ACT (American College Testing): A standardized test used to assess a student’s skills and knowledge in English, math, reading, science, plus an optional writing section. Most colleges require students to submit either ACT or SAT scores for admissions consideration.
Admissions Office: The office that processes applications and decides which students to admit or reject. Applications are read by Admissions Officers.
Advanced Placement (AP) Exam: AP exams are offered by CollegeBoard are held over two weeks each May. Exams are offered in approximately 30 subject areas and it is possible for students to take the AP exam without taking an AP class. They are scored out of 5 and many colleges give students college credit for scores of 4 or 5.
Affordable Family Contribution: Students applying for financial aid are required to complete the FAFSA form, which generates the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). EFC is often more than the family can comfortably afford, so it is valuable to determine the family’s affordable family contribution, a determination done by the family themselves to provide a realistic picture of the amount of college expenses the family is ready to incur.
Award Letter: A letter or document that is sent from a college or university informing the student of the type and amount financial aid they are being offered. This will be broken down into grants, loans, scholarships, and any work-study eligibility. This letter is typically sent once a student applies to a college or university and completes the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
Baltimore Collegetown: A college consortium comprised of 13 member colleges including Johns Hopkins University, the Community College of Baltimore County, the University of Baltimore and Towson University.
BS/MD and BA/MD Programs: Some colleges and universities offer these direct-entry programs that enable a student to graduate with a BS or BA plus their MD within 6-8 years. The MCAT is waived for some of these programs.
CCC (California Community Colleges): This is the largest system of higher education in the U.S. with 2.1 million students attending 113 colleges. The system has a wide range of educational offerings providing workforce training, basic courses in English and math, certificate and degree programs and preparation for transfer to four-year institutions. Costs are very low compared to other higher-education options, and admission is open to all who can benefit. A California Community College can be a great choice for an international student wishing to improve English language skills and save money on general education requirements before transferring to a 4-year institution. CCC has transfer agreements with the California State Universities and University of California systems that guarantee transfer if certain requirements are met.
Claremont Consortium: Also referred to as the Claremont Colleges, this consortium is comprised of Pomona College, Claremont College, Scripps College, Harvey Mudd College, Pitzer College, Claremont Graduate University, and the Keck Graduate Institute. Each of these five undergraduate schools and two graduate schools is independent, but as a consortium they share many activities and academics across the various schools.
Coalition Application: The Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success is an undergraduate college admission application that applicants may use to apply to 140 member colleges and universities in the U.S.
College: An educational institution that provides education at the undergraduate level for students who have completed high school. This term is used interchangeably with “University” in the U.S.
College Consortium: A college consortium is an association of two or more colleges with the objective of participating in a common activity or pooling their resources for achieving a common goal. The members band together to offer unusual programs that could not be supported individually. Old and well-known examples include the Five Colleges Consortium, Claremont Consortium and the Baltimore Collegetown.
Common Application: An undergraduate college admission application that applicants may use to apply to any of 625 member colleges and universities in 47 states and the District of Columbia, as well as some colleges/universities in Canada, China, and Europe. It is managed by the staff of a not-for-profit membership association (The Common Application, Inc.) and governed by a 13-member volunteer Board of Directors drawn from the ranks of college admissions deans and secondary school college guidance counselors. Its mission is to encourage the use of “holistic admission,” a process that includes subjective factors gleaned from essays and recommendations alongside more objective criteria such as GPA, class rank, and standardized testing.
Core Curriculum: The set of common courses required of all undergraduates and considered to be a necessary general education for all students, irrespective of their choice in major. Most colleges require students to complete a core curriculum but the courses included varies by institution.
Cost of Attendance (COA): COA is the estimated full and reasonable cost of completing a full academic year (usually nine months) as a full-time student. It includes: 1) Tuition and fees 2) Books and supplies 3) Room and board 4) Personal costs (medical, toiletries, clothing, laundry) 5) Travel and transportation costs. As of October 29, 2011, every post-secondary institution that receives federal financial aid funds is required to post its COA. Financial aid cannot exceed the COA.
CSS (College Scholarship Service) Profile: Commonly referred to as the PROFILE, this is a detailed financial aid application developed by CollegeBoard and currently required by nearly 400 private colleges and universities. The PROFILE requests much more detailed personal financial information than the FAFSA form requires. Private colleges use this information in determining both need and merit based institutional awards.
CSU (California State Universities): Established in 1870, CSU is the largest four-year public university system in the United States. There are currently 23 campuses, 8 off-campus centers and nearly 500,000 students enrolled.
Defer: Colleges will sometimes defer a student who applied in the Early Action or Early Decision admissions cycles, meaning this student’s application will be reconsidered in the Regular Decision pool of applicants. This often indicates that the college requires more information before making an admission decision about this student.
Demonstrated Interest: Demonstrated interest is the degree to which you show a college that you are sincerely interested in coming to their school. This has become an increasingly important factor in admissions decisions as colleges prefer to offer their limited seats to students who are the most likely to enroll. Colleges quantify demonstrated interest through contacts the student has with the school. This can include campus tours, college interviews, checking in at college fairs, applying early action or early decision, engaging with the admissions office or faculty with relevant questions, active involvement in the college’s social media platforms for potential students, etc.
Distribution Requirements: Many college require students to complete classes in different areas of study. Some colleges use the term General Education Requirements or Core Curriculum to describe their particular requirements.
Division I, II, III: NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) groupings of colleges for athletic competition purposes.
Dual Degree Program: a specialized program in which students can opt to study for two degree programs. After the program is completed, the student is awarded with two degrees.
Early Action (EA): Many colleges offer students the opportunity to apply EA, usually with a November deadline, allowing students to find out earlier (often by the end of January) if they are admitted. In contrast to Early Decision, it is not binding. Students may continue to apply to other colleges and have until May 1st to make their decision.
Early Admission: Some colleges offer outstanding students who have not yet completed high school to be admitted and enroll full-time in college, usually after their junior year.
Early Decision (ED): ED can be a good option for students who have a clear “first choice” school and for whom the school’s COA is comfortably affordable. The likelihood of admission is typically higher for ED applicants, but if the school offers admission, it becomes a binding commitment and the student must attend. There are some exceptions and nuances to ED requirements, and they must be carefully considered before deciding to apply ED.
EFC (Expected Family Contribution): This term has been replaced by Student Aid Index (SAI) beginning in the 2023-24 year.
Experiential Learning: A style of learning that allows students to go through the process of learning about subject matter by experiencing lessons outside of books and traditional classroom settings. This may include internships, shadowing, experiments, projects, observation, exploration, etc. and goes beyond rote memorization and lectures.
Extracurricular: Non-academic interests and activities pursued by the student, including as clubs, hobbies, sports, and work.
FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid): The FAFSA is a required form that families must complete annually for students to be considered for federal or state financial aid. Financial aid awards may consist of grants, loans, and work-study. It becomes available on October 1st for the following academic year, but families can complete the FAFSA4caster in advance to determine their EFC.
Financial Aid Forecaster: A Washington State tool to calculate federal financial need.
Financial Aid: Loans, grants, and work study that help to cover the cost of education, including tuition, fees, room, board, and expenses. It can be need or merit based. Sources of financial aid include federal and state governments, private institutions, colleges and universities.
First-Generation Student: A student whose parents and grandparents did not attend college.
Five Colleges Consortium: Comprised of Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, this consortium is designed to enhance the social and cultural life of the 30,000 students attending these colleges. The cooperative arrangement allows any undergraduate at the four private liberal arts colleges and UMass to take any of the 5,300 courses offered by 2,200-member faculty for credit and use the library facilities of any of other four schools.
Gap Year: Long popular in Europe, American students are increasingly opting to take a year off between high school and college. They typically apply and then defer enrollment in order to engage in meaningful activities during their gap year. The range of activities can include academic programs, travel, community service, etc. The many benefits of taking a gap year include gaining personal and/or professional experience, achieving specific goals, exploring personal interests and passions, and simply maturing. Colleges are likely to look favorably on students taking a gap year, but only if they have a concrete plan to use the time for meaningful activity.
GPA (Grade Point Average): A student’s GPA is a number that represents the average value of the accumulated final grades earned in courses taken over time. It is calculated by adding up the accumulated final grades and dividing that figure by the number of grades awarded. This calculation results in a mathematical mean – or average – of all final grades. The most common form of GPA is based on a 0 to 4.0 scale (A = 4.0, B = 3.0, C = 2.0, D = 1.0, and F = 0), with a 4.0 representing a “perfect” GPA—or a student having earned straight A’s in every course. Schools may also assign partial points for “plus” or “minus” letter grades, such as a 3.7 for an A–, a 3.3 for a B+, and so on. GPAs may be calculated at the end of a course, semester, or grade level, and a “cumulative GPA” represents the average of all final grades the student earned from the time they first enrolled. GPA is always calculated separately for high school and college.
Holistic Review: Admissions professionals at most U.S. colleges base their admissions decisions on a holistic review. They view the applying student as a whole person and not just a GPA or standardized test score. Factors taken into consideration include extracurricular activities, leadership, character, personal statements and additional essays, letters of recommendation, and unique qualities that student may embody or contribute to their incoming class.
Honors Colleges/Programs: Many large universities offer separate honors colleges or programs within the university. Admission to honors programs vary, with some requiring additional applications and some using general application data to determine admissibility. Students in honors programs frequently enjoy smaller or special classes, enjoy priority registration for courses, and have access to addition resources. They often have special access to faculty and research opportunities. Honors students may be required to write a thesis or research paper.
IB (International Baccalaureate): IB is a non-profit educational foundation offering four programs, divided by age, for children 3-19. Their diploma program is recognized around the world as an advanced course option for high school students. It offers international education that develops the intellectual, personal, emotional and social skills needed to live, learn and work in a rapidly globalizing world. Schools must be authorized by the IB foundation to offer IB courses or the IB diploma. Many colleges give credit for IB exam scores of 5, 6, or 7.
Legacy: A legacy student is one with a close relative that attended a school. For example, the daughter of a Yale alumnus would be a Yale legacy student. Colleges value legacy status because applicants are more likely to attend if given an offer of admission, and more likely to stay connected and donate to the school post-graduation. The importance of legacy status depends on the university, though in general, it will help an applicant’s chances of admission. It is for this reason that legacy status has become a controversial topic.
Liberal Arts Education: A broad program of study that aims to teach critical thinking and to impart general knowledge and intellectual capacities. This is in contrast to a professional, vocational, or technical curriculum. A liberal arts education typically involves studies in the humanities, physical and biological sciences and mathematics, and the social sciences. Liberal arts students may study broadly across each of these areas or specialize in one.
Likely Letter: College will occasionally notify exceptional applicants early, typically several weeks before the official notification date, using a Likely Letter. These are given very selectively, usually to athletic recruits and students of extraordinary merit.
Major: An academic discipline or concentrated area of study to which a student commits immediately or more commonly at the end of their second year in college. A student who successfully completes the courses specified in an academic major qualifies for an undergraduate degree in this major.
Matriculate: Enroll and pay fees to attend. A university might make a distinction between “matriculated students,” who are actually accumulating credits toward a degree, and a relatively few “non-matriculated students” who may be auditing courses or taking classes without receiving credits.
Merit Scholarship: Money awarded to outstanding students based on academic, athletic, or artistic achievement. Colleges award merit scholarships as a tool for enticing strong students to enroll at their institution. Scholarship amounts vary widely from $100 to full tuition and expenses. They are often renewable for all four years of study, subject to certain requirements. Merit aid does not need to be paid back.
Minor: A second main area of study that has fewer requirements than the major. A student who successfully completes the courses specified in an academic minor qualifies for official recognition of this accomplishment.
NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association): A member-led non-profit organization dedicated to improving the experiences of college athletes. Members of the association decide which rules to adopt to regulate the recruiting of student athletes, compliance to academics, championships rules, and other student athlete policies on campus. Each year the NCAA funds 90 championships in 24 sports. Potential college athletes are advised to familiarize themselves with NCAA during their early high school years to ensure compliance.
Need-Aware or Need-Sensitive: Colleges that consider a student’s financial situation when making their admissions decision. For example, if the college considers applicants to be equally qualified, they are more likely to grant admission to the applicant who is able to pay more.
Need-Blind: Colleges that do not consider a student’s financial situation or even take it into account when making admissions decisions. They colleges typically enjoy massive endowment funds and can afford to adopt this policy. They have often made an institutional decision to prioritize need-based aid, and often award little if any merit scholarships.
Net Price Calculator: Colleges are required to post a Net Price Calculator on their website. The calculator is a tool that prospective students may use to determine their likely net price, which is the difference between the published COA less any need- or merit-based financial aid. It does not include loans or work study in its calculation.
Notification Date: Typically May 1st, this is the date by which applicants who are accepted for admission are expected to notify the institutions of their intent to enroll and make their enrollment deposits.
PSAT/NMSQT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test and National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test): Taken by approximately 3.5 million high school sophomores and juniors each year, this test serves both as preparation for the SAT and as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. Students with top NMSQT scores are considered for National Merit Scholarships.
Quaker Consortium: A Philadelphia-area college consortium comprised of the University of Pennsylvania, Bryn Mawr College, Haverford College and Swarthmore College. Each member institution has some Quaker heritage and academic traditions. Students may take classes at any of the member institutions, with some restrictions.
Rolling Admissions: Colleges with rolling admissions process student applications as they are submitted and students typically receive a decision shortly after applying. Applications may be submitted until all open seats have been filled or the school decides to close admissions for that term.
SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test): A standardized test administered by CollegeBoard, the SAT aims to measure a student’s skills and knowledge to determine what they learned in high school and whether they will be successful in college. The test is comprised of sections for reading, writing and language, math, plus an optional essay section. Most colleges require students to submit either SAT or ACT scores for admissions consideration.
SAT Subject Tests: Also referred to as SAT 2 Tests, these are one-hour multiple choice tests offered by CollegeBoard. There are 21 subjects available. Though most colleges do not require applicants to submit subject test scores, some of the more selective schools and programs may require up to three subject tests. It is important to check the testing requirements of the colleges you are interested in applying to.
Recommendation Letters: Most colleges require applicants to submit recommendation letters from at least one teacher. Refer to each college for their particular requirements.
Restricted Early Action (REA) and Single Choice Early Action (SCEA): These variations of Early Action and Early Decision options are used by some selective colleges to set unique restrictions on the rules that surround a student’s applications to competing schools. Students applying REA or SCEA may typically apply early to a non-binding public university, a college with rolling admissions, and international universities. This gives the candidate the opportunity to demonstrate their preference for a given school and receive an earlier decision without being bound to that school if accepted. Many selective universities have added this option in recent years, but it is important to understand each college’s specific requirements as they vary by institution.
School Profile: High schools provide colleges with a School Profile that encapsulates key information about their school. Colleges use this information to evaluate a student in the context of their high school. It is typically submitted by the school counselor along with the Secondary School Report
Seattle Promise: Two years of tuition at a Seattle community college for graduates of Seattle public high schools.
Secondary School Report: Also known as a Counselor’s Report, this form is completed by high school counselors. It provides the student’s basic information, a list of courses taken in senior year and the grades received, if available. This form includes the counselor’s recommendation and provides the college with insight into the particular student’s performance in the context of their school. It is usually provided along with the School Profile.
Student Aid Index (SAI): The amount the federal government determines a student or their family is able to pay for college per year. This amount is determined through completion of the FAFSA application.
Student Diversity: Most colleges seek to build a diverse class of incoming students. They consider diversity across a variety of differences in achievement, study level, athletic ability, cultural background, personality, religious beliefs, geographic location, etc.
Tertiary System: The three tiers of schools typically available for U.S. students to attend after high school: Universities, colleges, and vocational/trade schools. Distinctions between the three tiers are increasingly blurring.
Transcript: The official record of a student’s courses and grades, which is required by colleges to be sent directly to them by the student’s high school.
Universal Application: An undergraduate college admission application that applicants may use to apply to its 15 member colleges. Some schools also require an institutional supplement.
University: This term is used interchangeably with “college” in the U.S. A college is an institution of higher education that grants undergraduate and graduate degrees with greater emphasis on research. Most universities embody colleges as divisions or faculties within their institution.
University of California (UC): A public university system in the State of California that currently enrolls just over 250,000 students across ten campuses. The universities within the UC system, most notably UC Berkeley, UCLA and UC San Diego, are well regarded internationally well-known.
Wait List: A list of qualified applicants who may be offered admission if there is space available after all admitted students have made their decisions. Being on a wait list is not a guarantee of eventual admission
Washington College Grant: Grant for the cost of tuition and other education expenses at a public college, university, or institute of technology in Washington State. Sliding scale based on family income.
Yield: The percentage of students offered admission to a particular college that ultimately enroll. Yield is an important statistic for colleges because it is often perceived as an indication of desirability and prestige. Colleges employ enrollment management strategies such as early decision, early action, and demonstrated interest to maximize their yield.