A guide to understanding college terminology

During the college research and application processes, students and parents are often stumped by new terminology — and Google searches quickly become second nature.

The world of academia is saturated with jargon that can seem like foreign language. For example, an admission counselor might say, “Please submit your transcript listing your unweighted GPA. And don’t forget to submit your FAFSA to determine need-based aid and merit awards before the early-action deadline!” What in the world does that mean?!

To assist in your educational journey, here is a quick guide to understanding some common college terms:

1. Academic Advisor: A professional staff member assigned to each student enrolled at a college or university to support them in their academic program. The advisor is there to assist students’ decisions related to courses needed to complete a degree and to ensure students are on track for graduation.

2. Admission Counselor: A professional staff member who helps you compile all documentation and complete all processes necessary to become enrolled in a college or university

3. Bachelor’s degree: A four-year degree offered by a college or university. A bachelor’s degree is the most common degree first earned by students right after high school.

4. Commencement: This is graduation day when degrees are issued to students once they have successfully completed their degree requirements.

5. Credit Hour: The number of hours assigned to a specific class. This is usually the number of hours per week you are in the class. The number of credit hours you enroll in determines whether you are a full-time student or a part-time student.

6. Dean’s list: A list of students who are recognized for their academic success during the school year.

7. Early action: When certain colleges and universities offer high school seniors the option of submitting their application early, usually before a November 1st deadline.

8. Early Decision: An additional type of early application that includes an implied, binding commitment to attend the university if accepted.

9. Rolling Admission: A process of releasing admission decisions through the application process after a decision has been made, rather than releasing all decisions on specific dates.

10. Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA): The application that U.S. citizens and certain residents must fill out to be considered for federal and state funding.

11. Grant: A form of financial aid from a non-profit organization (such as the government) that you do not have to repay.

12. Loan: A form of financial aid that you must repay. Loans can be federal, issued by the government, or private, issued by a bank or other group. Federal loans generally have lower interest rates than private loans.

13. Subsidized Stafford Loan: A loan from the federal government with a fixed interest rate where interest on the loan does not begin to accrue until after the student graduates or leaves their program.

14. Unsubsidized Stafford Loan: A loan from the federal government with a fixed interest rate where interest on the loan does begin to accrue immediately after the funds are sent to the school or student.

15. Federal Work-Study: An aid program where students with demonstrated financial need can work part time to earn money to help pay for their educational expenses. Students must complete the FAFSA, have financial need as determined by the FAFSA, and request work-study on the FAFSA to be eligible.

16. Major: Your primary area of study. Your college major is the field you plan to get a job in after you graduate (for example: business, linguistics, anthropology, psychology).

17. Minor: Your secondary area of study. Fewer classes are required for a college minor than for a major. Many students’ minors are a specialization of their major field. For example, students who want to become a science reporter might major in English/journalism and minor in biology.

18. Scholarship: A form of financial aid that you do not have to repay. Scholarships are generally awarded based on academic achievements or skills.

19. Full Tuition Scholarship: A scholarship that covers all required tuition costs for a student to attend a school. It is not typical for this type of award to cover other costs like room and board and may be inaccurately referred to as a “full ride scholarship.”

20. Transcript: An official academic record from a specific school. It lists the courses you have completed, grades, and other relevant information such as when you attended.

21. Unweighted Grade Point Average (GPA): An unweighted GPA is the most common way to measure academic performance in high school. Unweighted GPAs are most commonly on a scale of 0 (F) to 4.0 (A) and may not take the difficulty of your courses into account.

22. Weighted Grade Point Average (GPA): A weighted GPA considers both the difficulty level of a course and the student’s grade in that course. This means that any honors, advanced placement (AP), Dual Enrollment, and/or international baccalaureate (IB) are acknowledged in your GPA calculation

23. Test Optional: A policy where test scores are not required for an applicant’s application to the college but may be used for admission or scholarship purposes if submitted.

24. Test Blind: A policy where test scores will not be reviewed for any candidate applying for admission.

25. Cost of Attendance (COA): The estimated cost for a student to attend a college for one year, including things like tuition, room and board, books, travel expenses, and any other costs incurred by the student related to their education during that year. The cost is standard for all students and does not include financial aid.

26. Out of pocket costs: the costs the student/family will pay to include college for one year minus any scholarships, grants, or other discounts.

27. Liberal Arts: An interdisciplinary education approach that emphasizes principles of critical thinking, analytical skills, complex problem solving, ethics and morality, and discussion.

I hope these definitions help demystify the process! Also, please remember that helping to guide you through the college application process is the literally the job of college admission representatives. Don’t be shy — we want to help!

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