School counselors, teachers, coaches, friends who’ve recently been through the process of helping their child apply are all good people to turn to for college planning advice. You’ll also find lots of help on the BigFuture website.
Advanced placement is the opportunity to skip a prerequisite course typically taken in the first year of college and jump right into a higher-level course in the same subject. The Advanced Placement Program (or AP) is also the name of college-level courses taught in high school.
A College Board program that provides high school students with the opportunity to take college-level courses. There are 38 AP subjects, each with a corresponding AP Exam. Most colleges award students with qualifying AP Exam scores college credit, the opportunity to skip intro-level courses in the subject, or both.
A degree students receive after they complete a two-year, full-time program of study (or its part-time equivalent), often at a two-year community college. After completing an associate degree at a two-year college, students may transfer to a four-year college to continue their studies and earn a bachelor’s degree.
Sometimes referred to generally as a "college degree," a bachelor’s degree is the certification students receive when they earn the required number of credits (which usually equals about 40 college courses). Full-time college students usually earn a bachelor’s degree in four years, but it may take more or less time.
A college campus consists of all the land and buildings that make up the school. It usually includes libraries, dining areas, lecture halls, auditoriums, student housing, sports fields, and outdoor sitting areas.
A measurement of how a student’s academic achievement compares with that of other students in their grade at their high school. This number is usually determined by using a weighted GPA that considers both the student’s grades and the difficulty of the courses they’ve taken.
A standard application form accepted by colleges that are members of the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success. Students can use this application to apply to any of the more than 90 colleges and universities that accept it.
An essay that a college requires students to write and submit as part of their application. Some colleges offer applicants specific questions to answer, while others simply ask applicants to write about themselves. Colleges may refer to this as a "personal statement."
What a student gets when they successfully complete a college-level course. Students need a certain number of credits to graduate with a degree. Colleges may also grant credit for scores on exams, such as those offered by the College Board’s AP Program and CLEP.
Also known as college admission tests, these are tests designed to measure students' skills and help colleges evaluate how ready students are for college-level work. The ACT and the College Board’s SAT are two standardized entrance exams used in the United States. The word "standardized" means that the test measures the same thing in the same way for everyone who takes it. Most colleges require students to submit scores from a college entrance exam.
An in-person or phone interview with an applicant by a representative of the college, often someone from the admission office. Some colleges require interviews, some offer them optionally, and some don’t require or offer them.
A standard application form accepted by colleges that are members of the Common Application. Students can use this application to apply to any of the nearly 700 colleges and universities that accept it.
A publicly funded two-year college, usually offering associate degrees, certificates, or vocational training. Community colleges typically offer open admission and low tuition. Some students use community college as a pathway to a bachelor’s degree, transferring to a four-year college after one or two years of study at a community college.
A web-based application service offered by the College Board and used by some colleges, universities and private scholarship programs to award their private financial aid funds. Students complete the application online at collegeboard.org. The CSS Profile is not a federal form and may not be used to apply for federal student aid. Families must complete the FAFSA for federal student aid.
"Deferred" is a term usually used for students applying to college through early action (EA) or early decision (ED). It means the student hasn’t been accepted or rejected as part of the EA/ED group and will now be considered with the regular admission group. Deferred students will find out if they’ve been admitted in the same time frame as students who apply for regular admission.
At some colleges, accepted students may also “defer” their enrollment. This means they can postpone their first year of college (usually up to a year) and their acceptance will remain valid.
An option to submit applications before the regular deadlines. When a student applies early action, they get admission decisions from colleges earlier than usual. Early action plans aren’t binding, which means that the applicant doesn’t have to enroll in a college if they’re accepted early action. Some colleges have an early action option called EA II, which has a later application deadline than their regular EA plan.
The policy of some colleges of admitting certain students who haven’t completed high school—usually students of exceptional ability who have completed their junior year. These students are enrolled full time in college.
An option for a student to submit an application to their first-choice college before the regular deadline. When a student applies early decision, they get an admission decision earlier than usual. Early decision plans are binding. The student agrees to enroll in the college immediately if admitted and offered a financial aid package that meets their needs.
A measure of your family’s financial strength that colleges use to determine how much federal financial aid you’re eligible to receive. Schools consider your family’s income, assets, and benefits (such as unemployment or Social Security) as well as your family size and the number of family members who’ll attend college during the year.
Extracurricular activities are any organized groups or hobbies that a student participates in that aren’t specifically related to the work they’re doing in class. These include playing sports, being in a school play, or writing for the school newspaper, as well as any volunteer work and part-time jobs.
A form completed by all applicants for federal student aid. In many states, completion of the FAFSA is also required to be eligible for state-sponsored aid programs. There’s no charge for completing the FAFSA, and you can file it any time after October 1 of the year before the academic year for which you are seeking aid (for example, after October 1, 2017, for the 2018-19 academic year).
The document you receive from a college that explains the terms of the financial aid that the college is offering you. The information includes the types and amounts of financial aid offered, what you’re expected to do to keep the award, and the deadline for accepting the award.
In terms of a student’s list of colleges that they intend to apply to, a “fit” college is one that the applicant likely has a good chance of getting in to and that is also a good fit for them overall.
Financial aid awards given to students that don’t have to be paid back. The terms “grant” and “scholarship” are often used interchangeably to refer to gift aid, but grants tend to be awarded solely based on financial need, while scholarships may require the student to demonstrate merit.
A letter written by a teacher, counselor, or other adult who can vouch for the skills, character, and aptitude of a student applying to college. Many colleges require students to include these as part of their application for admission.
The study of the humanities (literature, the arts, and philosophy), history, foreign languages, social sciences, mathematics, and natural sciences. The liberal arts emphasize the development of general knowledge and reasoning ability rather than specific skills.
Money lent with interest for a specified period of time. Student loans from the federal government, state agencies, and the college itself may be offered as part of a student’s financial aid package from a college.
In terms of a student’s list of colleges that they intend to apply to, a college is a "match" if the student's SAT or ACT score is in the same average score range as the previous year’s freshman class at that college.
A mentor is a person who gives younger or less experienced people help and advice over a period of time. Teachers, counselors, relatives, or current college students can be great mentors for younger students to help them get ready for college and make their way through the college application process.
Coursework that isn’t as extensive as that in a major but gives students some specialized knowledge of a second field. Students may choose a minor in the department of their major (for example, a major in accounting with a minor in business administration), or in a different department (for example, a biology major with a minor in art).
A policy of making admission decisions without considering the financial circumstances of applicants. In other words, a college with a need-blind admission policy won’t decide against admitting a student only because the student will need financial aid to attend the college. Colleges that use this policy may not offer enough financial aid to meet a student’s full need.
The actual cost of tuition a student will be asked to pay out-of-pocket for college. Once grants, loans, scholarships, and other financial aid are taken into account, a student’s net price will often be much lower than a college’s advertised price.
A free online tool that gives any user a personalized estimate of how much they’ll actually be asked to pay out of pocket for a given college. The federal government now requires most colleges and universities to have a net price calculator on their websites.
Electronic summaries of students' scores on the SAT, PSAT/NMSQT, PSAT 10, or PSAT 8/9 that clearly pinpoint the areas they need to work on most, as well as where they're excelling. These reports give students and teachers valuable information to help make sure students will be ready for college-level work once they graduate high school. Students can access these reports by logging in to their College Board online account.
A policy of accepting any high school graduate, no matter what their grades are, until all spaces in the incoming class are filled. Almost all two-year community colleges have an open-admission policy. However, a college with a general open-admission policy may have admission requirements for certain programs.
Also called a "private scholarship." A scholarship offered by a private organization—not the government or a college. Outside scholarships are offered by all kinds of groups, individuals, corporations, and nonprofit organizations.
Colleges use placement tests in subjects like math and English to check the academic skills of entering students. This allows colleges to place each student in classes at the right level.
A prerequisite is a requirement students need to meet before they can enroll in a course. It’s often an introductory course, but might also be a placement test or a certain number of college credits.
The PSAT 8/9, intended for eighth and ninth graders, is the first in the College Board's SAT Suite of Assessments, which also includes the PSAT 10 (for 10th graders), the PSAT/NMSQT (for 10th and 11th graders), and the SAT (for 11th and 12th graders). All the tests measure the same skills and knowledge, but in ways that are appropriate for each grade level.
The PSAT 8/9 shows students and teachers how far along students are in developing the skills they need for college. It provides a baseline to measure a student's progress as they move through high school, and it pinpoints the areas most in need of improvement.
The PSAT 10 is the same test as the PSAT/NMSQT, but students take the PSAT 10 in the spring rather than the fall, and the PSAT 10 does not qualify students for entry in the National Merit Scholarship Competition.
In terms of a student’s list of colleges that they intend to apply to, a “reach” is a college that may be more of a challenge for them to get into. Getting in is not a sure thing, but it’s realistic enough to be worth the effort of applying.
Remedial courses are “catch-up” courses, also called developmental or basic-skills courses. They help students improve their skills so they can succeed at college-level work, but they don’t count toward a degree.
An admission policy of considering each application as soon as all required information (such as high school records and test scores) has been received, rather than setting an application deadline and reviewing applications in a batch. Colleges that use a rolling admission policy usually notify applicants of admission decisions quickly.
In terms of a student’s list of colleges that they intend to apply to, a “safety” is a college that the applicant likely has a very good chance of getting into and that they can afford. Safeties should also be colleges that the applicant would be happy to attend.
The College Board's standardized college entrance exam. It features three main sections: math, reading and writing (which includes an optional written essay). Students can prepare for the test for free using Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy.
Hour-long, content-based college entrance exams that allow students to showcase achievement in specific subject areas: English, history, math, science and languages. Some colleges use Subject Tests to place students into the appropriate courses as well as in admission decisions. Based on the student's performance on the test(s), they could potentially fulfill basic requirements or earn credit for introductory-level courses. SAT Subject Tests have been discontinued in the U.S. as of January 2021, and will be discontinued internationally after the June 2021 administration.
A series of tests that includes the SAT, the PSAT/NMSQT, the PSAT 10, and the PSAT 8/9. All four tests measure the same skills and knowledge in ways that make sense for different grade levels. This makes it easy to monitor student progress.
A type of financial aid that doesn't have to be repaid. Scholarships may be based on need, on need combined with merit, or solely on the basis of merit or some other qualification, such as minority status.
School counselors are certified educators who help students set and achieve academic goals, sign up for the PSAT 8/9, and work through any social or behavioral problems at school. They also write letters of recommendation for students applying to college and assist with the entire college application process.
Official SAT score reports that the College Board sends to colleges at the student's request as part of the application process. Every student gets four free score sends, and eligible low-income students receive unlimited free score sends.
A free, voluntary service that connects students with information from colleges and universities, scholarship providers, and other educational programs. When students take the SAT, PSAT/NMSQT, or PSAT 10, they can opt in to the service by checking "yes" on their answer sheet.
The process some colleges use when considering the SAT scores of a student who’s taken the SAT more than once. They look at the student’s highest section scores across all test dates. For example, if a student received their highest Math section score in March and their highest Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score in May, those two section scores are what the college would consider.
If a college or university has a test-optional admissions policy, that means they allow all or some applicants to decide whether to submit SAT or ACT® scores as part of their application. It doesn’t mean that schools aren’t interested in seeing all applicants’ performance and potential—but if a student doesn’t submit their scores, it won’t be considered in the application review. Learn more here.
The official record of a student’s coursework at a school or college. Most colleges require applicants to include their high school transcript as part of their application for admission and for some financial aid.
The price a student pays for taking classes at a college. Tuition is the charge for instruction, but most colleges also charge additional fees such as enrollment fees or student-services fees, which can add up to a lot.
A standard application form accepted by colleges that are members of the Universal College Application organization. Students can use this application to apply to any of the more than 20 colleges and universities that accept it.
The waitlist, or waiting list, is a list of applicants who may be admitted to a college if space becomes available. Each year, colleges wait to hear if all the students they’ve accepted decide to attend. If some students don’t enroll, a college may fill those spots with students who are on the waitlist.
A grade point average that’s calculated using a system that assigns a higher point value to grades in higher-level classes. For example, some high schools assign the value of 5.0 (instead of the standard 4.0) for an A earned in an AP class.
An arrangement by which a student combines employment and college study. The employment may be an integral part of the academic program (such as an internship) or simply a means of paying for college.