offence and is punished accordingly.

RAG Week (Raise and Give): A charitable fundraising event typically organised by college societies in Ireland.

Freshers’ Week: A week-long event that takes place at the beginning of the academic year in many universities and colleges. It is aimed at new freshers (see above) and is designed to help them settle into university life and meet other students.

Scholars: Students who have achieved exceptional academic performance and receive a scholarship to cover their tuition fees for their remaining years of study.

Semester: A half-year (12 week) academic term, typically lasting from September to December or January to May in most Irish colleges.

Seminar: A smaller, more discussion-based class format in which students are expected to participate actively.

Societies: Student-run organisations covering a variety of interests such as sports, politics, and hobbies. A big recruitment drive (with inducements) takes place during Freshers’ Week.

Springboard+: A government initiative that provides free or heavily subsidised education and training opportunities to help people upskill or reskill.

Student Assistance Fund: A financial support programme designed to help students facing financial hardship (you apply directly through your college).

Solas: The State agency that oversees the development of the Further Education & Training (FET) sector in Ireland (

SU (Students’ Union): A union that represents the interests of students at third-level. They offer services such as welfare support, advocacy, and social events.

SUSI: The centralised grants agency responsible for processing student grant applications in Ireland (

Tax relief for tuition fees: A tax relief scheme that allows tax relief on tuition fees for approved courses (

The Pav: A student bar located on the Trinity College campus.

The Phil: Short for the University Philosophical Society, a debating society in Trinity. Founded in 1683 it is believed to be the oldest student society of its type in the world.

The Quad: A large open space at the centre of the UCC campus, surrounded by historic buildings and used for events and gatherings. The University of Galway also sports a Quadrangle, as does Queen’s University.

Thesis: A lengthy research paper or project required for the completion of a master’s or doctoral degree.

Trinity Term: The third and final term of the academic year. Trinity term typically runs from late April to late June. It is named after the Holy Trinity.

Tutor: A faculty member who is often a first point of contact and a source of support for undergraduate students. Tutors assist students in planning their academic schedules and achieving their academic goals.

Undergraduate: A student who is pursuing their first bachelor’s degree.

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Iriseoir agus Eagarthóir Gaeilge An Irish Times. Éanna Ó Caollaí is The Irish Times' Irish Language Editor, editor of The Irish Times Student Hub, and Education Supplements editor.