College Admissions Terminology

AA (ASSOCIATE OF ARTS): A 2-year community/technical college degree.

ACADEMIC CALENDAR: Breaks the school year into one of the following:

  • Semester: two terms of 17-18 weeks  
  • Quarter: three terms of 10 - 11 weeks (fourth term optional)  
  • Trimester: two terms of 15 weeks (third term optional)  

ACCREDITATION: The recognition by an outside agency that a school maintains high standards which enable students to qualify for admission to other accredited institutions.

ADMISSION REQUIREMENTS: A set of rules established by each college for a student to be accepted.

ADVANCED STANDING: Admission status when a student has completed more than 12 college credits.

AP (ADVANCED PLACEMENT): A system by which college freshmen may bypass entry level courses by proving that they have already taken the equivalent in high school. Credit may be awarded if a student earns a certain grade on an AP exam taken in high school.

AUDIT: To attend a class for the purpose of reviewing the information. No grades or credits are given.


CANDIDATE NOTIFICATION DATE: The date by which a college notifies applicants of the admission decision.

CANDIDATE REPLY DATE: The date by which the student must notify the college of enrollment intention, generally May 1 (postmarked).

COLLEGE: A school of higher learning, offering an academic degree, may be public or private and can be two-year or four-year.

COLLEGE CATALOG: A book published by a college describing requirements for admission, degrees and services offered and course descriptions. Your Career Information Center has most college catalogs and the addresses of all other colleges. Many catalogs can be viewed on the college’s website.

COMMON APPLICATION FORM: A single application form which is accepted by more than 300 institutions. Participating colleges pledge to view this common application as equal to their own application.

CONSORTIUM: Several colleges and universities in an area often join together in a consortium or cooperative association, which gives students the opportunity to use the libraries or take courses at all member institutions. Consortium members often present joint lecture programs or unusual courses.

CORE CURRICULUM: A group of courses, in varied areas of the arts and sciences, designated by a college as one of the requirements for a degree.


OR “UNIT”: A way of referring to the number of credits which are earned in a course. Approximately 64 total credits are needed for an AA degree and 124 total credits are needed for a BA degree for schools on a semester calendar. If a class meets three hours per week, it is usually a 3 credit course. A full-time college student is usually defined as one who attends 3 to 4 classes and earns 12 credits per semester.

CUMULATIVE RECORD, PERMANENT RECORD CARD OR TRANSCRIPT: The complete record of all courses and semester grades earned. A transcript is a copy of a student's cumulative academic record.

DEGREE: Titles given to college graduates upon completion of a program. A 4-year Bachelor's degree is usually a BA or BS, a fifth or sixth year degree is often an MA (Master of Arts) or MS (Master of Science). A Doctoral degree (Ph.D.) requires approximately five additional years beyond the BA or BS.

EARLY ACTION: Under this plan, highly qualified candidates who apply early may receive an offer of admission by mid-December. Unlike the Early Decision Plan, the Early Action Plan does not allow an institution to require an applicant to make a prior commitment to attend, indicate college preferences or make any response to an offer of admission until the traditional May 1 candidate’s reply date.

EARLY DECISION: Some colleges offer to notify applicants of acceptance or denial during the first semester of the senior year. Students may apply to other colleges, but name the early decision college as their first choice and agree to enroll at that college and withdraw all other applications if accepted.

ELECTIVE: A course needed for graduation credit, but not one of the specific course requirements.

EOP (EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY PROGRAM): A program designed to assist low income and/ or educationally disadvantaged students with admission, financial aid and academic support services in college.

ETS (EDUCATIONAL TESTING SERVICE): The operational phase of many College Board programs, including the development and administration of the Board’s major testing programs, are carried out under contract by the Educational Testing Service. ETS is a separate and independently governed non-profit organization.

FAFSA (FREE APPLICATION FOR FEDERAL STUDENT AID): This is the financial aid form required by most  colleges and universities. These forms are free. Most people apply online.

FEE: A sum of money which must be paid in college, for purposes of admission, registration, graduation, health services, etc.  

FEE WAIVER: A form available to students with a low family income that can be used for college admission testing or college applications. The Fee Waiver Form is submitted instead of money when applying for college testing or admission. See your guidance counselor for more information about if you qualify and how to apply for a fee waiver.

FINANCIAL AID: Money from a variety of sources (grant, loan, scholarship, work study), which helps pay for college costs. The “package” of funds is determined by family financial need and the availability of funds. Families may pick up financial aid material in December of a student’s senior year. Each school site has a financial aid night to assist families in applying for financial aid.

FINANCIAL NEED: The difference between the cost of education and what the family or the applicant can reasonably be expected to contribute.

FULL-TIME STUDENT: A college student who generally takes a minimum of either 12 units per quarter or 12 units per semester.

GED (GENERAL EDUCATIONAL DEVELOPMENT EXAMINATION): A series of tests that adults or students take to qualify for a high school equivalency certificate. Some colleges will accept satisfactory GED test results in place of a high school diploma. Students may not take the GED until they are at least seventeen and one-half years of age. See your guidance counselor for more information.

GENERAL EDUCATION REQUIREMENTS (ALSO CALLED BREADTH REQUIREMENTS): Courses selected from several divisions required for a college degree. These are usually completed during the first two years of college. The second two years involve course work in major and minor areas.


GRANTS: Payments made to students by various organizations, including GRANTS from the State . Grants do not have to be paid back.

IMPACTED PROGRAM: A college degree program that may be closed to new students due to heavy enrollment or may require supplementary paperwork and/or screening of student records.  

INDEPENDENT COLLEGE: A post-secondary school that is not supported by state taxes.

LIBERAL ARTS: An academic program designed to provide a broad, wide-ranging education. That includes the sciences, social sciences, languages and humanities.

LOWER DIVISION: Refers to courses usually completed in the first two years of college.

MA (MASTERS OF ARTS) or MS (MASTER OF SCIENCE): A college graduate degree usually requiring one or two years' work beyond the BA or BS.

MAJOR: The main area of study in college, usually requiring about one year in a planned series of courses during the 4-year program.

MINOR: Approximately 18 credits in an area outside a student’s major department.

NEED-BLIND: The philosophical position that a college accepts a student on the basis of his or her meeting specific requirements without regard to the student’s ability to pay. The understanding is that the school’s Financial Aid Office will assemble an appropriate package for that student.

Open Admission - Students admitted without regard for academic qualifications. Such schools may require a probationary period during which a student must earn satisfactory grades to ensure continued enrollment.

PELL GRANT: Financial aid from the Federal Government available to students with financial need to be used at many types of colleges and vocational schools. Apply in January of the senior year.

PREREQUISITES: Courses, test scores and/or grade level that must be completed before taking a specific course.

PRIVATE COLLEGE: The same as an independent college.

PSAT/NMSQT (PRELIMINARY SAT/ NATIONAL MERIT SCHOLARSHIP QUALIFYING TEST): A shortened version of the SAT offered in October primarily for high school juniors. The scores are helpful in college admission planning and/or qualifying for National Merit Scholarships.

QUALIFIED ACCEPTANCE: Occasionally an institution postpones action on an application and will suggest that the applicant pursue a particular course in its summer session. Upon satisfactory completion of this course, the college agrees to accept the student for its regular degree programs at the beginning of the first or second semester.

Regular Admission - Students are required to apply by a fixed date.  Decision letters are mailed to students in the spring.

ROLLING ADMISSIONS: A college gives an admissions decision as soon as possible after an application is completed and does not specify a notification deadline. Usually, it is wise to apply early to such colleges, since applications are normally not accepted after the admissions quota has been reached.

ROTC: Many colleges have units of the Reserve Officer’s Training Corps that offer two-and four year programs of military training culminating in an officer’s commission. In some colleges, credit for the courses can be applied toward a degree. ROTC scholarships are available that pay for full college costs.

SAT REASONING TEST: A college admission exam measuring verbal, written and math reasoning.  

SAT SUBJECT TESTS: One-hour exams offered in 21 different subjects.

SCHOLARSHIPS: Gifts of money awarded for achievement, skills, talents and/or financial need. Most scholarships are awarded to high school seniors in the spring semester. Students do NOT necessarily need to have a high GPA to apply. Scholarships are offered to students with specific talents and/or characteristics.

Selective Admission - An admissions procedure in which additional standards and criteria specific to a program or department are required. More academically challenging colleges are also considered selective.

SPECIALTY SCHOOL: Public or private school teaching specific skills within an area such as cosmetology, business or travel.

SDQ (STUDENT DESCRIPTIVE QUESTIONNAIRE): A questionnaire that can be completed by students when they register for the SAT Reasoning Test or SAT Subject Tests. It gives the student an opportunity to provide information about educational objectives, extracurricular activities, academic record, and areas in which counseling or assistance may be needed.

SIR (STATEMENT of INTENT to REGISTER): This form must be returned to the college of your choice by a specified date, usually by May 1. It confirms your intent to register at the college and reserves a spot for you.

SUMMER SESSION: College Summer School. Open entry (not “formal” admission) makes it possible for students to take classes at almost any campus and then transfer the course/credit to the “home” campus with units used toward their degree. Students who plan to continue in the fall must apply for fall admission.

 TECHNICAL COLLEGE: A public or private institution where a student may learn a trade or skill such as commercial art, electronics or hydraulics, etc.

TOEFL (TEST OF ENGLISH AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE): An English exam for international students used for admission purposes and for placement in college English classes.

TRANSCRIPT: A copy of your official record of semester grades and courses from time of entrance to the end of the latest semester.

TRANSFER COURSES: College courses giving credit that may be transferred to another college.

TUITION: A fee that is paid for instruction in a school, college or university.

UNDERGRADUATE: A college student who has not yet received a bachelor’s degree.

UNIVERSITY: A school of higher learning containing more than one college and offering graduate programs.

UPPER-DIVISION COURSES: Courses designed for the junior and senior years of college.

WAIT LIST: In addition to accepting or denying applicants, many colleges place students on a wait list for admission. As accepted applicants decide to attend other colleges, the school may offer their places to students on the wait list.

Work-study: A federally-funded program that makes part-time jobs on college campuses available to students with financial need.