College Admissions Glossary of Terms - College Tracker

LatestCollege Admissions Glossary of Terms

College Admissions Glossary of Terms

Navigating the college admissions process is tricky! Sometimes it may seem like people are using a whole different language to talk about it. Check out the list below for the top terms and their definitions to help you understand everything you need to know to get into college.


ACT®: The ACT is one of the standardized exams that is often used for college admissions. The ACT is administered at schools across the country on select dates throughout the year. To learn more about the ACT, visit ACT.org.


Advanced Placement (AP)®: Advanced Placement or AP are courses offered during high school that give students the opportunity to take college level coursework while they are in high school. Each May, AP Exams are given to millions of students and high scores allow students to earn college tuition credit. Learn more about AP here.


Common App: Common App is a single online application that allows students to submit one application to multiple colleges at once. The Common App opens in August each year. To learn more about Common App, you can visit this website.


Deferred: If you have been deferred from the college or university you applied to, it generally means that your application will be reviewed at a later date. The most common instance of this is if you applied for early action or early decision. The college may defer your application and consider it with the regular admissions applications group. The other instance that you may be deferred is if you applied and the college or university requests more information for your application like your senior year grades.


Dual Enrollment: Dual Enrollment are courses that allow high school students to be enrolled at their high school and a college at the same time. The students take these college courses at their high school or on college campuses. Students can take dual enrollment courses while in high school to save money on college tuition and graduate early.


Early Action: Early action provides students the opportunity to apply to colleges earlier. In turn, students receive decisions on their applications earlier. Receiving acceptance to a college when applying early action does NOT mean that you are required to attend that college. Early action provides more flexibility for students than early decision.


Early Decision: Early decision is a binding contract between a school and a student. Students who choose to apply for early decision choose one school that they are committed to attending. If they are accepted for early decision, then they must attend that school regardless of any financial aid package (or lack thereof) that they receive.


FASFA: FAFSA or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form is the application that students and their parents or guardians must complete to receive federal student aid. In general, FASFA forms should be completed once a student has committed to attending a college and their parents or guardians have filed their tax returns for the preceding year. Learn more about the FAFSA.


Federal Loans: When you apply for financial aid for college through the FAFSA, you are applying for federal loans. There are two types of federal loans which are direct subsidized loans and Direct unsubsidized loans. Direct subsidized loans are given to students who demonstrate financial need. Direct unsubsidized loans are given to students without financial aid. All loan amounts are determined by the school that you decide to attend. More information about federal loans can be found here.


GPA: GPA or your grade point average is on a scale of 0 to 4.0 with 4.0 being the highest. This number indicates how well you did in your high school courses.


Holistic Application: This term is applied to colleges that consider the “whole” person not just specific elements of a student’s application like GPA or test scores.


Honors Courses: Honors courses are offered at some schools and are considered more rigorous than regular courses. They are normally available in a variety of subjects.


International Baccalaureate (IB): International Baccalaureate is a specialized program offered at IB World Schools. The curriculum is known to be rigorous and more project-based than other programs.  


Merit Aid: Merit aid is financial aid given by colleges that is not based on financial aid. Merit aid awards may be based on high school GPA or standardized test scores.


Private Loans: Private loans are loans that students and/or their parents and guardians can get to help pay for college. These loans are not federal loans and may have varying interest rates and repayment options. Some may have options to defer interest and repayment while a student is actively pursuing a degree.


PSAT®: The PSAT is considered the practice SAT exam. It’s most often offered in October at schools and used to give students a baseline for the SAT exam results as well as consideration for the National Merit Scholarship program when taken during a student’s junior year. To learn more about the PSAT, visit this website.


Rolling Admissions: Colleges that have rolling admissions means that they review applications as they are received versus having a hard deadline for receiving applications.


SAT®: The SAT is one of the standardized exams that are used for college admissions. Students can take the SAT at high schools on specific dates each year. Learn more about the SAT here.


Scholarships: Scholarships are financial awards that students can receive for a variety of reasons. Some scholarships may be available through the specific college or university that they are attending. They may also be through local community organizations. Scholarships generally do not have to be paid back by the recipient.


Test Blind: If a college is test blind, it means that they will NOT consider your ACT or SAT scores during the admissions process even if you submit them.


Test Optional: Test optional means that students can choose whether or not to submit ACT or SAT scores. If they choose to take and submit scores, they will be considered during the admissions process, but if they do not submit them, they will not be penalized.


Waitlisted: If you are waitlisted at a college or university, this means that the college or university has reviewed your application and you are now on their waitlist. You haven’t been accepted and unfortunately no new information that you provide will usually make a difference whether you move from the waitlist and are accepted. Your application may be considered later. It may not.


Weighted GPA: Colleges use a weighted GPA to help them determine your performance in your more challenging courses. It can be different than your GPA and is on a scale of 0.0 to 5.0 vs. 0.0 to 4.0 that is used for your GPA.


Advanced Placement®, AP®, and SAT® are trademarks registered by the College Board. ACT® is a trademark registered by the ACT, Inc.