College Terminology: Glossary of Terms

Listed below are terms that students and parents are most likely to encounter in the admission process. Just click on a category. Be sure to consult specific college catalogs for more detailed information as some institutions may use these terms differently.

Standardized Test Terms

Achievement Test - See SAT II: Subject Tests

ACT - American College Test. This is a standardized test that is accepted at all colleges and universities in the United States. The test is developed by the American College Testing Program, a non-profit agency. The test measures a student’s abilities in English, mathematics, science reasoning and reading. Students receive a score in each of the four areas that ranges from 0-36, with a Composite Score that is the average of each of the four sub-scores. Like the SAT, the ACT is approximately three hours long. In February 2005 a 30-minute Writing Test was added as an optional component to the ACT. (


Advanced Placement (AP) Exams - Tests sponsored by the College Board for students who have taken advanced, college-level courses here at Bullis. Some colleges may allow students to receive college credit for high scores on these exams; still others will place students out of introductory-level courses into higher levels.

College Entrance Examination Board (CEEB) - Another name for the College Board. In filling out applications and other college forms. Students are frequently asked for their high school’s CEEB number; Bullis’s CEEB code is 210955.

College Board - For-profit organization which sponsors such educational testing as the SAT I, SAT II, AP and CLEP as well as the CSS Profile form. They also produce much other college-related information.

Educational Testing Services - The actual company that produces standardized tests for the College Board.

PSAT/NMSQT - A two-hour and ten-minute exam. It contains verbal sections, math sections and a writing skills section. This is many students’ first chance to see how their skills compare with those of college-bound students across the country in their age group. Students also compete for national scholarships (Merit Scholarships, Achievement Scholarships, National Hispanic Scholar Recognition Program) and are placed on college mailing lists. (

SAT I: Reasoning Test - The College Board’s test to measure college preparedness. It includes three sections: critical reading, mathematics and writing. Each section’s perfect score is 800.

SAT II: Subject Tests - College Board tests in specific secondary school subjects. Used by colleges not only to help with decisions about admissions but also in course placement and exemption of enrolled freshmen. Formerly called Achievement Tests.

Student Descriptive Questionnaire - A questionnaire that can be completed by students when they register for the SAT I: Reasoning Test or SAT II: Subject Tests. It gives the student an opportunity to provide information about academic experiences in high school, educational objectives, extracurricular activities and areas in which counseling or assistance may be needed. The responses are sent, along with test scores, to the student’s high school and designated colleges and scholarship sponsors. For those students who give their permission, selected information from the SDQ is also used by the Student Search Service.




College Admission Terminology

Admissions Committee - The group of admissions counselors and some combination of faculty members and administrators who review each candidate’s application and make decisions regarding admissions.

Candidate’s Reply Date - Colleges subscribing to this agreement will not require any applicants offered admission to notify the institution of their decision to attend (or to accept an offer of financial aid or a scholarship) prior to May 1 of the year the applicant applies. The purpose of the agreement is to give applicants time to hear from all the colleges to which they applied before having to make a commitment to any of them.

Common Application - The Common Application is a not-for-profit organization that serves students and member institutions by providing an online admission application ( that students may submit to any of its 415 members. This allows the student to spend less time on the busywork of applying for admission, and more time on what’s really important: college research, visits, essay writing and senior year coursework.

Deferred Admission/Deferred Enrollment - This option, initiated at the student’s request, allows the student to postpone enrollment for one year in a college where he or she has been admitted. Student pays the enrollment deposit, securing a place in the class, then notifies college of desire to postpone enrollment for a year in order to travel, work or devote time to other projects before attending college. Also referred to as “gap year.”

Double Deposit - Accepting two colleges’ offers of admission by submitting a binding deposit to secure a spot in the freshman class at both. This practice is PROHIBITED by the regulations of the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC), and is vehemently discouraged by the College Counseling Office.

Early Action - A program offered primarily by the nation’s most selective colleges and universities under which students may apply well before the normal application deadline (as in early decision) to get an early answer from the institution regarding their admission decision. If admitted under this program, students are under no obligation to enroll at the institution. Typically, students who are not offered admission under early action are deferred; however, it is possible for an applicant to be denied outright and not automatically deferred for later consideration.

Early Admission - A program that allows a student to apply for admission during the junior year. The early admission program is reserved for the truly exceptional student whose academic preparation and achievement level are sufficient for early entrance to college. In reviewing an applicant’s file under this program, the admission committee seeks to determine the student’s level of social and emotional maturity as well as his/her attempt to exhaust the academic offerings available at the high school.

Early Decision - A plan under which a student applies to the first-choice college early in the fall (usually by November 1) of the senior year and agrees by contract to enter that college if offered admission. Students may still submit multiple applications but may only apply to one college under an early decision plan. If offered admission under early decision the student is required to withdraw, in writing, all other college applications. Typically, students who are not offered admission under early decision are deferred; however, it is possible for an applicant to be denied outright and not automatically deferred for later consideration.

IMPORTANT NOTE: There are several variations of early decision and early action at different institutions. Read the literature of each college carefully and ask questions if you do not understand the program entirely.

Early Evaluation - A non-binding admission process where students are tentatively notified of their admission decision in January or February, receives their official offer in late March, yet does not need to respond to the college until May 1. While the Early Evaluation college does not need to be a student’s first-choice school, most applicants use the program for their first or near first choice college.

Honors Programs - Special college courses within an informal or structured program offering greater intellectual challenge for highly-qualified, motivated students. Some programs are open by invitation only; others require a supplemental application, different from the application for admission. Many honors programs offer scholarships or special prerogatives, such as preferential registration or housing.

Matriculate - Academic term meaning to “enroll” at or “attend” a college or university.

Open Admission - An institutional policy which allows all students who apply to be admitted. Open admission institutions usually have extensive programs designed to provide remedial or development support to students who enroll with academic deficiencies.

Regular Admission - A term used to describe the application process in which an institution reviews most of its applicants prior to notifying the majority of its candidates. Under regular decision, an institution’s deadlines are stated for completion of applications and notification of decisions.

Residency Requirements - 1. A requirement by most colleges and universities that a student spend a minimum number of terms taking courses on campus (as opposed to independent study or transfer credits from other colleges) to be eligible for graduation. 2. Residency requirements can also refer to the amount of time a student is required to have lived in a state in order to be eligible for in-state residency at a public (state-controlled) college or university.

Rolling Admission - A term used to describe the application process in which an institution reviews applications as they are received and offers decisions to students as applications are reviewed. NOTE: Some rolling admission institutions may defer students initially. This does not mean that the student has been denied or placed on a wait list. A deferral simply means that the admission committee will review the student again later on in the cycle once new grades and standardized test scores are available.

Secondary School Report (SSR): A form that the college counselor completes and attaches to the student’s transcript and letters of recommendation. The form provides information about the rigor of the curriculum and the student’s personal traits.

Transcript: Official school record of grades and courses. Transcript Request Form (TRF): Your signature on this form gives us permission to release academic information to the schools you indicate. You must submit this form.

Financial Aid

CSS Financial Aid PROFILE Service - A type of need analysis form required by some private colleges, universities and scholarship agencies to award their own private scholarship and financial aid funds. NOTE: Using the PROFILE form does not eliminate the need to complete the FAFSA (see below). Can be filed electronically. (

College Work-Study Program (CWSP) - A federally-sponsored program which allows students to pay for part of their educational expenses through part-time work on campus. A portion of the work-study salary comes from the college employer; most is through federal subsidies. Only students with demonstrated financial need are eligible for work-study jobs.

Cooperative Education (Co-op) - College-sponsored programs designed to help undergraduates meet college expenses and gain work experience, alternating periods of study with periods of work in a field related to a student’s academic or professional interests. Traditionally, but not exclusively, used by students in such pre-professional programs as engineering, computer science and business.

Demonstrated Financial Need - Amount, as determined through federal, private and/or institutional financial aid forms, which is the difference between the total cost of attendance and the estimated family contribution.

Differential Packaging - Administrative policy where colleges use enhanced financial aid offers to entice academically-stronger or underrepresented students to matriculate. While meeting demonstrated financial need, differential packages may consist of a larger percentage of grant money vs. student loans than what most students would receive.

Enrollment Status - For financial aid purposes, the amount of time a student is enrolled in courses per semester – “full-time” for a full course load generally consisting of four or more classes and “part-time” for less than that amount.

Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) - The amount of money determined through needs analysis, from federal and institutional financial aid forms, that a family can afford to spend for college. This figure will appear on your Student Aid Report (SAR).

Federal Methodology (FM) - The method created by the U.S. government and calculated from the information supplied by the used to determine a student’s estimated family contribution.

Fee Waivers - Forms which document a student’s inability to pay for college admission-related fees such as SAT I and II’s and college applications. Students must meet the guidelines for eligibility as determined by the College Board. Fee waivers are available through the College Counseling Office.

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) - The federally-sponsored financial aid form required by all U.S. colleges and universities to apply for federal loans and grants, used to determine a student’s financial need based upon Federal Methodology. Can be filed electronically (

Fund Finder - A computerized scholarship search database available in high schools, colleges and libraries. (, and ExPan all have them.)

Gapping - Administrative policy where the college’s financial aid award does not fully meet a family’s demonstrated financial need. Such a “gap” can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.

Grants - Financial aid money from the federal/state government or matriculating college, which does not require repayment.

Guaranteed Student Loan - Low-interest-rate loans for education that are generally obtained through a bank, credit union or savings and loan institution.

Institutional Methodology (IM) - The method used by individual colleges from the information supplied by the Profile form to determine a student’s EFC. Where Federal Methodology is universally standard, the individual components of Institutional Methodology can vary from school to school.

Loans - Financial assistance which must be repaid over an extended period of time, generally after a student completes an undergraduate degree, but occasionally beginning during undergraduate enrollment.

Need Blind - Refers to the practice of admitting students purely on the strength of their academic records without taking into account ability to pay. Decreasing federal resources for financial aid and soaring college costs are causing many institutions to review this practice.

Need Aware or Need Sensitive - Refers to the practice of taking into account an applicant’s ability to pay before admitting him or her. Many colleges and universities admit the majority of their class on a need blind basis but become need sensitive when they consider more marginal applicants.

Needs Analysis - The standard, uniform process by which a college financial aid office determines how much a family can afford pay, using two systems: federal methodology and institutional methodology.

Package - A student’s financial aid award, “packaged” together with such components as loans, grants, work-study and scholarships.

PC/Parent Contribution - Another name for the EFC, usually not including any of the student’s summer-employment savings.

Payment Plans - College-sponsored programs which allow families to spread the yearly cost of attendance out over monthly installments.

Pell Grant - Named in honor of Sen. Claibourne Pell (RI), federally-funded grants designed to help students with the lowest EFC. Eligibility is determined through the information provided through the FAFSA. The yearly maximum amount of a Pell Grant is about $5,500.

Perkins Loans - Federally-funded college loan with traditionally lowest interest rate of educational loans, with repayment deferred until nine months after a student leaves school. Students may borrow up to a total of $15,000 for an undergraduate degree (approximately $3,000 annually), and eligibility is determined through the information provided through the FAFSA.

PLUS Loans - Federally-sponsored college loans administered through individual banks and loan lenders available to parents who are U.S. citizens of an undergraduate student enrolled at least part-time. Parents must pass a credit check to qualify for PLUS loans and are legally responsible for repayment. Available without regard to financial need, PLUS loans may cover the full cost of education minus other forms of aid.

Profile - Financial aid form sponsored by CSS and utilized by approximately 320 participating colleges. Similar to the FAFSA, but is customized by colleges to supply additional information as required by the colleges to which the student is applying for aid.

Self-Help - The amount of money, in addition to receiving non-repayable grants, which colleges ask students to help finance their education through college work-study or loans.

Stafford Loan - Formerly know as “Guaranteed Student Loans” and renamed in honor of former Sen. Robert Stafford (VT), low-interest loans sponsored by the federal government for students enrolled at least half-time. Loans can be both subsidized (for students with demonstrated financial need) and unsubsidized (for students who do not qualify for need-based financial aid). While the U.S. government will pay the interest on subsidized Stafford Loans until six months following a student’s final full-time semester enrolled, students pay the interest (no principle) on unsubsidized Stafford loans.

Student Aid Report (SAR) - The form returned to a student following the completion of the evaluating process of the FAFSA by the U.S. government’s Central Processing Agency. Copies of this form are frequently required by colleges, and are necessary for sending additional copies of the FAFSA information to colleges. The form is green.

Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG) - Federally-funded grants, with priority funding going to students receiving Pell Grants. The maximum annual SEOG is $4,000.

1040/1040A/1040EZ Form - Federal income tax form frequently required by colleges to verify accuracy of financial information submitted on FAFSA and Profile forms.

Work Study Program - A work study program allows students to earn money to cover part of their college expenses; students usually work 8-12 hours per week on campus. This is a federal- or state-subsidized financial aid program. (See also College Work Study.)

Other Terms

Academic Discipline - A college departmental or subject area, such as English literature, history or business.

Accelerated Programs - Exceptionally selective admission programs which offer graduate school admission, generally for medical school, to freshman applicants. Program length can vary from seven to eight years, often including summer coursework.

Bachelor of Arts (B.A. or A.B.) - Traditional degree awarded by a liberal arts college or university following successful completion of a course of study. These degrees may be granted in any number of fields in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences or fine/performing arts. Some colleges award an A.B., which is simply the Latin abbreviation (Arts Baccalarius) for a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Bachelor of Business Administration (B.B.A.) - Degree offered by undergraduate business and management programs, which are accredited by such national agencies as the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business, by meeting a required set of certification and course requirements. Accredited business programs can differ significantly from B.A. liberal arts degrees.

Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.) - Degree offered by fine arts, design, theater, dance and other visual and performing arts programs. Admission to B.F.A. programs can be based to a large extent upon artistic talent, determined through an audition or portfolio review, and to a lesser extent upon standardized testing and academic performance in traditional curriculums.

Bachelor of Science (B.S.) - Degree usually awarded for successful completion of requirements in the natural and physical sciences, or for more professionally-oriented programs, such as education, engineering or business. Note that many colleges award B.A.s for similar degrees. Some universities may offer both degrees in a particular academic discipline.

Carnegie Units - One Carnegie unit is given for successful completion of one year’s study of one college preparatory or academic subject in high school. Some colleges refer to these as “academic units.”

Class Rank - A student’s standing based on his or her academic record as compared with that of the other members of the class. Like most independent schools, Bullis does not report a class rank.

College - Generally a four-year undergraduate institution with programs leading to the bachelor’s degree.

College Catalogue - The college’s publication that outlines its graduation requirements, academic departments and individual class descriptions. Most are now online at the college websites.

College Fair or College Night - A program organized to allow high school students and parents to meet and speak with representatives from different colleges and universities.

Community (or Junior) College - A two-year school offering the first two years of a regular college program and two-year vocational programs. Awards an associate’s degree.

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 - Required college courses necessary for graduation, consisting of a comprehensive selection from such fields as the humanities, social sciences, natural and physical sciences and quantitative fields, and requiring English and foreign language proficiency. Core curriculua can range from a handful of courses to well over half the required courses necessary for graduation.

Credit Hour - Measure of degree of difficulty of courses, frequently proportionate to the number of hours of weekly classroom instruction. For example, a four-credit-hour course will generally require more work and be more demanding than a three-hour course. Most colleges require students to meet a certain threshold of credit hours in order to graduate.

Division - Academic unit of a college or university; can also be a school (“School of Business”) or college (“College of Arts & Sciences”) within a university.

Educational Talent Search - A federally funded TRIO program that helps low-income students whose parent(s) did not graduate from college prepare for higher education. Check to see if your school or community has a Talent Search Program.

Extracurriculars - Activities in which students participate outside of the classroom, such as athletics, student organizations and clubs, volunteer work and community service, music lessons or groups, or part-time jobs.

4-1-4 Plan - An academic calendar usually including a fall term with four courses, a shortened winter term with one course and a spring term with four courses.

GED (General Educational Development Examination) - A series of tests which can be taken to qualify for a high school equivalency certificate or diploma. Many colleges will accept satisfactory GED test results in place of a high school diploma.

Grade-Point Average (GPA) - Numerical conversion of letter grades into a cumulative average, by term, year or academic career. Generally GPAs are computed using a 4.0 scale (4.0 = A, 3.0 = B, etc.)

Hook - A subjective factor in the admissions decision-making process which can influence, to varying degrees, a student’s admission decision, such as legacy status, athletic recruitment, exceptional artistic talent or membership in an underrepresented multicultural population.

Humanities - Fields of study including English, literature, languages, philosophy, classics, history, music, fine arts, theater and religion.

Internship - A part-time paid, volunteer and/or for-college-credit position offering hands-on experience in a student’s academic or professional field of interest. Internships are undertaken either while enrolled during the academic year or in the summer.

Ivy League - While its eight members (Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton and Yale) are highly selective colleges for admission, the designation “Ivy League” only refers to their membership in a common athletic conference.

Joint Degree - Also may be known as a “dual degree” program. Academic program of study which allows student to either major in two separate undergraduate fields in completely distinct disciplines (such as engineering and business, or business and foreign language), or to pursue a joint undergraduate-graduate degree program (such as joint BA/MBA, BA/JD or BA/MD programs).

Language Proficiency Examination - An examination in a foreign language used to determine whether a student has satisfied a college’s foreign language requirement and, if not, which level of foreign language course is appropriate for the student.

Legacy - Having an immediate family member, generally a parent and occasionally a grandparent or a sibling, as an alumna/us of a college to which the student is making application.

Liberal Arts - A broad-based introduction to a wide variety of subjects, including the social sciences, humanities and natural sciences. Generally does not include professional programs, such as business, engineering or nursing, although these programs may contain some coursework in the liberal arts.

Major - Concentrated field of collegiate study in one academic discipline, requiring a set number of required courses for completion beyond any required core curriculum requirements. Students concentrate in two academic fields by “double-majoring.”

Minor - A secondary field of concentrated study, similar to a major yet with fewer requirements.

National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC) - Professional association of college admissions and high school guidance/college counseling personnel. As a member of NACAC, Bullis and its students agree to abide by the “Principles of Good Practice,” which outlines the appropriate ethical standards for such issues as Early Decision, application deadlines and double depositing.

National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) - National organization which supervises and regulates most intercollegiate athletic programs. Based upon size of institution and level of competition, these programs are divided into three divisions: Division I, II and III. The first two Divisions generally award athletic scholarships; Division III athletic programs do not.

National Merit Commended Student - A designation given to students by the National Merit Corporation for students who score high on the PSAT/NMSQT examination, but do not pass the state-specific threshold score to become a Semifinalist.

National Merit Finalist - A National Merit Semifinalist who becomes eligible for merit-based academic scholarship, based upon the student’s strong PSAT/NMSQT scores, high school record and counselor recommendation.

National Merit Scholar - A National Merit Finalist who receives a merit-based academic scholarship, sponsored by a member organization or college, or the National Merit Corporation.

National Merit Semifinalist - The initial designation by the National Merit Corporation for students who pass a state-specific threshold score on the PSAT/NMSQT examination.

Quarters - Academic calendar consisting of four terms, approximately ten weeks in length; some quarter-system schools have courses in the summer.

Pre-Law/Pre-Med - Not a major or academic discipline, but an intended direction for graduate school allowing a student to concentrate in many different fields of study. Law and medical schools generally offer basic guidelines on undergraduate courses for students interested in gaining admission to these graduate programs. However, students can generally integrate these basic requirements into many divergent majors, including business, engineering and other non-traditional pre-professional majors.

Rate of Attrition - Percentage of students who do not return, due to academic, financial or personal reasons, usually given at the end of the freshman year.

Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) - U.S. military program offering one-, two- and four-year scholarships at select colleges and universities, covering tuition, books and fees in addition to a living stipend, in exchange for a set number of years of service in a branch of the military.

Selective Service - U.S. Department of Defense bureau which requires registration by all eighteen-year old U.S. citizens. Confirmation of registration with the Selective Service is required for eligibility for federally-funded financial aid money.

Semester - The most common academic calendar, dividing the year into two equal terms.

Social Sciences - Academic fields of study which focus on human behavior and societal interactions, such as psychology, sociology, political science, anthropology and economics.

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