How to Talk about College and University in English

University — the best days of your life.

But how to talk about university and college in English?

You might have to talk about your life in college in the IELTS speaking test — this could happen in part one, two or three, depending on the questions the examiner could ask you.

But you could also be asked to talk about your uni days in a job interview. The topic of university could also come up in any social conversation.

It is a very common topic to talk about, so you need to be prepared and know what to say when the time arises.

That is why I wrote the following guide to help you.

Follow each step to get a clear idea of what to say about every aspect of your college life in English.

Are you ready? Let’s get started.


The Places

Let’s start by looking at all the places and buildings that you might find in an average university college campus.

Some of these places are near identical around the world — whereas some places may exist in one country, but not in another.


College, School or University?


First of all, what do we call it? There seem to be different names for each country. A good idea is to define our terms.




The dictionary describes it as thus; an educational place to assist students to learn about a wide range of degrees via various faculties and employing different colleges and institutions.

In plain English, it means that a university offers many different courses to students. It is not one style of learning — there is often a big difference in the classes available.

A university is often quite big and could have thousands of students. And for all the courses available, the university has different faculties — these are like different departments for each area of study. And there could be different colleges within the university.

Universities these days can be private or public (government).

Many students shorten the word university to ‘uni’.


Expressions in English:

  • I am a student at Crawford University
  • I am a full-time uni student
  • I am at university — I’m studying economics




This is an educational institution that specialises in one subject or area of study.

So you could have an art college or a music college. But it could be any subject from agriculture to English literature.

Colleges are often smaller than a university and as such will have fewer students.

Colleges can also be private or public.

In America, many students refer to their university as college. This does not mean that it is a college, it is just a manner of speaking in America.


Expressions in English:

  • I am in my first year at college
  • I like going to college so far
  • I am having a great time at college




In America, any place of learning is a school. So if you are studying in America, you might hear students talk about going to school when they really mean university or college.

Confused yet?


Expressions in English:

  • I have just started school in Layfield
  • I am in my third year of school


The University or College Campus

The campus refers to all the grounds of the university or college.

There is usually a perimeter wall or fence to indicate where the campus boundaries are. Anything inside this wall is referred to as ‘the campus’.

The campus can refer to the actual grounds of the university but also all the buildings — lecture halls, library, canteen, sports grounds and student dormitories.

Some campuses can be very beautiful. If you are lucky, you might be a student at a campus with beautiful lawns and trees and plants. Many colleges and universities have these kinds of campuses. They want the environment to be perfect for studying.

Check out this website for some very beautiful university campuses — the best schools.

There are many different buildings and facilities on a university campus.

These could include:

  • Lecture Halls
  • Library or Libraries
  • Canteen, Cafes or Restaurants
  • Coffee Shop
  • Bar
  • Any sports facilities
  • Dormitory

Depending on which country you are in, there may be more or fewer facilities and buildings than in the above list. For example, most Asian countries would probably not have a bar on the campus — whereas in many western countries this is most definitely certain.


Lecture Hall


Can’t have a university without any lecture halls.

This is the place where the lectures take place. Some lecture halls can be very big and have seating for hundreds of students. While others may only allow for around 100 students.

Most lecture halls have a podium — this is where the professor or teacher stands to deliver his talk.

And there may also be a screen to show pictures or videos as part of the professor’s talk.


Expressions in English:

  • We have to go to the lecture hall every Monday morning for a class on law
  • The lecture hall is very big so I try to get a seat at the front to hear the professor talking clearly
  • Our lecture hall is state-of-the-art — it has very modern equipment




The university will also have smaller rooms for smaller classes.

These are for the more specific classes on subjects. These rooms are very similar to any classroom you may find in a school, except they may have more advanced equipment for science purposes.


Expressions in English:

  • Our college has so many classrooms
  • The classrooms in our college are spread out all over the campus
  • Sometimes it makes me late for class as I go from one to the other


Seminar Room


Your university may also have rooms for seminars. These are for discussions and debates on a special subject. Students may have to actively deliver a short lecture of their own in these classes.


Expressions in English:

  • I have to attend a class in the seminar room on the east wing of the college


Where Students Live


The students have to live somewhere. And there can be a broad range of accommodation for students. Some of it provided by the university — but much of this accommodation is off-campus and privately owned.



Dormitories are the big buildings on campus where students live. There could be four students to a room in bunk beds — or they may be a private room where only one student stays.

Usually, there are shared bathrooms and kitchens in the dormitories.

Students are expected to consider other students and not have late-night parties — but in western countries they often do!

People often abbreviate the word to ‘dorm’.


Expressions in English:

  • I’m a freshman, so I sleep in the dormitory on campus. It’s okay, but next year I will find a room in a house.
  • There are four of us in one room in our dormitory. I don’t mind it but I don’t have any privacy.
  • There is a curfew in our dormitory — we have to be inside before ten at night or they lock the door.


College Digs / Student Digs


Digs is an old-fashioned term, which means residence or rooms.

Digs are usually cheap and very basic. They are usually privately owned by a landlord who specialises in student accommodation.

A typical student digs in the UK, for example, could be four bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. The students living in this kind of place may know each other — or not.

Quite often there are arguments over students taking other students food from the fridge!


Expressions in English:

  • I share a house with three other students. We are all friends, so it’s a good arrangement.
  • I live with three other students from my college. The house is not great, but it’s all right for a student place.
  • I live in a house where I rent a room from the landlord. She lives in the same house. But she is very reasonable, and it’s quiet so I can study no problem.


Halls of Residence


This is a British-English term — it means dormitory.

The buildings and style are the same as a dormitory.


Expressions in English:

  • We have parties in our halls of residence most weekends. Things get pretty crazy at night too.
  • It’s great living in the halls of residence. All my friends are there, so I never feel lonely.




A homestay is usually for international students. They are designed to help the international student integrate into the culture of the country they are studying in.

A homestay is often a house with a typical family living inside.


Expressions in English:

  • I am staying with a local family. They all speak English in their house, so my English is getting better and better each day.
  • I live with a local family — the two parents and their children. I hang out with their son a lot and he has introduced me to some cool things in the area.


The Years of College

University courses can be three or four years in duration depending on which country you are studying in and what kind of course you are doing.

In America, they refer to each of the four years of study as freshman, sophomore, junior and senior.

In the UK and Australia, they just say first year, second year, third year and fourth year.


Freshman/1st Year


Expressions in English:

  • I have done almost no work in my first year. All I have done is made friends and gone to parties!
  • As I am a freshman, I don’t really have many lectures or classes. I guess that will start next year.


Sophomore/2nd Year


Expressions in English:

  • I have a lot more work to do now that I am a sophomore. I also have a lot of exams, which came as a shock after being a freshman.
  • In my second year, I now have to go to more classes. I have to be more responsible.


Junior/3rd Year


Expressions in English:

  • I am so busy now. Since being a junior, I never seem to have any free time.
  • I have to complete lots of projects. I am in different groups for all my classes, so I have to help them out as well as do all my own work.


Senior/4th Year


Expressions in English:

  • I am coming up to my finals, and then I will graduate. My senior year has been really flat out.
  • (flat out — very busy)
  • No one seems to have time to do anything else but study these days. We are all in our fourth year and it’s all go.
  • (all go — constantly busy, no time for any rest)


Times of Study


Each year of study is divided into one academic year — usually from September to June.

Most countries divide the academic year into two halves known as semesters.

In the UK, the academic year is divided into three parts known as terms.




Expressions in English:

  • This term I have to do a group project on local history. We have four more weeks, then we have to present our work in a seminar.
  • I am so broke as we are in the third term of the year — all the money has run out!



Expressions in English:

  • This semester I have quite a lot of exams to do.
  • This semester I ran into some trouble in one of my classes, but my academic adviser gave me some help.


Academic Year


Expressions in English:

  • I get almost enough money from my student loan and a bursary to last me for one academic year.
  • When I finish my academic year, I will get a summer job to get some money in.
  • We have to study for many credits every academic year.


Credits for Semester


Expressions in English:

  • I have to study for five more credits this semester, and I only have a short time to do it in!
  • My professor advised me to take fifteen credits this semester.
  • I have to complete three more credits for my English major.


Modules for Term


Expressions in English:

  • I have two modules left to do this term.
  • I am doing a module on finance this term.



Expressions in English:

  • My curriculum for economics is so busy this year.
  • I have so many classes on my curriculum.




Expressions in English:

  • My timetable in my first year was so easy — but this year it is hell!
  • (hell — bad or much worse than before)
  • My timetable has a lecture three times a week.




Expressions in English:

  • My schedule is pretty good — I don’t have too many exams this semester


Major and Minor


A major is the primary course that you spend most of your time studying. This is the one that you focus on.

A minor is the secondary course that you study. This one takes up less of your time.

In American colleges, a major requires 20 credits — while a minor only requires 10 credits.

In UK colleges, they have a combined degree system for students studying two different subjects. These are usually split into modules.




Expressions in English:

  • My major is maths
  • I am studying for a major in industrial design




Expressions in English:

  • My minor is business
  • My major is English but I am doing a minor in cultural studies
  • I am studying for a minor in French


The People in College



Expressions in English:

  • The great thing about college is that all the students are the same age, so we can make a lot of friends
  • I am in my final year at uni, and I have enjoyed being a student, but it is time to join the real world now and get a job
  • People think students just get up at two in the afternoon, go to one lecture a week and have an easy life — nothing could be further from the truth!




Expressions in English:

  • We have some really great teachers in our college — they are very helpful and give us a lot of advice
  • One of my teachers told me I had to retake a module — I was so upset about it
  • (retake — to do again)
  • My physics teacher helped me after class as I was having trouble with some theory




Expressions in English:

  • There’s a lecturer at my uni who always does these great presentations. It’s like he is telling us a story.
  • One of the lecturers in our college has a very strict ‘no phones’ policy in his lectures. If anyone’s phone goes off while he is talking, he fines the student responsible.




Expressions in English:

  • My English professor always has time to help me after class
  • I had to have a meeting with my economics professor about some a module I had missed




Expressions in English:

  • At the beginning of every academic year, the principal makes a speech to all the students
  • I know who the college dean is, but I have never spoken to him personally


Academic Adviser


Expressions in English:

  • I have to meet up with my academic adviser at least once a term so she can see how I am doing at college
  • My academic adviser always gives me a lot of encouragement


Paying for College


Going to college costs money. There are fees to pay, books to buy, and living costs to think of like rent and food.

Where does the money come from?

Being a student can often be three or four years of financial struggle. And they have to find any financial support they can.


Student Fees

These are the fees that students must pay at the beginning of the academic year. The fees cover the cost of the use of all the college and campus facilities plus attending classes and lectures.


Expressions in English:

  • The fees this year have gone up quite a lot. I have no choice, I have to pay for them.
  • I get some help from my parents to pay my college fees, but I also have to take out a student loan.


International Fees


For students from other countries, they have to pay international fees. These are a lot higher than the normal student fees.


Expressions in English:

  • As I am a student from China, I have to pay international fees. I have the same classes as the local students, but I must pay three times the costs. It’s not fair!
  • I have to pay international fees and I cannot get a student loan as I am not from this country. My parents help me pay for everything.




Sometimes the student might be eligible for a bursary. This is some money that the college or another educational body hands out to students in need.


Expressions in English:

  • My parents couldn’t pay all my fees, so I received a college bursary
  • I found out I could receive a bursary because of my dyslexia


Student Loan


This is how most students pay for college. They borrow the money. Then when they graduate, they have to make a plan to pay it all back. In America, this can be a lot of money.


Expressions in English:

  • After I graduate, I will have to start paying back my student loans
  • I had to take out many student loans to get through university


Student Grant


Some countries still give students educational grants. This is an amount of money to help through university or college.


Expressions in English:

  • I get a student grant which comes in really handy
  • (to come in really handy — to be of great help)
  • If I didn’t get a student grant, I would not be able to go to uni at all




In some cases, the student might be able to get a bank overdraft. The bank will always demand that this is paid back in full once the student graduates though.


Expressions in English:

  • I got an overdraft from the bank but I have to pay extortionate fees for it
  • (extortionate fees — very high-interest rates)


Best Years of My Life!


Many students — or ex-students — talk about their college days being the best days of their life.

This is because college is usually a great time for them. They are in an environment where they are studying with many other people the same age as them, and they don’t yet have any of the stress of working full time.




This is just a simple introduction to university or college in English. Hopefully, some of the phrases are useful to you.

If you are a student, you can put these to use immediately.

If you are a graduate, these phrases may be useful to you if you ever have to talk about your university days.

Good luck — and let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

4 thoughts on “How to Talk about College and University in English”

  1. This article brings back a lot of memories as I could also say my university years were the best time of my life. I liked the first tip where you mentioned that you could start talking about the campus or the layout of all the buildings etc. Physical layouts are graphic and prompt students to fish for very useful vocabulary.

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