College Prep 101: College Admissions Glossary of Terms
Applying to college and choosing where to enroll is both a major milestone and an important decision. It’s bound to be a little stressful, but it can feel completely overwhelming if you’re not up to date on all of the latest terminology.
From yield rates to AP scores, there are a lot of phrases that students are likely to hear as they progress through the college admissions process. To reduce application-related anxiety and set you up for success, we’ve compiled a list of all the vocabulary terms you need to know to feel confident throughout your own college admissions journey. Keep reading for every phrase you’ll need to keep on your radar.
ACT – A standardized test used by college admissions officers to evaluate prospective students. The test has four sections: English, Math, Science, and Reading and an optional essay, and is scored out of 36 points. You can learn more about the ACT here.
Admission Rate – The percentage of applicants who are admitted to a particular college. A sample of admission rates can be found here.
Advanced Placement (AP) – A program coordinated by the College Board whereby high schools offer college-level courses with specific curricula in a large number of academic fields. Participating students have the option of taking an AP exam at the end of the course to demonstrate knowledge and potentially earn college credit.
Bachelor’s Degree – A diploma earned after completing a required course of study at a college or university. The degree usually takes four years and is abbreviated B.A. (Bachelor of Arts) or B.S. (Bachelor of Science).
Class Rank – A student’s place based on a rank ordering of students in a class by grade point average (GPA).
Coalition Application – An online application for admission created by the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success (CAAS) that is accepted by over 135 universities in the US. It is a newer platform that was launched in 2016. The CAAS application platform has several tools, including the locker, where students can store essays, projects, and other materials for review by counselors and admissions officers, the application itself, and resources for students who may have limited access to college prep materials and guidance.
Common Application – An online application for admission that is accepted by over 900 universities in the US, Canada, UK, and more. It can be accessed online here. Some colleges also require a school-specific supplement, which can ask for additional information like essays, short-answer questions, and more.
Concentration – A specific focus in an area of studies that is a subset of (or related to) your major.
Core Curriculum – A group of specially designed courses in the humanities, arts, social sciences, and sciences designed to give students a strong foundation in general education.
Demonstrated Interest – A student’s level of interest and commitment to attending the institution to which he or she is applying as shown through visits, contact with the admissions office, application essays, and more.
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. Learn more about deferrals here.
Early Action – An application option that typically allows students to apply by November 1 or November 15 and receive an admission decision by December or January that does not bind the student to attend if admitted.
Early Decision – An application option that typically allows students to apply by November 1 or November 15 and receive an admission decision by December or January that commits the student to attend if admitted.
FAFSA – Abbreviation for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which is used to determine eligibility for federal financial aid. Only US students qualify for federal financial aid, however, some colleges may ask international applicants to complete the FAFSA to assess financial need.
Financial Aid – Money given or lent to students by a school or the US government to help cover the cost of college (international students generally are not eligible for financial aid).
GPA – Grade point average, which is a number that represents the average value of final grades accumulated overall years of high school completed thus far. GPAs can be weighted, meaning advanced courses give students a numerical advantage, or unweighted, meaning all courses are given the same values regardless of rigor.
General Education (Gen Ed) Requirements – Courses selected from several divisions required for a college degree. These are usually completed during the first two years of college, before moving on to focused course work in major or minor areas.
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.
Liberal Arts – An academic program that includes the sciences, social sciences, languages, arts, and mathematics, as distinguished from professional or vocational programs that focus on training for careers such as engineering, business, and nursing.
Major – The subject in which a student concentrates to earn a degree. For example, biology majors will have a degree in biology. Note: there are no set majors for prelaw, dental, medicine, and veterinary degrees – graduate work is necessary for each of these disciplines.
Minor – A secondary area of concentration, which may or may not be required by an institution.
Need-Blind/Need-Aware Admission – Colleges that have “need-blind” admissions policies do not take students’ financial needs into consideration when making admission decisions. Colleges that have “need-aware” admissions policies do consider students’ financial needs when making admission decisions.
PSAT/NMSQT – The PSAT/NSMQT is a preliminary version of the SAT. It is meant to prepare students for taking the SAT (or ACT) by simulating a shorter version of the exam, exposing students to relevant testing material, and showing students where they need to improve in order to reach their goal score on the SAT. The PSAT/NMSQT is also the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT). This means that students who obtain a certain score on the PSAT can qualify for National Merit Scholarships, which can go a long way toward financing their college education.
Regular Decision – An application option that involves applying by a late fall or early winter deadline in exchange for an admission decision the following spring.
Rolling Admission – An application option by which colleges review and make decisions about applications as they are received. The application cycle usually opens in early fall and may extend into the spring or until the freshmen class is filled.
SAT– A standardized test used by college admissions officers to evaluate prospective students. The test contains three sections: math, reading, and writing, and an optional essay section. The exam is scored out of 1600 points. You can learn more here.
SCEA – Single-choice early action (SECA) is an early application option that is similar to EA in that you are not bound to attend if accepted. However, with the SCEA restriction, you cannot apply early to any other school, be it early decision or early action, until you have heard back from your SCEA school. After you receive the school’s decision of acceptance, deferral, or denial, you may apply to other schools
Score Choice – A score reporting option used by the College Board which allows students who have taken the SAT multiple times to choose which test date for the SAT or which individual Subject Test score they would like to send to colleges, rather than sending scores from every time they’ve taken the exam.
Student:Faculty Ratio – The number of professors per number of students at a college or university. For example, if a college had 2,400 students and 100 full-time professors, the student:faculty ratio would be 24:1.
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. Learn more about test-optional and test-flexible colleges here.
Transcript – A copy of a student’s cumulative record, requested by all colleges and universities for admission purposes.
Undergraduate – A college student who has not yet received a Bachelor’s Degree.
Waitlist – A group of students held in reserve after a college makes its admissions decisions. If openings occur, students on the waitlist may be offered admission. Learn more about waitlist decisions here.
Yield – The percentage of students offered admission to a college who subsequently enroll. Here’s a sampling of yield rates from some of the country’s top universities.
While the college application process may seem a little daunting at least initially, it becomes manageable when students do their research and begin their applications early. If you’re starting to think about applying to college and searching for personalized guidance, our team of admissions experts can guide you throughout the process.