College 101

College Terms 101

Here’s a glossary of all the words you’ll find on college applications, financial aid forms, and award letters. The terms you’ll probably see the most are underlined.

Academic adviser – This is a senior faculty member in your area of concentration who is assigned to advise you on course selections and requirements. Before you declare your major, you will be assigned a temporary faculty adviser.

Academic Load – The amount of credit hours you earn per semester. Lecture-type classes routinely require two to three hours of outside work for each hour spent in class and thus earn 3 credit hours. To ensure that students have every opportunity for success in courses undertaken, academic loads are controlled and usually do not exceed 15 hours (5 classes) or 18 hours (6 classes) per semester.

Academic year – usually two semesters (fall and spring), plus a summer session and examination periods.

Accelerated study – This program allows you to graduate in less time than is usually required. For instance, by taking summer terms and extra courses during the academic year, you could finish a bachelor’s degree in three years instead of four.

ACTThis is a test published by American College Testing. The ACT measures a student’s aptitude in English, mathematics, reading, and science reasoning. Many colleges in the South and Midwest require students to take this test and submit their test scores when they apply for admission. Some colleges accept this test or the SAT. (See below for explanation of SAT.) Most students take the ACT or the SAT during their junior or senior year of high school.

Add/Drop – A period after courses begin, when students may add or drop a class in their schedule.

Admissions decisions

Admit — You’re in! You are being offered admissions to the college to which you applied. Your high school will receive notification, too.

Admit/deny — You have been admitted but denied any financial aid. It is up to you to figure out how you are going to pay for school.

Deny — You are not in. The decision is made by the college or university admissions committee and is forwarded to you and your high school.

Wait list — You are not in yet but have been placed on a waiting list in case and opening becomes available. Schools rank their wait list in order of priority, and unfortunately, the more competitive schools have years when they never draw from their wait lists. After a certain time, a rejection notice is sent.

Admissions OfficeThe office on a college campus which houses the people who recruit, interview and admit students to the college.

Advanced Placement (AP) – College-level courses offered in high schools for which students pay a fee to take the exam. (Grades on a scale of 1 to 5). Scores of 3 and above may be eligible for credit and advanced standing at many colleges.

Assets: Anything that is owned. When determining financial need, assets include: cash, real estate, personal property, investments, savings accounts, etc.

Associate of Applied Science (AAS) – A degree designed for students in technical programs that prepares them for the job market.

Associate of Arts (AA) – A degree designed for students who wish to transfer to a college or university to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Associate of Business (ABus) – A degree designed for students who wish to transfer to a college or university to earn a bachelor’s degree in business.

Associate of Science (AS) – A degree designed for students who wish to transfer to a college or university to earn a bachelor of science degree.

Awards package — This is the way colleges and universities deliver their news about student eligibility for financial aid or grants. The most common packages include Pell Grants, Stafford Loans, and Work Study (see below).

Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science – Degree earned from a 4-year college or university.

Branch campus – A campus connected to, or part of, a large institution. Generally, a student spends the first two years at a branch campus and then transfers to the main campus to complete the baccalaureate degree. A branch campus provides a smaller and more persona environment that may help a student mature personally and academically before moving to a larger and more impersonal environment. A branch campus experience may be a good idea for a student who wants to remain close to home or for an adult learner who wishes to work and attend college classes on a part-time basis.

Candidates Reply Date Agreement (CRDA) — If admitted to a college, a student does not have to reply until May 1. This allows time to hear from all the colleges to which the student applied before having to make a commitment to any of them. This is especially important because financial aid packages vary from one school to another, and the CRDA allows time to compare packages before deciding.

College BoardA not-for-profit membership association responsible for administering SAT, SAT Subject Tests, PSAT/NMSQT, AP, and CLEP tests. They have a lot of resources for students interested in applying for college on their website, including a scholarship search, career interest tests, and essay writing information:

College-preparatory subjects – Courses taken in high school that are viewed by colleges and universities as a strong preparation for college work. The specific courses are usually in the five majors area of English, history, world languages, mathematics, and science. The courses may be regular, honors-level, or AP offerings, and the latter two categories are often weighted when calculated in the GPA.

College Scholarship Service (CSS) – When the federal government changed the FAFSA form several years ago, the College Board created this program to assist postsecondary institutions, state scholarship programs, and other organizations in measuring a family’s financial strength and analyzing its ability to contribute to college costs. CSS processes the PROFILE financial form that students may use to apply for nonfederal aid. This form is submitted to some 300 private colleges and universities along with the FAFSA when seeking financial aid from these institutions. Participating colleges and universities indicate whether they require this form.

Common and Universal Applications – These college application forms can save students hours of work. The Common Application is presently accepted by about 190 independent colleges, while the Universal is used by about 1,000 schools. The colleges and universities that accept these standardized forms give them equal weight with their own application forms. Students complete the information on the standardized form and then submit it to any of the schools listed as accepting it. Some schools will return a supplementary form to be completed by the applicant, but most schools base their decisions on these documents alone. The Common Application is available on disk or as a hard copy and can be obtained from your guidance department. The Universal Application is available on the Web.

Cooperative education – A college program that alternates between periods of full-time study and full-time employment in a related field. Students are paid for their work and gain practical experience in their major, which helps them apply for positions after graduation. It can take five years to obtain a baccalaureate degree through a co-op program.

Cost of education/Cost of AttendanceThis includes tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, transportation, and miscellaneous expenses. A student’s financial aid eligibility is the difference between the cost of education and the Expected Family Contribution as computed by the federal government using the FAFSA.

Course Names – Courses are identified by a prefix and a numeric code that indicates the difficulty level of the course. For example: CIS 110 – Introduction to Computer Information Systems (CIS is the letter code for Computer Information Systems; 110 indicates the difficulty level of the course). Courses numbered in the 100 series are considered to be first-year courses and 200 level classes are considered to be second-year courses. Descriptions of all courses are listed in the course catalog.

Credit Hours – Awarded to a course based on the amount of time necessary to complete the class material. Can range from 1 hour (a lab) to 5 (a foreign language class that meets 5 days a week), but most classes count for 3 credit hours and meet for a total of 3 hours a week.

Cross-registration — The practice, through agreements between colleges, of permitting students enrolled at one college or university to enroll in courses at another institution without formally applying for admission to the second institution. This can be an advantage for students in a smaller college who might like to expand options or experience another learning environment.

Deferment – A policy by which a college will allow you to defer your enrollment for one year if you notify them accordingly, reserve a space with a tuition deposit, and do not use the year for academic study elsewhere.

Dependent StudentsThose who are at least partially dependent on their parents for financial support. Parents of a dependent student must submit parental information on the FAFSA for the student to be considered for financial aid.

Disbursement: The paying out of money from a scholarship, grant, or other source.

Distance learning – Instruction provided outside the traditional classroom.

Double major — Available at most schools, the double major allows a student to complete all the requirements to simultaneously earn a major in two fields.

Dual enrollment — This policy allows a student to earn college credit while still in high school. Many of these course credits can be transferred to a degree-granting institution, especially if the student maintains a minimum B average. A college, however, may disallow courses taken in the major field of concentration at another institution because its policy dictates that all courses in the major must be taken at the college. When considering dual enrollment, students should talk with admissions offices at the colleges they are considering enrolling in to make sure that they will accept credit transfers.

Early Decision – Although dates vary from college to college, in general all credentials must be in by November 15. The admission and financial aid decision is given by December 15; the reply date from candidate is January 1.

Education IRA – An account in which parents can deposit up to $500 a year that is slated specifically for future college expenses.

Electives– Electives are additional courses that may be required in a program of study. Often a student is given some flexibility in choosing these electives.

Eligible Non-Citizen – A government term for people who are not citizens of the United States, but through special circumstances still qualify for federal student assistance programs.

EligibilityThe degree to which a student qualifies for financial aid, usually expressed in a dollar figure; eligibility is based on a number of criteria.

Estimated Student’s ContributionThe calculated amount you should be able to provide to cover a portion of the expenses incurred while attending college. It is calculated from your expected income, assets, and benefits.

Expected Family Contribution (EFC)An amount, determined by a formula that is specified by law, that indicates how much of a family’s financial resources should be available to help pay for school. Factors such as taxable and non- taxable income, assets (such as savings and checking accounts), and benefits (for example, unemployment or Social Security) are all considered in this calculation. The EFC is used in determining eligibility for Federal need-based aid.

Federal Direct Student Loan (FDSL)A Stafford, PLUS, or consolidated loan that is sponsored by the federal government.

FAFSAFree Application for Federal Student Aid, the only application used by the federal government for awarding federal student financial aid. The FAFSA is available online at Information is available at or by calling 1-800-4-FEDAID. Hearing impaired: call 1-800-730-8913.

Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program: A federal program whereby subsidized or unsubsidized low interest loans are provided by private lenders.

Fees – These are charges that cover costs not associated with the student’s course load, such as costs of some athletic activities, clubs, and special events.

Financial AidFinancial aid in this handbook refers to money available from various sources to help students pay for college.

Financial Aid PackageThe total amount of financial aid a student receives. Federal and non-federal aid such as grants, loans, or work-study are combined in a “package” to help meet the student’s need. Using available resources to give each student the best possible package of aid is one of the major responsibilities of a school’s financial aid administrator.

Financial Need – In the context of student financial aid, financial need is equal to the cost of education (estimated costs for college attendance and basic living expenses) minus the expected family contribution (the amount a student’s family is expected to pay, which varies according to the family’s financial resources).

Full-time Student – A student enrolled for 12 or more credit hours per semester.

General Educational Development (GED) Diploma – The certificate students receive if they have passed a high school equivalency test. Students who don’t have a high school diploma but who have a GED will still qualify for federal student aid.

General Education Courses – Core classes required for all degrees; examples include English, mathematics, sciences, social and behavioral science, languages, etc.

Grade Point Average (GPA) – A measurement of a student’s academic achievement, calculated by dividing earned grade points by the divisor listed on the student’s transcript.

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

Greek life – This phrase refers to sororities and fraternities. These organizations often have great impact on the campus social life of a college or university.

Honors program – Honors programs offer an enriched, top-quality educational experience that often includes small class size, custom-designed courses, mentoring, enriched individualized learning, hands-on research, and publishing opportunities. A hand-picked faculty member guides students through the program. Honors programs are a great way to attend a large school that offers enhanced social and recreational opportunities while receiving an Ivy League-like education at a reduced cost.

International Baccalaureate Diploma (IB) – The IB diploma is awarded to students who pursue rigorous pre-college coursework and successfully complete required examinations. It is based on a curriculum that involves languages, sciences, humanities and mathematics and is intended to be an academically challenging program for highly motivated students. The IB diploma is offered at a very limited number of high schools.

Independent Student – One who is: (1) at least 24 years old; (2) an orphan or a ward of the court; (3) a veteran; (4) a graduate, professional or married student not claimed on a parental tax return; (5) a student who has legal dependents.

Independent study – This option allows students to complete some of their credit requirements by studying on their own. A student and his or her faculty adviser agree in advance on the topic and approach of the study program and meet periodically to discuss the student’s progress. A final report is handed in for a grade at the end of the term.

Interest – This refers to the amount that your money earns when it is kept in a savings instrument. Internship – This is an experience-based opportunity, most often scheduled during breaks in the academic calendar,

whereby a student receives credit for a supervised work experience related to his or her major.

InterviewRecommended but not required part of the admission process. An opportunity to exchange information with an admissions officer.

LoanA loan is a type of financial aid that is available to students and to the parents of students. An education loan must be repaid. In many cases, however, payments do not begin until the student finishes school.

Major– The subject a students wishes to study, for example, business, computers, English, etc. To earn a degree in this major the student must take a certain number of hours in this department.

Minor – An area of concentration with fewer credits than a major. The minor can be related to the major area of concentration or not; for example, an English major may have a minor in theater.

Merit-based Financial AidThis kind of financial aid is given to students who meet requirements not related to financial needs. Most merit-based aid is awarded on the basis of academic performance or potential and is given in the form of scholarships or grants.

Need (Financial)Determined by information presented on FAFSA. This figure is used to prepare student’s financial aid package.

Need-based Financial AidThis kind of financial aid is given to students who are determined to be in financial need of assistance based on their income and assets and their families’ income and assets, as well as some other factors.

Open Admissions – This term means that a college admits most or all students who apply to the school. At some colleges it means that anyone who has a high school diploma or a GED can enroll. At other schools it means that anyone over 18 can enroll. “Open admissions,” therefore, can mean slightly different things at different schools.

Part-time Student – defined as a student enrolled for fewer than 12 credit hours per semester.

Pell GrantsThese are federal need-based grants that were given to almost 4 million students for school year 1998-99. In school year 1998-99, the maximum Pell Grant was $3,100.

Perkins LoansThis is a federal financial aid program that consists of low-interest loans for undergraduates and graduate students with exceptional financial need. Loans are awarded by the school.

PLUS LoansThese federal loans allow parents to borrow money for their children’s college education.

PostsecondaryThis term means “after high school” and refers to all programs for high school graduates, including

programs at two-and four-year colleges and vocational and technical schools.

Prerequisite – A requirement that must be satisfied before a student can enter a course. The prerequisite may be a previous course, specific experience, or specific scores on the assessment placement screening.

Probation (Academic) – When your GPA falls below a certain level, you will be placed on academic probation and the number of courses you may take will be limited for the following semester.

Professor – General term for all faculty. If your professor has a doctoral degree, you may also refer to him/her as a “doctor”.

Program of Study– The specific program a student follows. After choosing a specific degree or certificate type, a student will then choose the major within that degree or certificate. A program of study for each major choice is generally in the school catalog and it gives a student a blueprint to follow. Examples of degrees or certificate majors include: AAS in nursing, AA with an emphasis in mathematics and a certificate in computer aided drafting.

Promissory Note: A legal note that a student must sign when awarded a loan; stipulates conditions and repayment terms.

Proprietary – This is a term used to describe postsecondary schools that are private and are legally permitted to make a profit. Most proprietary schools offer technical and vocational courses.

PSAT/NMSQT – This stands for the Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, a practice test that helps students prepare for the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT I). The PSAT is usually administered to tenth or eleventh grade students. Although colleges do not see a student’s PSAT/NMSQT score, a student who does very well on this test and who meets many other academic performance criteria may qualify for the National Merit Scholarship Program.

RecommendationEvaluations by teachers, counselors, headmasters, etc., which are an important part of the admission decision.

Registration: Each semester you must register in specific classes for the next semester, pay tuition and fees, etc.

Residency requirement – The term has more than one meaning. It can refer to the fact that a college may require a specific number of course to be taken on campus to receive a degree from the school, or the phrase can mean the time, by law, that is required for a person to reside in the state to be considered eligible for in-state tuition at one of its public colleges or universities.

Rolling Admission: Admission is offered as the decision is made. Room & Board – The fees charged by a college for a dorm room (or other living facility) and meals during the school


ROTC – This stands for Reserve Officers Training Corps program, which is a scholarship program wherein the military covers the cost of tuition, fees, and textbooks and also provides a monthly allowance. Scholarship recipients participate in summer training while in college and fulfill a service commitment after college.

SATThis stands for the Scholastic Assessment Test, published by the College Board. The SAT is a test that measures a student’s mathematical and verbal reasoning abilities. Many colleges in the East and West require students to take the SAT and to submit their test scores when they apply for admission. Some colleges accept this test or the ACT. (See above for an explanation of the ACT.) Most students take the SAT or the ACT during their junior or senior year.

SAT Subject Test – SAT subject tests (also known as SAT II tests) are offered in many areas of study including English, mathematics, many sciences, history, and foreign languages. Some colleges require students to take one or more SAT subject tests when they apply for admission.

Satisfactory Completion of a Course – A 100- or 200-level course is satisfactorily completed when a student earns the equivalent of a grade of “C” or better. Satisfactory completion of a zero-level course occurs when a student receives a grade of “S”.

ScholarshipA scholarship is a sum of money given to a student for the purposes of paying at least part of the cost of college. Scholarships can be awarded to students based on students’ academic achievements or on many other factors.

SEOG (Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant) – This is a federal award that helps undergraduates with exceptional financial need, and is awarded by the school. The SEOG does not have to be paid back.

Stafford LoansThese are student loans offered by the federal government. There are two types of Stafford Loans — one need-based and another non-need-based. Under the Stafford Loan programs, students can borrow money to attend school and the federal government will guarantee the loan in case of default. Under the Stafford Loan programs, the combined loan limits are $2,625 for the first year, $3,500 for the second year, $5,500 for the third or more years. An undergraduate cannot borrow more than a total of $23,000.

Student Aid Report (SAR) — Report of the government’s review of a student’s FAFSA. The SAR is sent to the student and released electronically to the schools that the student listed. The SAR does not supply a real money figure for aid but indicates whether the student is eligible.

Student-designed major — Students design their own majors under this policy. It offers students the opportunity to develop nontraditional options not available in the existing catalog of majors.

Syllabus: Written description of course content distributed by instructors to students.

Title-IV – The section of the federal code that defines government aid programs; schools that participate in Title IV programs are all assigned a code for students to use when applying for aid.

TOEFL: Test of English as a Foreign Language. Required of foreign students who are overseas at the time they apply.

Total Cost of AttendanceAn estimated total of all college costs used in determining a student’s eligibility for financial aid; total costs include such expenses as tuition, books and supplies, housing, meals, personal expenses, transportation/travel, and miscellaneous expenses.

Transcript – Official record of all classes for which a grade is received. A transcript includes withdrawals but excludes drops.

Transfer program – This program is usually found in a two-year college or in a four-year college that offers associate degrees. It allows a student to continue his or her studies in a four-year college by maintaining designated criteria set down at acceptance to the two-year program. It is not necessary to earn an associate degree to transfer.

Transfer student – A student who transfers from one college or university to another. Credits applied toward the transfer will be evaluated by the receiving school to determine the number it will accept. Each school sets different policies for transfers, so anyone considering this option should seek guidance.

TuitionThis is the amount of money that colleges charge for classroom and other instruction and use of some facilities such as libraries. Tuition can range from a few hundred dollars per year to more than $20,000. A few colleges do not charge any tuition.

Tuition Prepayment Plan: Allows future tuition to be paid at current rates; some plans allow for payment years in advance.

Unsubsidized Loan – A loan that accrues interest while a student is still in school.

Waiting List: A list of candidates who do not receive an initial offer of admission but who may be admitted later, after initial acceptances have been received by the college.

William D. Ford Federal Direct Loans – Under this new program, students may obtain federal loans directly from their college or university with funds provided by the U.S. Department of Education instead of a bank or other lender.

Withdrawal period – A period in which students may withdraw from enrolled classes after the drop/add period has ended. Usually this withdrawal will appear on a permanent transcript as a “W” or “I” (incomplete).

Work-Study ProgramsThese programs are offered by many colleges. They allow 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 for tuition or other college charges.


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