There’s this moment in high school when it suddenly feels like all anyone wants to talk about is college. Feel left out of the loop, or like you’re not up-to-date on all the lingo? Don’t worry! The Prospect’s got you covered with a comprehensive list of terms–both official and, um, less official–used commonly in the college admissions process.
ACT – One of the two main standardized college admission tests (the other being the SAT). It has four sections—English, math, reading, and science—and an optional essay section. It has many similarities to the SAT, as well as some key differences.
Accelerated Program – Some colleges offer accelerated programs that allow students to get both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in only five or six years. These programs are usually for specialized fields of study such as nursing, medicine, and engineering, but there are others out there. Accelerated programs are academically rigorous, but can prove advantageous for students who are certain about what they want to study.
Affirmative Action – A policy that notes and advantages students of marginalized social groups (e.g. students of color) in the admissions process. WHAT IT IS NOT: The reason a black student got into a college and a white student didn’t. Affirmative Action is a complex issue that deserves more attention than we can give it here; read this for more info.
Appblr – An online community dedicated to all things college admissions. It can be a good source of support and information, but it’s probably best not to get too sucked into it.
Bachelor’s Degree – The type of degree you earn at a four-year undergraduate university. It has nothing to do with being a bachelor. Most college students earn either a Bachelor’s of Arts (the typical liberal arts degree) or a Bachelor’s of Science (for more specialized study in a natural science field).
Class Rank – A measurement of the (perceived) academic achievement of students in the same graduating class. It’s usually measured by weighted GPA, and is a factor that colleges consider in making admission decisions.
College Board – The organization that owns the SAT, PSAT, and AP tests, as well as some college planning resources. You will probably be giving them a lot of your money on your college application journey.
College Confidential – The web’s premiere online college community and forum. It’s got a lot of useful information and resources, but there are also some crazies on there (case in point: it is a convention for CC parents to refer to their daughter as “my D”). Tread lightly if you decide to use it.
College Essay – Students write a 650 word personal statement on the Common App that is read and evaluated by each college. In addition, some colleges require supplemental essays with prompts specific to that school. This is one of the most important parts of your college application, so a lot of time should be dedicated to drafting and editing this essay.
Common Application – The standard application used by nearly 500 colleges. It allows you to list your basic info in one convenient location, rather than filling out individual applications for each school you apply to.
Community College – A two-year public university that offers associates degrees. Some students choose to attend community college for a year or two before transferring to a four-year university. This can be a means of saving money or a valuable option for students who don’t feel they are ready for a four-year college. WHAT IT IS NOT: a school for slackers, a less worthy school, or an inherently bad school.
Core Curriculum – The classes/credits that a college requires all students to take. For example, a college might require students to take an English class, or a year of math, etc., regardless of what their majors are.
CSS Profile – The College Scholarship Service Profile, owned by College Board themselves. It’s one of the two main applications you’ll need to fill out if you’re seeking financial aid (the other being the FAFSA).
Demonstrated Interest – Admissions officers take into account whether applicants have taken an interest in their college, since it benefits the school to accept applicants who are excited about attending. Ways of showing demonstrated interest include taking a tour, attending an info session, and having an interview.
Early Action – A way of applying to a college early. EA applicants typically submit their applications in November and hear back in December. It is non-binding, meaning you can apply to multiple schools EA and you’re not committed to attend if you’re accepted.
Early Decision – The same deal as Early Action, except ED applications are binding. Upon applying ED, you have to sign a contract stating that you will attend that school if accepted. EA and ED each have certain pros and cons.
FAFSA – The Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It’s the main application you’ll need to fill out if you’re seeking financial aid for college.
First-Generation Student – Colleges take into account whether a student is the first in their family to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree.
Flagship – The best known public university (or universities) in a state. For example, the flagship of California is the University of California, Berkeley.
Gap Year – Some students choose to take a year off between high school and college, or between two years of college. This is referred to as a gap year. Other students choose to take only a semester off.
Greek Life – The presence of fraternities and sororities on a college campus. Greek Life plays a major role in college life—it is one of the main factors of a college’s social scene. Whether you plan on rushing or not, be sure to consider Greek Life in your college decision-making.
Hook – A notable/exceptional element of an application that causes an otherwise under-qualified applicant to be accepted. For example, being a star athlete or the child of a family that donates lots of money to the school. It’s totally okay not to have a hook—most applicants don’t!
Information Session – In addition to tours, colleges offer information sessions that provide valuable insight into a school’s academics, facilities, atmosphere, et cetera. What the school’s deal is, basically. Make sure to attend info sessions for colleges you are interested in, if you get the chance.
Ivy League – WHAT IT IS: A collegiate athletic conference comprised of eight Northeastern schools. WHAT IT IS NOT: A definitive list of the eight best schools in the country, where you have to go if you want to succeed.
Legacy – Admissions officers take into account whether an applicant’s parents or siblings attended the college.
Letter of Recommendation – The Common App requires two letters of recommendation from former teachers. Check out some advice on how to go about getting great letters here.
Liberal Arts College – A college that aims to provide students with a broad, general education that covers many areas of study, as opposed to specializes or vocational schools.
Prospective Student – A student who has been accepted to a college and is considering whether to attend. May be affectionately dubbed a “prospie.”
PSAT – A standardized test that you take during your junior year of high school, typically before the SAT. It’s thought of as a “practice” SAT, but that doesn’t mean you should write it off as unimportant. Doing well on the PSAT could score you a $2,500 merit scholarship.
Public University – A university that gets a majority of its money through state funds. Public universities are usually larger than private ones and have lower tuitions. WHAT IT IS NOT: a place where you will get a worse, less valuable education than at a private college.
Regular Decision – The alternative to EA and ED. Students submit their applications early in the year and hear back by mid-April. Totally non-binding and non-restrictive.
Rolling Admission – If a college has rolling admissions, students can submit their application any time during a large window, and hear back within a few weeks of submission. An alternative to RD/ED/EA.
Safety School – A school that a student is very likely to get into based on the strength of their application in relation the admissions statistics of the school. All students should have at least two safety schools on their college list, and you should learn to love your safeties! A lot of students don’t fully comprehend the fact that attending their safety school is a real, tangible possibility. Don’t make that mistake.
SAT – The other main standardized college admissions test. It’s getting a major redesign in 2016, at which point it will have three sections: evidence-based reading and writing, math, and an optional essay.
SAT Subject Test – Hour long standardized college admissions test focusing on one specific subject (such as literature, biology, or U.S. History, to name a few). College will typically require applicants to submit either the SAT with 2 subjects tests or the ACT with no subject tests. However, this varies from school to school.
Student Loans – Many students choose/are forced to pay for tuition and other college-related costs by taking out student loans. Nationwide, there is currently $1.2 million in student loan debt. It’s a topic that’s covered in the news a lot.
Test-Optional – For a variety of reasons, many colleges are making it optional to submit standardized test scores. Currently, over 800 colleges in the U.S. are test-optional, and that number is only growing.
US News & World Report – The news entity responsible for publishing the most well-known and highly-regarded college rankings. Some of their criteria is questionable, to say the least. Take these rankings with a grain of salt, and remember that rankings matter so much less than the other factors of a college.
Waitlist – An admissions committee can make one of three decisions about an applicant: accept them, reject them, or waitlist them. The first two are self-explanatory. The third, however, means that the applicant is not currently admitted to the college, but will be if space becomes available (i.e. not enough accepted students commit to the school to fill the freshman class). Waitlists can be one of the most stressful elements of the college process (which is a big achievement—there are a lot of stressful elements). Learn how to deal here.
Women’s College – A college that exclusively accepts women. Lots of female students write off women’s colleges immediately, but a lot of them are great institutions that have a lot to offer (sometimes even things that co-ed colleges cannot).
Work-Study – A program that allows students to supplement their college-related costs with part-time work. Around 3,400 colleges in the U.S. have work-study programs.