College Admissions Terms


Common Application:
The Common Application was created in 1975 as an undergraduate college admissions application allowing students to complete one application and send multiple copies to any member school of the Common App. Now there are almost 900 schools across the country that accept the Common App. The Common App promotes a holistic application review by requiring several components, including a personal essay, recommendation letters, an extracurricular activities list, optional supplemental questions, standardized test scores, and the high school transcript. The Common App now uses a fully online application format that allows students to edit their application before submitting it to multiple colleges. 

The Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success Application: The Coalition Application is a new application created to begin use in fall 2016 as a centralized “toolkit” platform that allows students to build and organize a portfolio of their work across all four years of high school. The philosophy behind the creation of this application is to allow students to start thinking about their college process early on and to help students who may not have access to college guidance by removing some of the obstacles these students can face. There are currently 90 member institutions that accept the Coalition Application. This is the only application that requires member institutions to meet a set of characteristic in order to join. All member institutions must have a graduation rate of 70% or more in six years, and they must offer need-based financial aid.

A Shared Application for a System of Colleges: Some state school systems share a general application that can be submitted to all colleges in the state system. Examples of this are the University of Minnesota, University of Wisconsin, and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. These applications allow students to apply to multiple schools within the system with one application.

The Universal Application
: The Universal Application was created in 2007 and is similar to the Common App but only has 9 current participating colleges. Same as the Common App, students only need to fill out this application one time and then the same application can be submitted to all participating colleges on the student’s list. Many colleges that accept the Universal App will also accept the Common App.

Individual College Applications: Some colleges still offer a separate application that only applies to their institution. Most colleges who offer their own application will also accept the Common Application.


Early Action:
Of the two most common early application options (see Early Decision), Early Action is the non-binding one—aka, the less intense one. With Early Action, you'll also submit your application around November and usually get your decision by December, but you can still apply to other schools Early Action, and you don't have to commit to a school if you're admitted. Some schools also split these deadlines, with an "Early Action I" falling a few weeks before "Early Action II" (but still before Regular Decision deadlines). 

Early Decision:
With Early Decision, you submit your application around November and usually get your decision by December. Though Early Decision deadlines have a similar timeline to Early Action (see below), it has one huge difference: they are binding. That means by applying to a school Early Decision (and you would only apply to one school Early Decision), you are agreeing to enroll if you are admitted. If accepted, you must contact any other colleges you applied to and withdraw your applications. Early Decision is not for the faint of heart—or the unsure applicant. Only apply Early Decision if you are 100% sure the college is the one for you.

Open admissions:
A policy of accepting any high school graduate, no matter what his or her grades are, until all spaces in the incoming class are filled. Almost all two-year community colleges have an open-admission policy. However, a college with a general open-admission policy may have admission requirements for certain programs.

Regular Decision:
Ah, good ol’ Regular Decision. Nothing too crazy to report here: these deadlines are non-binding and widely available. Regular Decision deadlines for fall admission usually occur in the preceding January or February, and students will receive a decision by April.

Rolling admission:
Schools with rolling admission deadlines (also non-binding) accept applications until their programs fill up, often as late as April and through the summer. However, there's a chance of losing your spot if the class fills up, and you could miss out on scholarship opportunities, so it’s best not to wait too long. (Many rolling admission schools recommend applying on the same timeline as their Regular Decision counterparts.) Also, some colleges with rolling deadlines will still have set admission deadlines for particular academic programs (such as Physical Therapy). Again, check with your schools to be sure!

Single Choice Early Action
: Single Choice Early Action is a non-binding but exclusive deadline; it functions much like the typical Early Action deadlines, ex

cept you can only apply to one school this way (hence “single choice”). Not many schools offer this option, but for those that do, it shows you’re that much more interested in attending the institution (and admission counselors like to see that!).


PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test): The PSAT is a test taken by sophomores or juniors in high school looking to gain test-taking experience in preparation for the ACT and SAT. The PSAT serves as great practice and taking it qualifies you for the National Merit Scholarship, which could eventually help you save on college. Because the PSAT is only a practice test, the score you receive on it does not affect your transcript. In fact, your PSAT score is for your betterment; your score can identify areas where you need to apply more study time, which may help you prepare for the ACT and SAT more efficiently.

ACT (American College Test): The ACT is another standardized aptitude test designed to measure a student's readiness for college. Like the SAT, the ACT measures a student's potential to perform well in college. Test questions are based on standard high school subjects. The test is multiple choice and consists of four subject areas: English, mathematics, reading and science. There is also an optional writing section, which if chosen, complements the ACT English test. Some colleges require the writing test; others don't. You should decide whether or not to take the writing test based on the requirements of the schools you plan on applying to. Each section is scored on a scale of 1–36, and your final score is an average of all four subject areas. (If you take the writing test, you receive a subject-level writing score and an ELA score, which averages the English, reading and writing scores.) The ACT is offered six to seven times a year, and the actual test time is just under three hours (not including the 30-minute writing section).

SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test): The SAT is a standardized aptitude test that measures a student's readiness for college. It is made up of three sections: reading, writing and language, math and an optional essay. Questions are generally multiple choice, and the essay involves analyzing a piece of writing. Each section is scored on a scale from 200–800, with a total possible score of 1,600. Optional essay results are reported separately. Be sure to find out if your colleges of choice require SAT essay scores before you take the test. The SAT is offered seven times throughout the year, and you are given three hours to complete it (the optional essay takes an additional 50 minutes).

SAT Subject Tests: Formerly known as the SAT II, SAT Subject Tests measure your knowledge in particular subject areas, as well as your ability to apply that knowledge. Administered separately from the SAT, they are usually only required by extremely selective schools. Of those selective schools, most recommend prospective students take two of the five Subject Tests available: English, History, Mathematics, Science and Languages. The tests are constantly updated to stay current with educational trends, but they are always multiple-choice exams about one hour in duration. Many colleges use the Subject Tests for admission, for course placement and to advise students about course selection.

TOEFL (Test Of English As A Foreign Language): The TOEFL is a standardized test measuring one's ability to speak and understand English at a college level. This test is often a requirement for students applying from outside the U.S., and it can be taken over the Internet or as a written test. The TOEFL is a four-subject test covering reading, writing, speaking and listening and it lasts four hours. Scores are valid for up to two years after the test date.

ACCUPLACER: A computerized placement test used by many community and technical colleges to assess an incoming student's proficiency in reading, writing, English and mathematics. The ACCUPLACER assessments include tests on the following subjects: arithmetic, college-level math, elementary algebra, reading comprehension, sentence skills, WritePlacer (essay writing) and English as a Second Language (ESL).

AP (Advanced Placement): Advanced Placement exams are a series of standardized achievement tests taken by high school students to test their mastery of college-level material in a variety of courses. Like the SAT Subject Tests, AP exams measure knowledge of the subject area learned in school, and are generally taken after a student has completed (or come close to completing) an AP course. However, not all schools offer AP courses, and students may take the exams without completing the AP course. Each exam is scored on a 1–5 scale, and scores are based on the student's performance compared to all other students who have taken the exam. Scoring a 4 or 5 (sometimes even a 3) on the exam will often count toward college credits at most colleges and universities.

College Level Examination Program (CLEP): This is for students who want to get college credit by taking proficiency tests in selected courses. If you score high enough on the the CLEP, college credit can be awarded. 

Alternative assessment: This method personalizes the admissions process and offers students an opportunity to be viewed more individually and holistically. Less emphasis is placed on standardized test scores and more on the interview, portfolio, recommendations, and essay.

Silent scores: The term is applied to PSAT scores because only the student and his or her guidance counselor see the scores. They are not reported to colleges. It is the "practice without penalty" feature of the test.

Superscoring: The process by which colleges consider your highest section scores across all the dates you took the SAT. Rather than confining your scores to one particular date, these schools will take your highest section scores, forming the highest possible composite score

Test-Optional: A test-optional college either doesn’t require SAT or ACT scores for admission, or deemphasizes the importance of SAT and ACT scores

in the admissions process.


Associate Degree: This two-year degree is an Associate of Arts (A.A.) or Associate of Science (A.S.). Some students who earn this degree transfer to a four-year program to earn a bachelor’s degree. Others complete associate degrees to prepare to go straight to work. Community colleges, career colleges and some four-year colleges offer these degrees.

Bachelor’s (or Baccalaureate) Degree: This degree requires completing a four- or five-year college program. Most students earn a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or Bachelor of Science degree (B.S.). Other types of bachelor’s degrees include the Bachelor of Fine Arts or Bachelor of Architecture degree.

Graduate Degree: Graduate degrees are advanced degrees pursued after earning a bachelor’s degree. Examples are a Master of Arts (M.A.) or Master of Science (M.S.) degree. Students generally can earn a master’s degree after two years of study. A doctoral degree (for example, a Ph.D.) requires four or more years of study.

Professional Degree: Students earn professional degrees to become licensed to work in professions like medicine or law. The M.D. degree is an example. Professional programs generally require a college degree before you start them and then at least three years of study to complete.

One and Two Year Technical Diplomas: These programs help you learn occupational skills, hands-on and some programs can take as little as one or two years to complete, respectively, for full-time students.

Short-Term (less than one year) Diploma: These short-term programs focus on one particular occupation and can take less than a year to complete if attending full-time.

Certificates: Certificates provide a streamlined education to enhance jobs skills. Whether you are changing career focus or staying in your current field, each technical college offers a variety of certificate options.

Apprentice-Related Instruction: Apprentice-related instruction combines on-the-job training and classroom-related instruction. Workers learn the practical and theoretical aspects of a highly-skilled occupation within two to five years. There are hundreds of apprenticeship programs available in construction, service and industrial occupations.


Admit: The student has been admitted to the college.  
Conditional admission: An offer of admission contingent upon certain conditions, such as a mandated grade point average.

Deferred admission: An admission outcome wherein a student who has applied for early admission is not accepted or rejected, rather their application is reconsidered within the regular admission pool, and a decision on acceptance or rejection is revealed with other regular decision applications in the spring. 

Deny: The student is not offered freshman admission. 
Special Entry Applicant: A person who does not meet the minimum entry requirements of a particular academic program and is admitted to that academic program through special entry provisions.

Waitlist: The student's application has been placed on a waitlist. Although the applicant is academically prepared to succeed in college, the college must make certain they do not exceed the number of spaces available. Waitlisted applicants typically receive an update on the status of their applications in early June. 2020. If determined that spaces remain available, the overall strongest applicants are admitted from the waitlist


Admission rate: The percentage of applicants who are admitted to a particular college. 

Articulation agreement: An agreement between two-year and four-year colleges that makes it easier to transfer credits between them. It spells out which courses count for degree credit and the grades you need to earn to get credit.

Campus interview: An optional component of the admission process where the student schedules a visit with an admission officer.

Candidates Reply Date Agreement (CRDA): If admitted to a college, a student does not have to reply until May 1. This allows time to hear from all the colleges to which the student applied before having to make a commitment to any of them. This is especially important because financial aid packages vary from one school to another, and the CRDA allows time to compare packages before deciding.

Class rank: A measure used to show how a student's academic performance compares to that of their peers within the same high school class.

College essay: Most applications require one major essay, usually between 500 and 650 words. This should be roughly one solid page of your best writing, written in a narrative style and with a personal focus.

College essay supplement: Many schools require students to write additional essays specific to their school, the most common of which asks some version of, “Why do you want to attend this college?” These essays tend to be shorter than the main personal statement, though some can be just as long.

College-preparatory subjects: Courses taken in high school that are viewed by colleges and universities as a strong preparation for college work. The specific courses are usually in the five major area of English, history, world languages, mathematics, and science. 

Course rigor: The difficulty of your coursework, especially relative to available classes at your school. 

Deferred enrollment: A decision made by the student to postpone their admission to college, sometimes used to take a gap year.

Demonstrated interest: Various ways in which a student shows their interest in attending a specific institution prior to the official application process. Measures of demonstrated interest vary from college to college, but can include taking a campus tour, contacting the admission office, registering for a overnight program on campus, and more.

First-Generation: College applicants who are the first in their families to apply and attend a postsecondary institution.

Gap year: A student's decision to postpone their acceptance to college, usually during the year between senior year of high school and freshman year of college.

Grade Point Average: A component on high school transcripts that averages all of a student's grades, typically on a 4.0 scale. Some schools give more weight to grades earned through higher-level coursework.

Holistic review: In addition to numeric factors like grades, courses, and scores, a school will also use some combination of more subjective application materials like essays, extracurricular engagement, letters of recommendation, or an interview.

Informed interest: A subset of demonstrated interest, which is meant to show how informed a student is about a particular college or degree program. Students can demonstrate informed interest by writing detailed “why this college” essays that mention specific courses, professors, and more. They can also demonstrate informed interest in interviews, supplemental essays, and more.

Legacy applicant: A college applicant with a relative (usually a parent or grandparent) who graduated from that college. Some colleges give preference to legacy applicants (also called “legacies”).

Letter of recommendation: Non-familial references submitted by students during the admission process.

Need-aware admission: A policy in which colleges consider applicants’ ability to pay when admitting or rejecting them. 

Need-blind admission: A policy in which students are accepted without regard to their financial need. 

Numeric review: A school makes its decision (admit, waitlist, deny) entirely on the numbers, using a combination of grades, coursework, and testing to select its admitted class.

Official scores: Scores sent directly from the testing company to a college, often required for an application to be considered “complete.”

Portfolio: Some schools allow for students to submit an additional part of the application to showcase talent in a particular area, most notably in the arts, but also in some cases for engineering.

Retention rate: The percentage of first-year students who continue at that college or university for a second year of studies.

Selectivity: Institutional statistic that compares the number of students who apply to those who are accepted.

Sophomore standing: The status of a second-year student. A college may grant sophomore standing to an incoming freshman if he or she has earned college credits through courses, exams or other programs.

Summer melt: A trend describing students who apply and are accepted to college, but ultimately do not attend.

Transcript: Not to be confused with your report card, the transcript is an official document from your high school that includes your courses, grades, and a variety of other information such as class rank, number of absences, and in some cases, even an immunization record. 

Virtual visit: This is the use of the Internet to investigate various colleges by looking at their home pages. A student can "tour" the college, ask questions vie e-mail, read school newspapers, and explore course offerings and major requirements on line. 

Waiver to view recommendations: The form many high schools ask their students to sign by which they agree not to review their teachers' recommendation letters before they are sent to the colleges or universities to which they are applying.

Yield: The percentage of students offered admission to a college who subsequently enroll. 


Academic year: The period in which school is in session - typically September through May. 

Accrual date: The date on which interest charges on an educational loan begin to accrue. 

Adjusted available income: The remaining income after taxes and a basic living allowance have been subtracted (in the Federal Methodology). 

Assets: Cash in checking and savings accounts, trusts, stocks, bonds, other securities, real estate (excluding home), income-producing property, business equipment, and business inventory. Considered in determining expected family contribution (EFC). 

Asset protection allowance: The portion of parents' assets that are not included in the calculation of the parent contribution (calculated by Federal Methodology formula). 

Award letter: Official letter from the college financial aid office that lists all the financial aid awarded to the student. 

Budget: The estimated cost of attendance for a student at an institution: typically includes tuition, fees, books, supplies, room, board, personal expenses and transportation. 

Bursar's Office: The university office responsible for the billing and collection of university charges. 

Campus-based programs: U.S. Department of Education federal student aid programs administered by colleges and universities. Includes: Federal Perkins Loan, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) and Federal Work-Study (FWS). 

Central Processing System (CPS): The computer system that receives the student's need analysis data. The Central Processing System performs database matches and calculates the official Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and sends out the Student Aid Report (SAR). 

Collateral: Property used to secure a loan which can be seized if the borrower defaults on a loan. 

Commercial lender: A commercial bank, savings and loan association, credit union, stock savings bank, trust company or mutual savings bank. 

Commuter student: A student who lives at home and travels to school. 

Consolidation loan: Loan that allows borrowers to lower their monthly payments by replacing their original loans with one loan. Consolidation loans typically have longer repayment periods and greater interest. 

Cooperative education (Co-op): Many college programs offer paid opportunities to gain professional, full-time work experience while enrolled in college. 

Cosigner: Individual who assumes responsibility for a loan if the borrower fails to repay. 

Cost of attendance: Also known as the budget, it includes tuition and fees, room and board, allowances for books and supplies, transportation, and personal and incidental expenses. 

Custodial parent: In cases where a student's parents are divorced or separated, the custodial parent is the parent with whom the student lived the most during the past 12 months. 

Default: Failure to repay or otherwise meet the terms and condition of a loan. Default typically occurs after six months of delinquent payments. Penalties include a bad credit rating, loss of future financial aid eligibility, withholding of tax refunds, garnishing wages and loss of monthly payment options. 

Deferment of loan: Period during which the repayment of the loan is suspended because the borrower meets certain eligibility requirements (e.g., enrolled in college at least half time). 

Delinquency: Failure to make a scheduled loan payment. 

Dependency status: A student's dependency status determines the degree to which the student has access to parent financial resources. An independent student is at least 24 years old as of January 1, is married, is a graduate or professional student, has a legal dependent other than a spouse, is a U.S. Armed Forces veteran or is/was an orphan or ward of the court. 

Direct loans: A new federal program where the school becomes the lending agency and manages the loan funds directly, with the federal government providing the loan funds. Not all schools currently participate in this program. 

Disbursement: The process by which financial aid funds are made available to students for use in meeting educational and related living expenses. Funds may be disbursed directly to the student, or applied to the student's account. 

Enrollment status: Indication of whether student attends full or part time. Typically students must be enrolled at least half time (and in some cases full time) to qualify for financial aid. 

Expected Family Contribution (EFC): The dollar amount that a family is expected to pay toward a student's educational costs. EFC is based on family earnings, assets, students in college and family size. 

Federal Direct Student Loan Program (FDSLP): Loans provided by the U.S. government directly to students and their parents through their schools. 

Federal methodology: The need analysis formula used to determine a family's expected family contribution. The Federal Methodology considers family size, the number of family members in college, taxable and nontaxable income and assets. 

Federal processor: The Federal Processor is the organization that processes the information submitted on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and uses it to compute eligibility for federal student aid. 

Federal Stafford Loan: Federally-guaranteed, low-interest rate for students. There are two types of Federal Stafford loans: subsidized (need-based) and unsubsidized (non-need-based). Both types allow deferment of payments until a student leaves school. 

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG): These are federal grants for students with exceptional financial need (as determined by the college). Approximately five percent of undergraduates are recipients of FSEOG. 

Federal Work-Study: Federally sponsored Work-Study (FWS) Program provides undergraduate and graduate students with school-year part-time employment. The Federal Government pays some of the student's salary, which helps departments and businesses pay for and ultimately hire students. Eligibility is based on financial need. 

Financial aid administrator: University employee responsible for preparing and communicating information about student loans, grants, scholarships and employment programs, and for advising, awarding, reporting, counseling and supervising student financial aid office functions. 

Financial aid package: The total amount of financial aid a student receives, including grants, loans, and federal work-study. Unsubsidized Stafford loans and PLUS loans are not considered part of the package. 

Financial aid transcript: A record of all financial aid awards a student received at other educational institutions. 

Financial need: The difference between the student's educational costs and the Expected Family Contribution.

Fixed interest loans: Interest rate stays the same for the life of the loan. 

Forbearance: The approved temporary suspension of loan payments due to a financial hardship (interest continues to accrue). 

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA): The application students must first complete to apply for virtually all forms of financial aid. Available by calling 1-800-4-FED-AID, and on the web by following the links on the FAFSA website. 

Gift aid: Grants and scholarships that do not need to be repaid. 

Grace Perio: The period after a student either graduates or leaves school and before loan payments must begin (typically six to nine months). 

Grant: Financial aid that does not have to be paid back - typically based on financial need. 

Guarantee fee: A percentage of the loan that is paid to the guarantor to insure the loan against default. The fee is usually one percent of the loan amount. 

Guarantor: A state agency or private, nonprofit organization that administers a student loan insurance program. 

Home equity: The current market value of the home minus the mortgage's unpaid principal (based on market value). 

Income Contingent Repayment: The size of the monthly payments depends on the income earned by the borrower. As the borrower's income increases, so do payments. 

Institutional methodology: A formula some schools devise to determine financial need for allocating their own institutional financial aid funds. 

Lender: A bank, credit union or other financial institution that provides funds to the student or parent for an educational loan. 

Merit-based aid: Financial aid based on academic, artistic, athletic or other merit-oriented criteria (not financial need). 

Need analysis: The process used by a college to evaluate an applicant's financial resources and determine how much the student or family can pay toward the cost of the education. 

Need-blind admissions: The school decides whether to offer of admission to a student without considering the student's financial situation. Most schools use a need-blind admissions process. 

Need-sensitive admissions: The school takes the student's financial situation into account for some admissions decisions. Some schools use need-sensitive admissions for borderline students. 

Packaging: A financial aid administrator's attempt at combining various types of student aid (grants, loans, scholarship and employment) to attempt to meet a student's financial need. 

Parents' contribution: A quantitative estimate - calculated by the federal government - of the parents' ability to contribute to post-secondary educational expenses. 

Pell Grant: Federal grant program for undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need and have not yet completed a baccalaureate degree. 

Perkins Loan: Low-interest, subsidized federal loan (five percent) for students with exceptional financial need (as determined by the college). 

PLUS Loans (Parent Loans for Undergraduate Students): Federal loans available to parents of dependent undergraduate students to help finance their child's education. Parents may borrow up to the difference between education costs and financial aid received from a bank or other lending institution. 

Preferred lender list: A college's list of loan providers that they recommend to students. 

Prepaid tuition plan: A college savings plan guaranteed to rise in value at the same rate as college tuition. Several states and institutions offer such programs. 

Principal: The amount borrowed or owed on a loan. 

Professional judgement: For need-based federal aid programs, financial aid administrators can adjust the expected family contribution (EFC), or the cost of attendance (COA), or change the dependency status (with documentation) when extenuating circumstances exist (for example, if a parent becomes unemployed, disabled or deceased). 

Promissory note: A legally binding contract a student signs before receiving loan funds that details the terms of the loan and obligates the borrower to repay. 

Satisfactory academic progress: A school's policy concerning the minimum number of courses that must be completed each semester, the maximum time frame, and the minimum GPA required to receive financial aid. 

Scholarship: A form of financial assistance that does not require repayment or employment and which is usually offered to students who show potential for distinction, or who possess certain characteristics important to the scholarship provider (such as religious beliefs, hobbies, ethnicity, etc.). 

Secondary market: An organization that buys loans from lenders, which provides the lender with the capital to issue new loans. 

Servicer: An organization that is paid by a lender to administer their student loan portfolio. 

Simplified needs test: An alternate method of calculating the expected family contribution for families with adjusted gross incomes less than $50,000, who have filed or are eligible to file an IRS Form 1040A or 1040EZ or who are not required to file an income tax return. 

State Student Incentive Grants: States receive matching funds from the federal government to help fund this program for state residents. 

Student Aid Report (SAR): The official notification sent to students after submitting the FAFSA. Students may be required to submit this document to the college's financial aid office. 

Student contribution: A quantitative estimate of the student's ability to contribute to postsecondary education expenses. (Typically 35 percent of his or her savings and half of the student's summer earnings above $1,750). 

Subsidized loan: A loan that student borrowers do not have to pay interest on until after their grace period expires. 

Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant (SEOG): Federal grant program for undergraduate students with exceptional need. SEOG grants up to $4,000 are awarded by the school's financial aid office. 

Title IV programs: Federal student aid programs authorized under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended. Includes Federal Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, Federal Work Study, Federal Perkins Loan, Federal Stafford Loan, Federal PLUS Loan, Direct Loan, Direct PLUS Loan and SSIG. 

Unmet need: Difference between a student's total cost of attendance at a specific institution and the student's total available resources, including financial aid. 

Unsubsidized loan: A loan that student borrowers must pay all the interest on, including while they are enrolled. 

Verification: The review process in which the financial aid officer requests documentation from a financial aid applicant to verify the accuracy of the application.