Terms You Need to Know

glossary terms Feb 24, 2023

The following terms are briefly defined so that you can have an understanding of the terms and acronyms you’ll begin hearing regularly in the high school to college journey.

ACT: A standardized test used for national college admissions. All 4-year colleges and universities in the US accept ACT scores. More on the ACT.

Associate’s Degree: This is a 2-year degree typically offered by junior or community colleges, and sometimes at 4-year colleges and technical schools. More on associate’s degrees.

AP Classes/Tests (Advanced Placement Classes/Tests): The AP program offers standardized courses that give students the ability to earn college credit while in high school. Credit is accepted by participating colleges for students who score high enough on AP tests. More on AP Classes and Tests.

Award Letter: A financial aid document sent to admitted students that outlines the terms of an awarded financial aid package. More on award letters.

Bachelor’s Degree: This is a 4-year degree typically offered by 4-year colleges and universities. More on bachelor’s degrees.

Class Rank: Class rank measures how your grade point average (GPA) stacks up against your peers. More on class rank.

Common Application (Common App): A standard, free application form used to apply to over 450 American colleges and universities. More on the Common Application.

Concentration (Major): An area of concentration in a particular field of study. Students typically declare their major by the end of their sophomore year of college. More on college majors.

CSS Profile: An additional financial application is required by some colleges in addition to the FAFSA. More on the CSS Profile.

Deferred Admission: When a student applies to a top-choice college as "Early Decision", the college can reply in one of 3 ways: accepted, rejected, or deferred. Deferred means your application will be reconsidered along with other regular applications. The college may have some questions about whether you and the college are a good fit. Call the admissions office to ask why you were deferred. Remain professional when you call. Reiterate your strong interest in attending that college or university, and ask if you can provide them with additional information or work on any areas to improve your likelihood of being admitted. Ask how many deferred candidates are ultimately accepted. This will help you be realistic about how likely your efforts will produce an acceptance at that college.

Once you find out your application was deferred, work on ways of improving yourself as a candidate. If grades are the issue, write a letter to let the college know if you’ve scored good grades since you submitted your application. If the concerns are more general, let them know about any organizations you’ve joined or honors you’ve received since you sent in your application. You may want to submit an additional letter of recommendation from a respected adult who can speak highly of you.

Early Action (EA): Under this admission program, a student can apply early to more than one college but is not bound to attend if accepted. More on early action.

Early Decision (ED): Under this admission program, a student can apply early to only one choice college as Early Decision and must attend this college if accepted. While waiting on a response the student can apply Early Action or Regular Decision to additional colleges.

Expected Family Contribution (EFC): This is the amount a student’s family can be expected to contribute to one year of college expenses. Your EFC is based on your family’s financial income and assets. It is then subtracted from the cost of attendance (COA) of attending each school you’re admitted to. The resulting sum is considered your financial need, or the amount of financial aid you’re eligible for. More on EFC.

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA): The FAFSA is a financial aid form that must be filled out by all students seeking federal, and sometimes state, aid. Most colleges require the FAFSA. More on FAFSA. When filing the FAFSA you need to know which schools you want financial information sent to. Your information will be sent to those colleges and universities for determining student aid. When a college accepts you they will send an acceptance letter along with an award letter listing any financial aid, scholarships, or work-study being offered. If you need to add a school after you’ve submitted the FAFSA you’ll have to make that change on your Make Corrections to a Processed FAFSA form or call the Federal Student Aid Information Center and submit your information to that school by that school’s last day of enrollment (or by mid-September of college freshman year). Contact that school’s admissions office or financial aid office to find out when their last day of enrollment is.

You don’t have to accept all the financial aid you’ve been offered. Remember, scholarships and grants are ‘gifts’ that are not paid back. Federal loans are also listed under ‘aid’ but are not gifts. They do have to be paid back. Use caution and be sure you know exactly WHAT you are ‘accepting’.

Gap Year: A gap year refers to a student taking a year after he graduates high school before he continues his education in college. Some students take a gap year to travel, for an internship, community service, work, or college prep or to better prepare their application to be accepted to the school of their choice.

Not all colleges will defer your scholarships for one year. So check with your intended college before taking a gap year. Those that do, will usually require your deposit before May 1 to ensure your seat.

Grade Point Average (GPA): A GPA is a calculated average of the letter grades a student earns throughout high school. GPA indicates overall academic performance. 

Grant: A grant is money given to a student for college that does not need to be repaid. Grants differ from scholarships in that they are awarded based on financial need, not merit.

Humanities: Humanities courses are courses that focus on human culture and development, including art, religion, music, literature, and foreign languages.

Independent Study: This form of study allows students to design coursework under the instruction of a faculty member.

Legacy: A legacy is a college applicant whose parents or grandparents graduated from the prospective school.

Liberal Arts: A liberal arts education exposes students to a broad course of study, including humanities, social sciences, mathematics, and natural sciences.

Major (Concentration): An area of concentration in a particular field of study. Students typically declare their major by the end of their sophomore year of college although some colleges expect a student to choose a major field of study sooner. 

Minor: A minor is a secondary field of study, typically different from one’s major.

Need-Based Financial Aid: Need-based financial aid is financial aid based on a student’s family’s inability to pay full tuition. More on need-based financial aid.

Open Admission: An admissions type, usually found at community colleges or online schools, that admits all students who hold a high school diploma or GED.

PSAT/NMSQT (Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.): The PSAT is a standardized test and is the qualifying test for National Merit Scholarships. More on the PSAT.

Registrar: College registrars manage student records, schedule classes, prepare transcripts, and collect college tuition and fees. More on the registrar.

Residential Life: The college department that manages dorms and on-campus housing.

Rolling Admissions: An admissions type that allows students to apply at any time during the admission period, usually on a first-come, first-serve basis.

SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test): The SAT reasoning test is the most widely-used standardized test for college admissions. More on the SAT.

Scholarship: A scholarship is money given to students for college that doesn’t need to be repaid. Scholarships are awarded based on academic, extracurricular, or athletic merit. More on scholarships.

Standardized Tests: These tests evaluate academic skills and provide academic performance reports to educational professionals like teachers, professors, and admissions officers.

Student Aid Report (SAR): This financial Student Aid Report, which includes the Expected Family Contribution, is sent to students after colleges receive the students’ FAFSA. 

When you receive it, immediately review it for accuracy. If you need to make changes, either because the information is incorrect or your financial situation has changed since you submitted your FAFSA form, you should make those changes as soon as possible and have your FAFSA re-processed.

It will inform you if you are eligible for a federal grant, college loan, or work-study. It will also state if your application was selected for verification. Each year some forms are selected for this process and your school confirms your information on the FAFSA is accurate. If your FAFSA is selected your school will tell you which documentation you are required to submit.

The SAR will also inform you if additional information or documentation is required to be eligible for federal aid. If no further information is needed, your SAR will also include your EFC (Expected Family Contribution)-see above.

Super score: This is the average of the highest individual section scores of several ACT exam dates or the sum of your highest section scores across different SAT test dates. If the super score or super composite is used, this increases the probability of higher scholarships based on the test score and possibly skipping out of freshman year introductory courses in English and Math.

Transcript: The official record of a student’s academic process, in high school or college. 

Undergraduate: A college student working toward an undergraduate associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

Valedictorian: Valedictorian is a title given to a student at a high school graduation. Usually, this title is given to the highest-ranked student in the graduating class.

Wait List: A list of applicants who might be accepted once admitted students decided whether to accept or reject a school’s offer.

Work-Study: A federally (or sometimes state) funded program that gives a student a campus job in exchange for financial aid. The state or federal government subsidizes the university to pay for on-campus jobs for qualifying students.


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