As you proceed through the college planning process, you'll run into a lot of things you might not understand. Don't hesitate to ask for clarification. You don't want a little confusion to get in the way of getting into the perfect college!

Learn essential college admissions terms.

Welcome to the wonderful world of college prep! Think of this timeline as your step-by-step guide to getting into the college that you want, even if you don’t even know exactly what you want yet. As you proceed through the steps, you’ll encounter all sorts of guides, tips, tactics, and interactive tools that will help keep your college preparations on track.

Before we can really dive into your college search headfirst, we need to build your knowledge base. Refer to this glossary anytime you have a question about college prep jargon.

College Prep Glossary

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.

Deferred Admission: A type of admission that gives an accepted student the option to postpone enrollment one year. More on deferred admission.

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 and must attend this college if accepted.

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 by 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.

Gap Year: A gap year refers to a student taking a year after he graduates high school, before he continues his education in college. More on gap years.

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

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 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 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. More on majors.

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

Need-Based Financial Aid: 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 standardized test used to prepare students for the SAT and qualify students 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.

SAT Subject Tests: SAT Subject Tests are standardized tests given in individual subjects that improve a student’s academic credentials. Only a few highly selective colleges require SAT Subject Tests. More on SAT Subject Tests.

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 skill and provide academic performance reports to educational professionals like teachers, professors, and admissions officers.

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

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

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 funded program that gives a student a campus job in exchange for financial aid. More on work-study.

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