There’s a great deal of information out there about the college admissions process and, unsurprisingly, there are also many related terms worth knowing. A basic understanding of these terms is like having a compass to the college admissions process in your pocket, making your high school years a lot more manageable. This being the case, I present you with a Glossary of Important Admissions Terms!
May this list of terms help to guide you on your journey to college.
529 Plan – An education savings plan operated by a state or college/university. There are two types of 529 plans – prepaid tuition plans and college savings plans. These plans allow for tax-free withdrawals and growth. Click here for more information.
ACT – This standardized test is a “national college admissions examination that consists of subject area tests in English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science.” Students needing or wanting to submit test scores to colleges generally take either the ACT or the SAT (see below). Click here for more information.
Admitster – A company working to level the college admissions playing field, providing families with a host of resources. Examples include free tools (the College List Building Tool, Predictions of your chances of admission at the schools on your list, and our What If? Engine, which helps you to determine your best strategy for admission) and affordable services (Essay Reviews and personalized Admissions Advising). There’s also a great bookstore to check out, with unbiased reviews of college admissions books.
Accredited – Look for colleges and universities that are accredited, as this means that the school has met minimum academic requirements (recognized by the U.S. Department of Education) and is therefore eligible to participate in federal student aid programs.
Affirmative Action – Positive discrimination in college admissions, favoring members of a disadvantaged group or groups. Most often, it refers to the use of race and ethnicity in admissions decisions. Today, the debate surrounding affirmative action rages on, with people standing firmly on both sides of the fence as to whether it’s a good thing or a terrible policy.
Associate Degree – This is an undergraduate degree that is earned after two years of study, generally awarded by community colleges.
Bachelor’s Degree – This is an undergraduate degree that is earned after four years of study, awarded by colleges and universities.
College Abacus – This site is a resource worth checking out, providing “a free service that allows users to compare their projected cost of education across schools and to identify schools within their budgets.” Click here for more information.
College App Map – A website that provides you with information on the most useful apps, dependent on where you are in the college admissions process. Click here for more information.
The College Board – A non-profit organization that, among many other things, develops and administers the SAT and SAT Subject Tests. It also oversees the Advanced Placement (AP) Program. Click here for more information.
College Destinations Index – An index compiled by the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) that provides detailed information on 75 of the top-ranked college towns and cities in the country. Click here for more information.
College Rankings – There are many different college ranking systems out there, all of which are designed to rank colleges based on a number of different attributes and factors. Click here for more information.
The Common Application – The Common Application, affectionately known as The Common App, is an undergraduate admissions application that allows students to apply to a number of different member schools (and there are over 500 of them) using one application. Be aware, however, that individual colleges and universities will often ask for supplements to The Common App. Click here for more information.
Early Action – Students applying to a school using the early action option will usually submit their completed applications by mid-November and hear back from colleges by January. However, being accepted via early action does not commit the applicant to that particular college or university, and students usually don’t need to inform the college of whether to expect them at orientation or not until May 1st. You can apply via early action to more than one school.
Early Decision – As is the case with early action, an early decision applicant applies to his/her dream college in the fall. However, there are crucial differences to note between early action and early decision! For instance, you can only apply to one school using the early decision option, and you should only apply to this one school if you really want to go there, because if you’re accepted then you’re committed to attending.
Educational Tax Credits – A tax credit specifically for college expenses. For instance, to read about the American Opportunity Tax Credit, click here.
FAFSA – This is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form, which helps you to determine your eligibility for federal student aid. Based on the information in your FAFSA form, Federal Student Aid may offer you a Pell Grant, a Stafford Loan, participation in the Federal Work-Study Program, or a Federal Perkins Loan. Click here for more information.
FAFSA4caster – This planning tool is essentially a financial aid calculator that will give you a free estimate of how much financial aid you are likely to receive. Click here for more information.
Fair Test – The National Center for Fair and Open Testing. These guys are your best resource for the most up-to-date and comprehensive list of test-optional schools. Click here for more information.
Federal Work-Study Program – The program provides part-time employment for students while they’re in school. The work-study component on your college financial aid award letter lets you know the most that you can earn working on campus in a year. Click here for more information.
Financial Aid Award Letter – An award letter from a school that tells you the amount and types of aid that will be granted to you by that institution if you accept their offer of admission. Click here to learn more.
First Generation Student – A student whose parents have little or no college experience. Click here for more information.
Fly-In Program – A program through which a college (looking to diversify its student body, to recruit first generation students, and/or to provide opportunities for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds) will pay your transportation and accommodation costs so that you can come and visit for a few days. You must be selected to participate in a fly-in program, and different colleges have different selection criteria and different application deadlines. Click here for more information.
Gap Year – Time taken by a student after leaving high school and before starting university, usually spent working or travelling. Click here to read more about it.
In-State vs Out-Of-State Tuition – Differing tuition costs for different students at public universities, depending on which state they hail from and where they’re enrolled. To learn more, click here.
Loan – A type of financial aid that must eventually be repaid, usually with interest.
National Association for College Admission Counseling – A member-directed organization offering students, parents, counselors, and admissions professionals a wealth of information related to college admissions. Click here for more information.
National Collegiate Athletic Association – For those of you interested in being involved in athletics during your undergraduate days, the NCAA is a non-profit association that “safeguards the well-being of student-athletes and equips them with the skills to succeed on the playing field, in the classroom and throughout life.” Click here for more information.
Need-Aware Admission – Also known as ‘Need-Sensitive Admission’, this admissions policy is in place when schools may consider the amount of financial aid a prospective student would require in order to attend, factoring this information into admissions decisions.
Need-Blind Admission – An admissions policy whereby the college/university does not consider an applicant’s personal financial situation when considering whether or not to admit the prospective student.
Net Price – The college’s sticker price (tuition & fees) minus aid & benefits (grants, scholarships, and education tax benefits). In other words, the net price is what you will actually be paying for your education. Click here for more information.
The New SAT – The newly-designed SAT test, coming to testing centers in March of 2016. Click here for more information.
Pell Grant – A federal grant (like scholarships, grants do not need to be repaid) which depends on such factors as your financial need and the cost of attendance at your college or university. For more information, click here.
Perkins Loan – These are low-interest federal student loans for students who demonstrate financial need. Unlike grants and scholarships, loans must be repaid. For more information on Perkins loans, click here. For more information on other low-interest federal student loans (both subsidized and unsubsidized), click here.
PLUS Loan – A loan for parents to help them contribute to the cost of their child’s undergraduate education. For more information, click here.
Reach Schools – Those colleges and universities where your chance of admission is relatively slim (that is, less than 35%).
Rolling Admissions – An admissions policy whereby colleges/universities will accept applications at any time, up until a final deadline OR until all of their available spots are full – the window for applying is usually more than six months long. Click here for more information.
Safety Schools – Those colleges and universities where you have a strong likelihood of admission (that is, 75% or greater). These are schools where your academic profile is significantly higher than the average entering student, or where you are being recruited for a specific purpose (e.g. to play sports).
SAT and SAT Subject Tests – These standardized tests are “designed to assess your academic readiness for college.” Students needing or wanting to submit test scores to college generally take either the SAT or ACT (see above). Click here for more information.
Scholarship – Free money awarded to a student in order to help pay the cost of his/her undergraduate education. To give but a few examples of great scholarship resources, check out Scholarships.com, Fastweb, and/or FinAid.
Score Choice – If you take the SAT, SAT Subject Tests, or ACT more than once, Score Choice allows you to determine which scores you send to colleges (by testing date for the SAT and ACT, and by individual test for the SAT Subject Tests). Keep in mind, however, that some colleges will require you to submit all of your test scores – in those cases the element of choice is gone. For more information on ACT Score Choice click here, and for SAT and SAT Subject Test Score Choice information click here. Know that Score Choice is optional and if you opt not to use it then all of your scores will automatically be sent.
Super Score – Some colleges will consider the best of your standardized test section scores across multiple test dates, adding them together for your super score. Not all colleges and universities partake in super scoring, however, so know ahead of time if your dream colleges are super scorers or not. For a list of SAT score use practices at different colleges and universities, see here. And the colleges on this unofficial list will super score your ACT.
Target Schools – Those colleges and universities where you have a good chance of being admitted (that is, between 35% – 75%). At these schools, your academic profile (i.e. grades, test scores, and extracurricular profile) is similar to the average entering student.
Test -Optional School – A college or university that does not require you to submit SAT or ACT scores when you apply. Click here for more information.
UTMA Account – Uniform Transfers to Minors Act account, which is a custodial account in which funds are held in the child/teenager’s name. Be aware that the money in this account can have an impact on the financial aid for which a teenager is eligible, as it is viewed as an asset (and the beneficiary can use the funds for any purpose, not only education). Also, contributions to an UTMA Account are not tax deductible.
Work Study Program – A federal student aid program through which the student holds a part-time job in order to help fund his/her studies.