College Glossary: See All

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College Glossary: A

Accreditation – all credible institutions of higher learning are accredited — regulated, monitored, and reviewed — by one or more independent organizations called accreditors to make sure that educational standards are being met. There are regional, national, and subject-specific accrediting organizations. For most undergraduates, accreditation seems like an unimportant issue, but it can become important later — especially if a student decides to apply for graduate programs.

ACT (American College Test) – One of two widely accepted college entrance exams (the other is the SAT), the ACT assesses high school students’ general educational development and their ability to complete college-level work in English, math, reading, and science. An optional writing test measures skill in planning and writing a short essay. Test questions are based on what is taught in the high school curriculum.

Admissions Counselor – An admissions staff member whose goal is to recruit the best high school students in his or her territory, and who can become your advocate in the admission process. An admissions counselor is part salesperson (who gets you interested in the college) and part jury (in helping decide whether or not you are accepted).

Advanced/Honors Classes – Students in many high schools have some choices when it comes to choosing classes that are more challenging and taught at a higher level than standard high school classes. Advantages for enrolling in these courses include better preparation for college courses, offering distinction on your college application, and the potential to receive some college credit. The three main types of advanced courses — not available at all high schools — include Advanced Placement (AP) Courses, Honors Courses, and International Baccalaureate (IB) Courses.

Advanced Placement (AP) Course – The AP program is a curriculum in the United States and Canada, sponsored by the College Board, which offers standardized courses to high school students that are generally recognized to be equivalent to undergraduate courses in college. AP classes allow students to broaden their knowledge in various subjects, distinguish their transcripts with challenging coursework, and potentially earn college credit based on their demonstration of the course content (see Advanced Placement Test, below). There are 34 AP classes from which to choose, including English, mathematics, social studies, language, art, and music.

Advanced Placement (AP) Exam – Corresponding to AP courses, AP exams are subject-specific standardized test administered by the College Board annually in May. Exams are scored on a scale from 1 (no recommendation for college credit) to 5 (extremely well-qualified to receive college credit). Colleges and universities award college credit based on students’ exam scores.

Alternative Credit Options – Postsecondary institutions have alternative methods to measure prior learning experiences. These methods may be credit-by-examination or credit by documented life/work experience. Talk to the Admissions office about the various alternative credit options are available to assess where you may find most success. A fee is often associated.

Application Fee – Most colleges charge a non-refundable fee to apply; fees average about $25, but some can go as high as $60. Many colleges offer fee waivers for applicants from low-income families, and if a student has taken an SAT or ACT using a fee waiver, he/she is entitled to a certain number of college application fee waivers.

Apprenticeship – An apprenticeship program combines on-the-job training in a skilled craft or trade with classroom study. The student, also called an apprentice, is trained and prepared for advanced training or employment in a higher-than-entry-level position.

Articulated Credit – Articulated college credit is awarded to students who successfully complete a course/program while in high school and complete additional requirements at the postsecondary that meets the requirements of the Articulation Agreement for the program in which the student was enrolled.

Associate’s degree – an undergraduate academic degree awarded by community colleges, junior colleges, technical colleges, and bachelor’s degree-granting colleges and universities upon completion of a course of study usually lasting two years. Degrees include Associate of Arts (A.A.), Associate of Applied Arts (A.A.A), Associate of Sciences (A.S.) and Associate of Applied Sciences (A.A.S.).

ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) – a nationally-normed, multi-aptitude test battery that has been provided to high schools and postsecondary schools since 1968. The ASVAB Career Program is a comprehensive career exploration and planning program that includes a multiple-aptitude test battery, an interest inventory, and various career planning tools designed to help students explore the world of work.

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College Glossary: B

Bachelor’s Degree – A degree earned after completing a prescribed course of undergraduate study at a college or university, which typically takes 4 years. The two most common degrees are a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) and Bachelor of Arts (B.A.).

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College Glossary: C

Campus Visit – travelling to a college campus to find out more information about it. Activities usually include a campus tour, meeting with admissions representatives, and speaking with current students. Students also may schedule private interviews with admissions or financial aid representatives, attend classes, and stay overnight with a current student to experience campus life.

Class Rank – a mathematical formula based on your coursework and grades that compares where you stand academically compared to all your classmates.

College Catalog – a book published annually (typically in print and online versions) that describes a college’s background and history, requirements for admission, tuition and fees, financial aid, degrees and services offered, course descriptions of all current courses, student services provided, student organizations, academic calendar, general regulations, policies and procedures, and key personnel (faculty, officers, and board of trustees).

College Choice Criteria – set of values that college-bound students determine is important for evaluating, ranking, and reducing list of potential colleges to a reasonable number. There are any number of criteria you could use, including: degrees offered, majors/minors, location/distance from home, housing options, size or diversity of the student population, public vs. private, costs (tuition, room and board, etc.), financial aid packages, placement success/internship and co-op programs, accreditation, religious affiliation, and ranking.

College Costs – typically broken into two major categories: tuition and room and board. Tuition is the amount of money charged by a school for classroom and other instruction. Room and board refers to fees related to housing (residence hall/dormitory) and food (meal plans).

College Entrance Exams – see both the ACT and SAT.

College Essay – a critical writing assignment that is part of the requirements for many college admissions applications. Students often have a choice of essay topics, and your goal in writing the essay should be to open a window into your personality that shows (rather than tells) the reader who you are and why you would make an ideal candidate for admission. Take great care in preparing and proofreading your essay; perfection is the standard!

College Interview – an opportunity to meet individually with an admissions representative in order to increase your chance of admission into a particular school.

College Major – a specific area of concentration for college coursework. Majors can focus on a subject (e.g. marketing, art history), theme (e.g. gender issues, ethics), or professional field (e.g. pre-med, pre-law). Majors often relate directly to career choice. Students who are unsure of their career path can have an “undecided” major for a period of time until they make a final decision.

College Minor – similar to college majors, but with a smaller concentration and fewer classes. While most colleges require students to have a major, choosing a minor is often optional. It can enhance and extend the scope of your major — and not only increase your knowledge but also your marketability to employers and graduate programs.

College Rankings – rating of colleges by various organizations, media, and book publishers. Many college-bound students use one or more rankings as ONE of several criteria used to either develop an initial list of colleges or evaluate among the colleges that accepted you for admission. Some of the more popular rankings include U.S. News & World Report, Princeton Review, Consumers Digest, and Kiplinger’s.

Common Application – a time-saving device for students applying to any of the more than 300 colleges that participate in the program run by the non-profit Common Application organization. Students can apply online or use the print version, which allows you to spend less time on the busywork of completing multiple admission application forms, and more time on other elements of college-planning. You may have to submit supplemental materials for certain schools in addition to the common application.

Community Colleges – offer two-year associate degrees that prepare you to transfer to a four-year college to earn a bachelor’s degree. They also offer other associate degrees and certificates that focus on preparing you for a certain career. Community colleges are often an affordable option with relatively low tuition.

Cooperative Education Program (Co-op) – a program of postsecondary study that combines classroom learning with paid, hands-on work experience. Often, students alternate between attending classes and working at a real job in their field of study. They are set up as sequential, ongoing experiences; much like in college coursework, the level of learning increases as you progress.

Cost-of-Attendance (COA) – a student’s total cost of attending college, including books, fees, room and board, supplies, transportation, tuition, and other miscellaneous personal expenses. The COA also depends on marital and residency status.
Credit Hour – A unit of academic credit that often represents one hour of class time per week for a period of study (semester, quarter, etc.)

CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE – the financial aid application service of the College Board. More than 600 colleges, universities, graduate and professional schools, and scholarship programs use the information collected on the PROFILE to determine eligibility for nonfederal student aid funds. There is a fee for this form, but some waivers are given based on the financial information you enter. Make sure you complete the FAFSA as well, since it is the tool used for determining federal financial aid.

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College Glossary: D

Deposit – the sum of money that you pay to the college/university you choose to attend that holds your place in the freshman class. Typically it is required by May 1 and is nonrefundable.

Doctoral Degree – the highest degree offered by colleges and universities. This degree can take five or more years after a bachelor’s degree to complete.

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College Glossary: E

Early Action – an emerging trend in admissions that allows students to apply early for admission to the college of their choice and receive a decision well in advance of the normal response dates in the spring. Unlike Early Decision, you are not committed to enroll at that particular institution, and you can compare offers from other schools before making a final decision on what college to attend. Note: Applications are due much earlier for early decision requests and require more planning.

Early Decision – a binding agreement between the applicant and the college that basically states that, if accepted, the student agrees to attend the college. While you are still permitted to submit regular decision applications to other colleges, once you have been accepted through early decision, you are asked to withdraw all your other college applications. Early decision is a great idea for students certain of their college choice. Note: Applications are due much earlier for early decision requests and require more planning.

Expected Family Contribution (EFC) – the amount of tuition your family is expected to pay for college; this number determines a student’s eligibility for need-based federal financial aid. It is based on family earnings, net assets, savings, size of family, and the number of students in college.

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College Glossary: F

FAFSA – See Free Application for Federal Student Aid

Financial Aid – money provided to a student and/or his or her family to help pay for a student’s education. There are basically two types of financial aid provided to college-bound students: need-based aid and merit-based aid. Financial aid includes grants, scholarships, loans, and part-time employment from federal, state, institutional, and private sources. These types of aid are combined to create an “award package.” The type and amount of aid you receive is determined by financial need, available funds, student classification, academic performance, and sometimes the timeliness of your application.

Financial Aid Package – total financial aid award received by a student from all sources (federal, state, institutional, and private). The financial aid package typically includes a combination of aid (grants, student loans, scholarships, and work-study).

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) – official application that needs to be completed in order to apply for virtually all types of financial aid (federal, state, or institutional) for higher education. This form is distributed and processed by the United States Department of Education and should be completed as soon in possible in January of your senior year (and then in subsequent years) — once you have basic income and tax-related information for your family.

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College Glossary: G

Grade Point Average (GPA) – there are two types of GPAs. An unweighted version is simply the average grade you have earned in all your courses to date (with no attention to the difficulty of your courses), while a weighted average takes into account both the degree of difficulty of the courses (Advanced Placement, Honors, IB) and the grade earned in those courses.

Grant – sum of money given to a student based on certain criteria for the purposes of paying at least part of the cost of college. A grant does not have to be repaid.

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College Glossary: H

HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) and HSI (Hispanic-Serving Institution) – HBCUs focus on educating African American students. Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs) are colleges where at least 25 percent of the full-time undergraduate students are Hispanic. HBCUs and HSIs may offer programs, services and activities targeted to the underrepresented students they serve.

Honors Course – like advanced placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses, these courses are assumed to be taught at a higher level than traditional high school courses.

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College Glossary: I

Interest Inventories – short quizzes that help you learn which jobs or career clusters might be right for you, such as the Holland Interest Inventory.

International Baccalaureate (IB) Program – of the three types of “advanced” classes (the other two being honors and Advanced Placement classes), the IB program is of the highest level of difficulty, partly because it is a systematic program of study — with all classes taught at the highest level. Students who stay in the program earn an IB diploma. A truly international program of excellence, IB students learn how to ask challenging questions, develop a strong sense of their own identity and culture, and gain the ability to communicate and understand people for other countries and cultures.

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College Glossary: M

Master’s Degrees – a graduate degree added onto a bachelor’s degree. It usually takes two years to complete.

Merit-Based Financial Aid – financial aid that is offered based on academic excellence, artistic talent or ability, or demonstrated achievement in extra-curricular activities — instead of financial need (need-based aid). Money for education awarded through contests, competitions, or certain scholarships is an example of merit-based aid.

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College Glossary: N

National Merit Scholarship Program – Juniors who do well on the PSAT/NMSQT (see PSAT/NMSQT, below) may qualify for scholarships. A few students receive full scholarships.

NCAA – National Collegiate Athletic Association. The NCAA regulates and governs college and university athletics programs. It verifies that student athletes maintain their GPA to be eligible to play on an NCAA team.
Need-Based Financial Aid – financial assistance offered based on a student and his or her family’s ability to pay. The cost of education compared to a student’s (or a student’s family’s) ability to meet those costs. Money awarded from grants, student loans, and work-study are examples of need-based financial aid.

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College Glossary: O

Open Admissions – admissions procedure used by some colleges, often state junior colleges, in which students are admitted regardless of academic qualifications.

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College Glossary: P

PHEAA – The Pennsylvania Higher Educational Assistance Agency is a national provider of student financial aid services, serving millions of students and thousands of schools through its loan guaranty, loan servicing, financial aid processing, outreach, and other student aid programs.

PLAN – A pre-ACT test, PLAN® is a predictor of success on the ACT Assessment®. Students take PLAN® in the tenth grade. Like the ACT Assessment®, PLAN® is curriculum-based, and tests what you know and are able to do based on what you have been studying in the classroom. The tests cover four skill areas: English, mathematics, reading, and science reasoning.

Postsecondary Education – meaning “after high school” and referring to programs for high school graduates, including programs at two and four-year colleges, and vocational and technical schools.

Private Colleges – postsecondary schools that rely mainly on tuition, fees and private sources of funding. Private donations can sometimes provide generous financial aid packages for students.

PSAT/NMSQT – the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test is a practice test that helps students prepare for the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT). The PSAT is usually administered to tenth or eleventh grade students. Students who score well and meet other criteria may qualify for the National Merit Scholarship Program.

Public Colleges – postsecondary schools that are funded by local and state governments and usually offer lower tuition rates than private colleges, especially for students who are residents of the state where a college is located.

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College Glossary: R

Recommendation Letter – most college applications either require or request several letters of recommendation from each applicant — and even if one you are applying to does not, it is still a smart idea to send them. Typically, students ask their school counselor and one or two teachers to write them. If you have worked part-time while in high school, another good source is a current or former boss. The key to getting strong letters endorsing your application is to ask adults who know your work and your potential. Remember to give as much lead-time as possible so that the writers have enough time to write a strong letter.

Regular Admissions – the typical admissions process for college-bound students who do not have a clear favorite choice. With this method you send in your completed application about midway through your senior year of high school (typically in January or February, but earlier is always better, and you should check each college for deadlines), and each college notifies you of their decision later in the Spring (often early April). When you apply through the regular admission channels you have no obligation to attend any of the schools to which you have applied. Compare to Early Action and Early Decision.

Rolling Admissions – an admissions policy in which the college you apply to accepts applications throughout the year, reviewing applications as they arrive, and sending decision letters as soon as they are made. More traditional admissions policies have an application deadline in early winter (typically January or February), after which all applications are reviewed and students are notified of decisions in late spring (between March and April).

Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) – a program that can help college students pay for their education. In return for scholarship money, students agree to serve in the military. Junior ROTC students are not required to serve.

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College Glossary: S

Scholarship – a form of college financial aid that does not require repayment and is often made to students who show potential for distinction in their field of study. Some scholarships are awarded by colleges, but many others are awarded by individual organizations, all with various criteria and application deadlines. It is your job to find and apply for scholarships.

SAT (Scholastic Achievement Test) – one of two widely accepted college entrance exams (the other is the ACT), the SAT is a test of developed language skills and mathematical reasoning abilities, designed to assess general thinking and problem-solving abilities. (This test was formerly called SAT I.)

SAT Subject Tests – standardized tests given in five specific subjects (English, Math, Science, Foreign Language, and History/Social Studies) and designed to measure your knowledge and skills in particular subject areas, as well as your ability to apply that knowledge. These tests are used by colleges not only to help with admission decisions, but also to assist in course placement and exemption of enrolled first-year students. There tests were formerly called the SAT II.

Selective Admissions – admissions procedure used by most colleges and universities, in which additional standards and criteria are required for acceptance into college, including such items as college entrance exam scores, class rank, GPA, written essay(s), recommendation letters, and more.

SOAR – Students Occupationally and Academically Ready is the Pennsylvania career and technical programs of study initiative that includes a statewide articulation agreement partnership between secondary schools and postsecondary institutions. Often, full completion of SOAR requirements translates to a minimum of 9 credits at a postsecondary, unchallenged.

Student Loans – the Federal government offers assistance to college students with the Stafford Loan, a popular, low-cost loan, to help you pay for school. After completing your FAFSA, your financial aid award letter from your college will show your eligibility for either a subsidized or unsubsidized Stafford Loan. Only U.S. citizens or eligible non-citizens enrolled at least half-time are eligible. Other student loan options are available, including student loans for parents of college students.

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College Glossary: T

Technical and Career Colleges – offer specialized training in a particular industry or career. Possible programs of study include the culinary arts, firefighting, dental hygiene and medical-records technology. These colleges usually offer certificates or associate degrees.

Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) – test used to evaluate the English proficiency of students applying to college whose first language is not English. The test covers all facets of English proficiency, including a test of spoken English and grammar exercises.

Transcript – a list of all the courses that a student has taken at a particular high school or college with the grades that the student earned in each course. Transcripts are usually required with college application forms and for admission.

Tuition – The amount colleges charge for each hour of class time. Tuition does not include the cost of books, fees, room, or board (food). Tuition charges also vary from college to college.

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College Glossary: U

Undergraduate – An undergraduate student is pursuing a one-, two-, or four-year degree.

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College Glossary: W

Wait List – somewhere between being accepted and being rejected, students who are waitlisted are informed that a final decision on their application will be delayed — usually until much later in the year when the school has an idea of how many of its accepted students will accept their offer and attend. Being waitlisted means you do not quite have the qualifications the school is seeking, and while there are some strategies for moving off the list and being accepted, it is also important to review the offers from schools that accept you outright.

Work-Study – a Federal program that allows students to work part-time during the school year as part of their financial aid package. The jobs are usually on campus and the money earned is used to pay tuition or other college expenses. Work-study is awarded to students based on financial need.

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