Acceptance: The formal approval and acknowledgment by a college or university that a student has been granted admission to their academic programs. When a student receives an acceptance letter, it signifies that the educational institution has reviewed their credentials, determined that they meet the necessary criteria for admission, and has extended an offer for them to enroll as a student.
Admissions decision: The decision made by the admissions committee at a college or university regarding a student’s status. A student can be accepted, deferred, waitlisted, or denied admission.
Admission rate: The percentage of students who are admitted to a particular college. Admission rates can vary widely among schools and depend upon a number of factors.
Admissions interview: A face-to-face or virtual meeting between a student and a representative of a college or university — sometimes a current student or alumni volunteer. The purpose of the college admissions interview is to assess the student’s qualifications, personality, and suitability for admission to the institution.
Advanced Placement (AP): A program coordinated by the College Board whereby high schools offer college-level courses with specific curricula in numerous 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.
Class rank: A student’s place based on a rank ordering of students in a class by grade point average (GPA). While course rigor and GPA matter more to colleges, a student with a high class rank demonstrates that they will likely perform well at college-level classes.
Coalition Application: An online application for admission created in 2016 by the Coalition for College that is currently accepted by over 150 universities in the U.S. Students must complete the basic application and a personal statement and submit additional materials required by each school to which they are applying. The application, essays, projects, and other materials are stored within the platform for review by counselors and admissions officers. Resources are also available for students who may have limited access to college prep materials and guidance. Read our Coalition Application Guide to learn insightful tips about navigating through the application.
Common Application: An online application for admission that is accepted by over 1,000 universities in the U.S., Canada, and abroad. The Common App consists of a basic application and a personal statement — college applicants also submit additional materials required by each school to which they are applying. Students can request letters of recommendation through the platform and also monitor the status of their application. Parents can download resources from the Common App website to help their students with the college application process. See how you can get the most out of the Common Application.
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 Decision pool. Students who are deferred receive an acceptance or rejection along with the Regular Decision students in the spring.
Demonstrated interest: A student’s level of interest and commitment to attending the institution to which they are applying as shown through visits, contact with the admissions office, application essays, and more.
Early Action (EA): An application option that typically allows students to apply by November 1 or November 15 and receive an admission decision by December or January. This is a non-binding option, so students who are admitted are not committed to attending. This is a great option if the school is a top choice for the student, and they can submit a strong application in the early admission rounds, but they are not ready to commit if accepted. Learn more about applying Early Action vs. Regular Decision.
Early Decision (ED): 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. Some schools also have an Early Decision II (ED II) deadline that often coincides with the Regular Decision deadline — this is also binding but gives the student a longer time period to complete their application. Learn how to craft your application strategy with Early Decision.
Extracurricular activities: Voluntary, non-academic pursuits that students engage in, such as sports, clubs, community service, arts, and other organized endeavors that contribute to a student’s personal and social development. Participation in extracurricular activities is often considered by colleges to assess an individual’s skills, interests, leadership abilities, and commitment beyond academic achievements.
GPA: Grade point average, which is a number that represents the average value of final grades accumulated over all 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.
Holistic review: An evaluation process that considers a broad range of factors and attributes of an applicant, going beyond traditional academic metrics such as grades and test scores. A holistic review considers various aspects of the applicant’s background, experiences, achievements, character, and potential contributions to the academic community. This approach aims to provide a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of the individual, allowing admissions committees to make well-informed decisions that consider the overall context of the student’s life and achievements. Holistic review is often employed to create a diverse and well-rounded student body that reflects a variety of talents and perspectives.
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 extracurricular activities. They can also demonstrate informed interest in interviews, supplemental essays, and more.
International Baccalaureate (IB): An educational program that offers a rigorous and comprehensive curriculum for students aged 16 to 19. The IB program is known for its challenging coursework, international perspective, and emphasis on developing critical thinking and research skills. Colleges and universities often value the IB program as it signifies a high level of academic achievement and a well-rounded education.
Letter of recommendation: Commonly referred to as a recommendation letter, this is a letter from a teacher, school counselor, or other individual that assesses and endorses a student’s qualifications, character, and suitability for college admissions. Letters of recommendation provide an external perspective on the student and aim to offer insights into their strengths, capabilities, and overall character to support the decision-making process of the admissions committee.
Personal statement: A reflective and often narrative essay that gives the student an opportunity to convey information about themselves, their experiences, and their aspirations. The personal statement aims to provide admissions committees with insights into the student’s personality, values, and motivations that may not be apparent from other application materials. It allows students to showcase their individuality, achievements, and the qualities that make them a strong candidate for admission.
Portfolio: A collection of a student’s work, achievements, and creative or academic projects compiled to showcase their skills, talents, and experiences. Portfolios are commonly used for applying to programs in art, design, architecture, and other creative fields.
Profile building: The intentional and strategic process of developing and presenting a comprehensive and appealing record of a student’s achievements, experiences, and qualities. This involves actively participating in a variety of activities, both academic and extracurricular, to showcase a well-rounded and accomplished individual. Profile building can include academic excellence, involvement in clubs and organizations, community service, leadership roles, sports, artistic endeavors, and other notable accomplishments.
Regular Decision (RD): An application option that involves applying by a winter deadline — usually early January to mid-February — in exchange for an admission decision in the spring — generally mid-March to early April. It’s important to check for official dates as some schools, like the University of California system, have Regular Decision deadlines as early as November.
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 first-year students' class is filled.
Single Choice Early Action (SCEA): Also known as Restrictive Early Action, this is an early application option 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.
Supplemental essay: An additional piece of writing that some colleges or universities may require as part of the application process. Unlike the main personal statement or essay, which is often a general essay shared with multiple institutions through standardized application platforms like the Common Application, supplemental essays are specific to individual schools.
Test-blind: A policy where the institution does not consider standardized test scores (such as SAT or ACT) as part of the application review process. Under a test-blind policy, the admissions committee does not have access to or consider an applicant’s test scores, even if the applicant submits them.
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.
Transcript: A copy of a student’s cumulative record, requested by all colleges and universities for admission purposes.
Transfer admission: The process by which students who have already completed some college coursework at one college seek to enroll and continue their education at another college. Transfer students may pursue admission to another institution for various reasons, such as seeking a different academic program, a change in location, or a more suitable environment. Transfer admission policies vary among institutions.
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.
Yield: The percentage of students offered admission to a college who subsequently enroll. Yield rates are a key metric that helps institutions understand the effectiveness of their admissions process and the appeal of their programs to accepted applicants.
FAFSA: Abbreviation for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which is used to determine eligibility for federal financial aid. Only U.S. students qualify for federal financial aid; however, some colleges may ask international students to complete the FAFSA to assess financial need.
Financial aid: Money given or lent to students by a school, federal government, or other sources to help cover the cost of college. Financial aid comes in many forms, some of which need to be repaid. International students generally are not eligible for financial aid.
Financial aid package: A comprehensive offer from a college or university of various types of financial assistance that is provided to a student to help them afford the cost of attending college. This package is typically tailored to the individual student’s financial need, academic achievements, and other relevant factors. Financial aid packages may include a combination of different types of aid, such as grants, scholarships, loans, and work-study opportunities.
Grant: A type of financial assistance provided to students to help cover the costs of education. Grants are typically awarded based on financial need, academic achievement, or specific criteria set by the grant provider. Unlike loans, grants do not require repayment, making them a form of “gift aid.”
Merit-based: Refers to a system or process in which a financial aid award is determined by the student’s demonstrated skills, abilities, achievements, or qualifications rather than financial need.
Need-based: Refers to a type of financial assistance awarded to students based on their demonstrated financial need. The assessment of financial need takes into account factors such as the cost of attending a particular educational institution, the student’s and their family’s income, assets, and other relevant financial information.
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.
Scholarship: A financial award given to a student to support their education, typically based on academic achievement, talent, or other specific criteria. Scholarships do not need to be repaid. They can be provided by educational institutions, private organizations, government entities, or individuals. The eligibility criteria can vary widely, and recipients may be selected based on academic merit, athletic accomplishments, leadership qualities, or other characteristics specified by the scholarship provider.
Student loan: A type of financial aid designed to help students pay for their education expenses, such as tuition, fees, and living expenses. Unlike grants or scholarships, which do not need to be repaid, a student loan is a borrowed sum of money that must be repaid, typically with interest, after the student completes their education or leaves school. Student loans may be offered by government entities or private financial institutions. The terms and conditions, including interest rates and repayment schedules, vary depending on the type of loan and the lender. For example: subsidized loans do not accrue interest until after a student graduates, while unsubsidized loans begin accruing interest immediately upon disbursement. Students often use loans as a way to bridge the gap between the cost of education and the financial resources available to them.
Work-study: A financial aid program that provides students with part-time employment opportunities to help them earn money to cover a portion of their educational expenses. This program is often administered by colleges and universities and is part of the overall financial aid package offered to eligible students. Work-study jobs are typically on-campus positions or off-campus jobs with nonprofit organizations or public agencies.
Academic and Admissions Counseling Terms
Academic advisor: Provides guidance to college students on course selection, degree requirements, career planning, and other aspects of college life. Academic advising also involves helping students develop study skills and learn how to strike a healthy balance inside and outside of the classroom.
Admissions officer: A professional employed by a college or university to assist and guide prospective students through the application process. The primary role of an admissions officer is to provide information about the institution, answer inquiries from prospective students and their families, and offer guidance on the application requirements and procedures. They may also review applications, conduct interviews, and play a key role in the decision-making process by evaluating candidates and making recommendations to the admissions committee.
Counselor: A professional who works in an academic setting, such as a high school, to provide guidance and support to students. This role is multifaceted, encompassing academic, personal, and career guidance. Counselors play a crucial role in fostering the academic, social, and emotional development of students. They work collaboratively with teachers, administrators, and parents to create a supportive and nurturing school environment.
Tutor: Provides personalized academic instruction, test prep, and assistance to a student or a small group of students. Tutors are often experts in a specific subject or field and work to help students improve their understanding of course material, enhance their study skills, and achieve academic success. Tutors may offer guidance on homework, clarify concepts, and provide additional practice to reinforce learning. They can be employed by educational institutions, private companies, or work independently.
Test and Exam Terms
ACT: A standardized test used by college admissions officers to evaluate prospective students. The ACT has four sections: English, math, science, and reading, and an optional essay, and is scored out of 36 points.
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 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.
SAT: A standardized test used by college admissions officers to evaluate prospective students. The digital SAT contains a math section, and a reading and writing section. The exam is scored out of 1600 points.
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 they would like to send to colleges, rather than sending scores from every time they’ve taken the exam.
Superscoring: A practice commonly used in the college admissions process for standardized tests. Instead of considering a student’s highest composite score from a single test sitting, they will consider the highest section scores across multiple test dates. Superscoring is seen as a way to give students the advantage of showcasing their best performances in individual sections, acknowledging that a student may excel in certain areas during different test sessions. It can be beneficial for students who may not have performed consistently across all sections in a single test sitting.
Test prep: Refers to activities and strategies undertaken by individuals to enhance their performance on standardized tests. These tests can include college admissions exams (such as the SAT or ACT), graduate school entrance exams (like the GRE or GMAT), professional certification exams, and other standardized assessments.
Associate degree: A diploma earned after completing a program of study at a college. The degree usually takes two years and is abbreviated A.A. (Associate of Arts) or A.S. (Associate of Science).
Bachelor’s degree: A diploma earned after completing a program of study at a college or university. The degree usually takes four years and is abbreviated B.A. (Bachelor of Arts), B.S. (Bachelor of Science), or BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts).
Certificate: A short-term, focused educational program that provides specialized training and instruction in a particular field or skill set. Unlike traditional degree programs, certificate programs are typically shorter in duration and more focused on practical, hands-on training. Students at some schools can complete certificate programs alongside their bachelor’s degree programs, and many schools offer standalone certificate programs.
College: This term commonly refers to institutions of higher education that offer undergraduate studies and confer associate’s and/or bachelor’s degrees. Examples include community colleges and liberal arts colleges. It’s worth noting that the terms “college” and “university” are sometimes used interchangeably in the U.S.
Concentration: A specific focus in an area of study 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.
Credit hours: A credit system where courses are assigned a certain number of credit hours based on the amount of instructional time and workload. Undergraduate students need to accumulate a specified number of credits to fulfill the requirements for graduation.
Electives: Courses that students can choose to take as part of their academic curriculum but are not required for the completion of their degree program. Unlike core courses, which are mandatory and essential for fulfilling degree requirements, elective courses offer students the flexibility to explore additional areas of interest or specialize in specific topics.
Externship: A short professional learning experience that allows students to shadow an industry professional to learn the ins and outs of their job. Externships tend to be shorter than internships and last anywhere from a day to eight weeks. Many college students complete externships over their winter or spring breaks
Finals: Comprehensive assessments conducted at the end of an academic term or course to evaluate students’ understanding of the material covered throughout the term. Final exams are usually weighted heavily in the overall course grading. The scores on these exams often have a significant impact on a student’s final course grade.
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 coursework in major or minor areas.
Graduate degree: An advanced academic qualification that individuals pursue after completing their undergraduate studies. Graduate degrees typically require a higher level of specialization and depth of knowledge in a particular field. There are two main types of graduate degrees: master’s degrees and doctoral degrees.
Honors college: An educational institution or a specialized program within a larger university that offers enhanced and more rigorous academic opportunities for students who are high achievers. The goal of an honors college is to provide an enriched educational experience, often characterized by smaller class sizes, more challenging coursework, and additional research or experiential learning opportunities.
Internship: A short-term work experience provided by an employer to give students or recent graduates the opportunity to gain practical, hands-on exposure to a particular industry, field, or profession that aligns with their career goals. Internships are designed to offer individuals the chance to apply and enhance the knowledge and skills they’ve acquired in their academic studies within a real-world work setting. These experiences are typically temporary and may last for a few weeks, months, or even a full academic semester.
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 earn a degree in biology. Note: there are no set majors for pre-law, pre-dentistry, pre-medicine, and pre-veterinary degrees — graduate work is necessary for each of these disciplines.
Midterms: Short for midterm examinations, these are assessments that occur approximately halfway through an academic term or semester. These exams are designed to evaluate students’ understanding of the material covered in courses up to that point in the term. Mid-terms serve as a means of assessing students’ progress, identifying areas of strength and weakness, and providing feedback to both students and instructors.
Minor: A secondary area of concentration, which may or may not be required by an institution.
Private colleges: Institutions of postsecondary education that are privately funded and operated. Unlike public colleges, private colleges do not receive direct funding from state or government sources, and they rely on tuition, private donations, endowments, and other sources of revenue for financial support. Examples of private colleges include Ivy League institutions such as Harvard University, Yale University, and Princeton University, as well as numerous smaller liberal arts colleges and specialized institutions. Private colleges often emphasize a personalized learning environment, smaller class sizes, and close interactions between students and faculty. The admission criteria and application processes for private colleges can vary widely, and they may have a distinct mission or educational philosophy that sets them apart from other institutions.
Public colleges: An institution of post-secondary education that is primarily funded and operated by the government, typically at the state level. Public colleges are part of the public education system and are supported by state funds, taxes, and sometimes federal funding. These institutions are known for offering more affordable tuition rates for in-state residents compared to out-of-state or international students. Examples of public colleges in the United States include institutions within state university systems, community colleges, and some specialized institutions.
STEM: STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. It is an interdisciplinary approach to education that integrates these four disciplines to promote real-world problem-solving and innovation. STEM education aims to equip students with the skills and knowledge needed to excel in fields that are heavily reliant on these scientific and technical disciplines. STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) is an extension of STEM and incorporates the arts into the interdisciplinary approach. The inclusion of the arts recognizes the importance of creativity, design thinking, and artistic expression in the process of innovation and problem-solving.
Student-to-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-to-faculty ratio would be 24:1.
Study abroad: The pursuit of academic opportunities in a foreign country. Typically, students choose to study abroad to experience a different educational environment, immerse themselves in a new culture, and gain a global perspective on their academic field. Study abroad programs can vary in duration, ranging from short-term experiences to a full academic year or more.
Term: An academic period during which courses are offered and students engage in learning. The academic year is often divided into multiple terms, and the structure can vary depending on the institution. The two most common types of terms are semesters (fall and spring) and quarters (fall, winter, spring, summer). Some schools operate on a trimester system (fall, winter, spring).
Undergraduate program: The level of education that precedes the completion of an associate or bachelor’s degree. It is the first stage of post-secondary education. Associate degree programs typically last two years, and bachelor’s degree programs have a duration of approximately four years. However, the amount of time it takes for undergraduate students to complete a program can vary based on the country and the specific educational system.
University: An institution of higher education that offers a wide range of academic programs, including undergraduate and graduate degrees in various fields of study. Universities are typically characterized by their diversity of academic disciplines, the presence of graduate schools offering master’s and doctoral degrees, and a focus on research and scholarship.