If your plan is to Study abroad in the US, you’re probably already pretty fluent in English. However, once you get Stateside, you will notice that the everyday vocabulary of American college students is very different from those highbrow words you crammed for your IELTS or TOEFL test. You will probably hear hundreds of new words, abbreviations and phrases within your first few weeks already.

As we don’t want you to feel lost and overwhelmed at your new school, we’ve created this handy cheat-sheet that explains some commonly used American phrases and idioms. If you learn these, you are bound to feel right at home hanging out in your school’s dining hall with your new American classmates.

Cray = There’s being crazy, and then there’s cray! This signifies a whole other level of craziness and wild insanity, whether that’s referring to a person or your load of homework. “This assignment is cray”. You can even double the word for maximum effect: “Fred has to drink three Redbulls before each exam just to stay awake. That’s cray-cray!”

Ghosting = When that guy or girl you have been messaging with suddenly stops responding to your WhatsApps and just fades out of your life like a ghost.

Hard copy vs. soft copy = If a teacher asks you to turn in a hard copy of your essay, it means you need to print out the pages and physically hand them in. If the professor asks for a soft copy, it means that you can submit your work electronically via email.


Throwing shade = It means you are talking negatively about a person. When you throw shade at someone, for example by saying “That guy’s shirt is so out of fashion!,” you are usually the one who ends up looking bad.

Lit  = Something fun and exciting (so much so that it’s practically lit on fire). If your class is taking a trip to Universal Studios, you could say “It’s lit!”

Awesome sauce / amazeballs = Just two more ways to say something is awesome or extremely great, or even better than that.

It’s been a slice = This comes from “It’s been a slice of heaven,” meaning you have had a wonderful time. You can also say, “It’s been a real slice!” to emphasize your point.

Bae = Before anyone else. This is your significant other, your love, your sweetie, your honey. It’s an alternative phrase for babe or boo.

On point / on fleek = Things that are just right or excellent. “Your outfit is on fleek!”

Adulting / to adult = Doing things that a responsible adult would do, like paying your rent on time or buying more toilet paper before the previous roll is empty.

Woke = To be aware of politics and recent social issues. The word often comes up during classroom and social media discussions about race and identity. If you are thinking of life and situations only from your own perspective and aren’t seeing the bigger picture, your classmate might tell you, “You need to get woke.”

Salty = Being annoyed, upset or angry. “He is salty because his team lost the college football game.

Giving me life = Something that is really exciting or good. “That new song is giving me life!”  

Clutch = This is a term that comes from sports. It’s something that changes things for the better and turns them around, such as a football player scoring a goal at the last minute. Nowadays it’s also used in non-sporty conversations: “I ended up getting a front-row seat at that concert. That was clutch!”

Side-eye = Quiet disapproval of someone. Giving someone side-eye means you are looking at someone disapprovingly from the corner of your eye.

Pulling an all-nighter = Studying for an exam or writing a term paper without going to sleep all night. “I came to class though I’m so tired. I pulled an all-nighter.”


Bougie = A mainstream word used by everyone from teens to middle-aged people, referring to something upscale and fancy. Bougie is short from the French word bourgeoisie, referring to the wealthy upper middle class and their behaviours. If your classmate suggests meeting at an organic restaurant that charges $16 for a grassfed burger, you might say “That’s too bougie. I vote for the college dining hall instead.”

Swag = Another new way of saying someone or something is stylish and cool. “You have so much swag.”

Roll through = To drive somewhere with your car. “I’m rolling through your city tomorrow.”

Basic = Someone who is exceedingly ordinary and un-noteworthy, but thinks that she or he is something special. Basic girls love gushing on Instagram when they buy pumpkin spiced lattes from Starbucks. A basic bro is a guy who wears a cap backwards and plays fantasy football.

Bruh = It literally means brother, but most often refers to a really good friend.

Fam = This is short from family, but refers to your group of closest friends.

Keeping it 100  = Being upfront and honest about something, being yourself. This was popularized by talk show host Larry Wilmore and rapper Drake, and is a modern version of “Keeping it real.”

FOMO = Fear of Missing Out. Someone with really bad FOMO has to attend four parties in one night because he or she can’t stand the thought of missing out on any fun stuff.

Dank = Very good. The word is used to describe anything of high quality. “This burrito is dank!” or “That pizza is the dankness.” Dank can also be used in an ironic, sarcastic way to mean the opposite of good. “A dank meme” generally refers to an Internet joke has been overdone and has become annoying.

For more about life as an international student, visit SchoolApply!

About the Writer: Mirva Lempiäinen is a US-educated freelance journalist from Finland. After calling New York City home for about a decade, she now resides on the French-Caribbean island of Guadeloupe.