30 Must-Know College Admission Terms Explained

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Beautiful woman reading a letter.

30 Must-Know College Admission Terms Explained

Here’s your guide to 30 must-know college admission terms, breaking down everything from “FAFSA” and “Early Decision” to “Net Price” and “Liberal Arts.” These terms span the entire college admission journey, making this guide perfect for you, whether you’re diving into your first college application, a parent aiming to back your kid’s educational ambitions, or just someone curious about higher education.

You’re in the right place if you’re gearing up for the college application marathon or if you’re a parent wanting to give your child a leg up.

This must-know college admission terms guide explores the college admission process, making sure you’re equipped with the knowledge to explore it with confidence.

1. Coalition App

  • Description: A college application platform used by over 150 colleges to simplify the application process.
  • Settings: College fairs, high school guidance counselor meetings, college prep workshops.
  • Usage: “I’m using the Coalition App to apply to several schools because it allows me to store all my materials in one place.”

Established in 2015, the Coalition App is integral to the must-know college admission terms, especially for students aiming to streamline their application process to multiple colleges. It’s a collaborative platform partnered with over 150 colleges and universities across the United States, tailored primarily to assist students from historically underrepresented backgrounds.

a highschool student on an online class

One of the Coalition App’s distinctive features is its commitment to partnering only with institutions that offer substantial financial aid packages or have lower tuition fees, ensuring it aligns with its mission of making higher education more accessible.

Another innovative feature of the Coalition App is its “Locker” tool, which allows students to digitally store important documents, essays, videos, and other project materials that may be relevant to their college applications. This feature not only facilitates organization but also helps preserve key pieces of work that can be effectively utilized in applications.

2. College Application Essay

  • Description: An essay required by colleges, often personal in nature, submitted as part of the application process.
  • Settings: English class, college application discussions, essay-writing workshops.
  • Usage: “I’m working on my college application essay this weekend; it’s about my journey learning to play the piano.”

The College Application Essay, a pivotal component in the roster of must-know college admission terms, serves as a crucial element in the college application process, offering a unique opportunity for students to convey their individuality and aspirations.

Female student writing on a bench.

Essential for almost every college application, this essay is more than just a writing sample; it’s a window into the applicant’s personality, experiences, and potential contributions to the college community.

The essence of the college application essay lies in its ability to provide admissions committees with insights into the applicant’s character, thought processes, and priorities, which grades and test scores alone cannot fully capture.

3. College Credit

  • Description: Credits earned for completing college-level courses necessary for graduation.
  • Settings: Academic advising, college planning sessions, AP course discussions.
  • Usage: “I earned 15 college credits through my AP classes, which will help me graduate earlier.”

College Credit is a fundamental element among the must-know college admission terms, playing a pivotal role in the higher education system. College credits are the building blocks of a college degree, representing the value assigned to each college course.

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When a student successfully completes a course, they earn a specified number of credits, accumulating towards the total required graduation with a degree. College credit is central to understanding higher education’s academic framework and progression.

The significance of college credits extends beyond simply counting toward a degree. They measure the student’s academic workload and achievements, and their accumulation is critical for advancing through different stages of a college program.

4. College Financial Aid Offer

  • Description: A package detailing the financial assistance available to a student admitted to a college.
  • Settings: Financial aid office, family financial planning, college acceptance discussions.
  • Usage: “I received my college financial aid offer, including grants and work-study options.”

Understanding a College Financial Aid Offer is a critical aspect of the must-know college admission terms, playing a pivotal role in how students and families plan for higher education. After a student is accepted to a college, they typically receive a financial aid offer, also known as an award letter. This document details the types and amounts of financial aid the student can receive, including grants, scholarships, work-study opportunities, and student loans.

Female student talking to a male interviewer.

The financial aid offer is based on the information provided in the student’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and, in some cases, the CSS Profile. It reflects the institution’s assessment of the student’s financial need and their eligibility for various forms of aid.

5. Common Application (Common App)

  • Description: A standardized form accepted by over 900 colleges for application purposes.
  • Settings: College counseling sessions, application strategy meetings, college prep courses.
  • Usage: “I prefer the Common App since it simplifies applying to multiple colleges.”

The Common Application, often called the Common App, is a central term in the lexicon of must-know college admission terms, revolutionizing how students apply to college. As a standardized, single-application platform, the Common App simplifies the college application process by allowing students to apply to multiple colleges and universities with one set of materials. This system is particularly beneficial in reducing the repetitive nature of college applications, as students no longer need to complete separate applications for each institution.

Common App website page. Commonapp.org logo on display screen, Illustrative Editorial.

With over 900 member colleges and universities, the Common App extends its reach across various institutions, including private and public schools, liberal arts colleges, and large research universities in the United States and abroad.

This widespread adoption underscores its significance in the college admissions landscape. The platform includes the basic application and typically requires a main essay, known as the personal statement, and sometimes additional supplemental essays specific to each college.

6. CSS Profile

  • Description: A form for applying to non-federal financial aid detailing a student’s financial situation.
  • Settings: Financial aid seminars, discussions with college financial aid counselors, scholarship workshops.
  • Usage: “Along with the FAFSA, I must complete the CSS Profile for additional financial aid opportunities.”

The CSS Profile, an abbreviation for the College Scholarship Service Profile, is a crucial component among must-know college admission terms, especially for students seeking financial aid beyond federal funds.

a female student writing

This detailed application, administered by the College Board, is utilized by numerous colleges and universities to award non-federal financial aid, including institutional scholarships, grants, and loans.

Unlike the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), which assesses eligibility for federal aid, the CSS Profile provides a more comprehensive analysis of a family’s financial situation, considering a broader array of financial factors and circumstances.

7. Deferred Admission

  • Description: A college or university hasn’t finished reviewing the applicant’s admission and will decide on admission status later.
  • Settings: College admissions offices and discussions with academic advisors.
  • Usage: “My application has been deferred. What should I do next?”

When a college or university postpones its decision on whether or not to accept your application, it is called a deferred college admission. This means that your application will be moved from the early decision or early action consideration to the regular decision timeline. In other words, you will have to wait a little longer to find out if you have been accepted or not.

a woman sitting and reading a letter

Admissions officers often don’t deny students with strong applications immediately. Instead, they defer those applications to the regular decision round. This allows colleges to take another look at the applicant in the context of the regular applicant pool and determine if they would be a good fit.

Typically, the early applicant pool is more competitive due to the high number of strong applicants who apply early.

8. Demonstrated Interest

  • Description: Actions by applicants showing sincere interest in attending a specific college.
  • Settings: College admissions discussions, campus tours, college application strategy sessions.
  • Usage: “Visiting the campus and attending the info session are good ways to show demonstrated interest.”

Demonstrated Interest is a term that occupies a significant place among the must-know college admission terms. It refers to how prospective students show colleges their genuine interest in attending their institution.

Three students looking at each other.

This concept has become an increasingly important factor in the admissions process for many colleges and universities. Demonstrated Interest can take various forms, such as visiting the campus, attending college fairs, communicating with admissions officers, participating in alumni or current student interviews, and promptly responding to college correspondence.

In the contemporary admissions landscape, where colleges seek to improve their yield rates (the percentage of admitted students who choose to enroll), Demonstrated Interest can play a crucial role. It serves as a gauge for colleges to assess which applicants are more likely to accept an offer of admission if extended. Some institutions track these interactions and consider them in their admissions decisions, while others may place less emphasis on this factor.

9. Early Action (EA)

  • Description: A non-binding early college application option with earlier decision notification.
  • Settings: College application planning, discussions with high school counselors, family planning sessions.
  • Usage: “I applied to three schools through Early Action to get decisions sooner, but it’s not binding.”

Early Action (EA), a pivotal term among the must-know college admission terms, offers a distinctive approach to the college application process. This option allows students to submit their applications to colleges earlier than the regular deadline, typically in November, with the benefit of receiving admission decisions sooner, usually by January. The primary appeal of Early Action lies in its non-binding nature, granting students the flexibility to apply to multiple colleges early without the obligation to commit to any particular one upon acceptance.

Group of students walking in the campus.

The Early Action route is particularly advantageous for students who prefer certain colleges but wish to keep their options open. It eases the stress of the admissions process by providing results earlier, allowing more time for students to make informed decisions about their college choices. Additionally, applying through EA can demonstrate a student’s keen interest in a college, which admissions committees can favorably regard.

10. Early Decision (ED)

  • Description: A binding early application option where the student commits to enroll if accepted.
  • Settings: College planning meetings, discussions with guidance counselors, and family decision-making sessions.
  • Usage: “I applied Early Decision to my top-choice school and agreed to enroll if accepted.”

Early Decision (ED), a critical term in the must-know college admission terms, is a significant feature of the college application process. This admission plan allows students to apply to their first-choice college earlier than the regular application deadlines, usually in November, with decisions typically announced by December.

View of students walking in the campus.

The defining characteristic of Early Decision is its binding nature; students who apply for ED agree to attend the college if accepted and offered an acceptable financial aid package. This commitment means that if admitted, the student must withdraw all other college applications.

The ED option is particularly suited for students who have a clear top-choice college and are confident that the institution is the right fit both academically and financially. Applying ED can demonstrate a student’s commitment and interest in the college, giving them an edge in the admissions process. However, due to its binding nature, students must be absolutely certain about their choice, as there is a moral and often contractual obligation to attend if accepted.

11. Estimated Family Contribution (EFC)

  • Description: An estimate of how much a family is expected to contribute towards college costs.
  • Settings: Financial aid discussions, college planning sessions, FAFSA completion meetings.
  • Usage: “My Estimated Family Contribution is a key factor in determining my eligibility for financial aid.”

Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) is a term that stands out in the array of must-know college admission terms, particularly in the context of financial planning for higher education. The EFC is a critical figure colleges and universities use to determine a student’s eligibility for need-based financial aid. It is calculated based on the financial information the student and their family provides through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

MIT's parents and students talking about the admission process

The EFC considers various factors such as family income, assets, benefits, and the number of family members attending college. It is designed to estimate how much a family can reasonably be expected to contribute to the student’s education for one academic year. The lower the EFC, the more financial need a student is considered to have, which can influence the amount and type of financial aid offered.

12. FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)

  • Description: A form used to apply for federal financial aid for college.
  • Settings: Financial aid workshops, senior year college prep, parent-student financial planning meetings.
  • Usage: “Filling out the FAFSA is crucial for assessing my eligibility for federal student aid.”

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is an essential term in the compendium of must-know college admission terms, particularly for its critical role in unlocking student financial aid opportunities.

Female student typing in front of a laptop.

As the primary gateway for students seeking federal financial assistance for higher education, the FAFSA is a standardized form used nationwide by colleges and universities to determine eligibility for federal aid, including grants, loans, and work-study programs.

Completing the FAFSA is often the first step for students and families in the financial aid process, requiring detailed information about family finances, including income, assets, and household size. The information provided through the FAFSA calculates the Estimated Family Contribution (EFC), which colleges then use to determine the amount and type of aid a student can receive. This can include need-based aid like the Pell Grant or various federal loans and work-study opportunities.

13. Financial Aid

  • Description: Assistance to help cover college costs, including grants, loans, and scholarships.
  • Settings: College financial planning, admissions office discussions, parent-student meetings.
  • Usage: “I’m researching different types of financial aid to understand how I can fund my college education.”

Financial Aid is central to the must-know college admission terms, crucial for students and families in managing the costs associated with higher education. It encompasses various forms of funding to help students pay for college expenses, including tuition, room, board, textbooks, and other educational costs.

Group of students walking in the campus.

The primary types of financial aid are grants, scholarships, work-study programs, and student loans. Grants and scholarships are particularly sought after as they do not require repayment. Grants are typically need-based, while scholarships are often merit-based, awarded for academic or extracurricular achievements, talents, or specific criteria the scholarship provider sets.

Work-study programs offer students the opportunity to work part-time, usually in roles related to their field of study or community service, to earn money that helps cover their education costs.

14. First-Generation College Student

  • Description: A student who is the first in their family to attend college.
  • Settings: College admissions interviews, scholarship applications, diversity and inclusion events.
  • Usage: “As a first-generation college student, I’m navigating the admissions process with limited family guidance.”

“First-Generation College Student” is a key concept in the must-know college admission terms lexicon, representing a significant demographic in higher education. A first-generation college student is typically a student whose parents or guardians still need to complete a four-year college degree. This distinction is important because first-generation students often face unique challenges and barriers in the college admissions process and throughout their college experience.

Group of students walking in the stairs.

First-generation college students may need more familial insight or guidance about the intricacies of college life, from the application process to navigating financial aid, academic expectations, and campus life.

Recognizing these challenges, many colleges and universities have implemented support programs, resources, and services designed to assist first-generation students in their academic and personal development.

15. Gap Year

  • Description: A break between high school and college, usually for a year.
  • Settings: Post-high school planning, discussions with guidance counselors, family decision-making.
  • Usage: “I plan to take a gap year to volunteer abroad before starting college.”

The concept of a Gap Year is important in collecting must-know college admission terms, offering a distinct path in the journey of higher education. Traditionally, a gap year refers to a year-long break before starting college or between undergraduate years. This period is often used for enriching experiences, such as travel, volunteer work, internships, or personal development activities.

A young male geologist explores a mountain cave

Opting for a gap year can offer students a valuable opportunity for growth and exploration outside the academic setting. It allows them to gain real-world experiences, develop new skills, and perhaps most importantly, gain a clearer sense of their goals and interests before diving into their college education. This can lead to a more focused and purposeful college experience when they do enroll.

16. General Education Requirements

  • Description: A set of core courses required by colleges to ensure a well-rounded education.
  • Settings: Academic advising, college orientation sessions, course registration meetings.
  • Usage: “I’m looking at the general education requirements to plan my first year of college courses.”

General Education Requirements are a critical component among must-know college admission terms, playing a foundational role in the structure of most undergraduate degree programs. These requirements, often referred to simply as “gen eds,” are courses in various disciplines that students must complete, regardless of their major. These requirements ensure that all graduates possess a broad knowledge base and skills, promoting a well-rounded educational experience.

Female teacher addressing students in a classroom

The scope of General Education Requirements typically spans several key areas, including humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, mathematics, and sometimes fine arts or physical education. The intention is to expose students to various subjects and intellectual perspectives, fostering critical thinking, effective communication, and a deeper understanding of the world.

17. GPA (Grade Point Average)

  • Description: A measure of a student’s academic achievement, often a factor in college admissions.
  • Settings: Academic advising, high school transcript reviews, college prep workshops.
  • Usage: “I’m working hard to maintain a high GPA, as it’s important for my college applications.

GPA, or Grade Point Average, is a pivotal term in the array of must-know college admission terms, serving as a standard metric for academic achievement in high school and college. Calculated on a scale typically ranging from 0 to 4.0, the GPA is an aggregated representation of a student’s grades across all courses.

Group of high school students sitting in classroom and writing in notebooks.

Each grade a student receives is converted to a corresponding point value (for example, an A might be equivalent to 4.0 points, a B to 3.0, etc.), and the average of these points results in the GPA. The GPA is a critical factor in college admissions as it provides a quick and standardized measure of a student’s academic performance.

Colleges often use the GPA as an initial screening tool to assess an applicant’s academic readiness and to compare applicants from different high schools with varying grading systems. A high GPA can indicate consistent academic success and can be particularly influential in competitive admissions processes.

18. Graduate School

  • Description: Advanced academic programs beyond the undergraduate level.
  • Settings: Career planning sessions, academic advising, and discussions with college professors.
  • Usage: “After earning my bachelor’s degree, I plan to apply to graduate school for further specialization.”

Graduate School is a term that features prominently in the compendium of must-know college admission terms, representing an advanced level of study beyond the undergraduate degree. Graduate school typically refers to the educational phase where students pursue advanced degrees like masters or doctoral (Ph.D.) programs. It’s a stage of education that focuses more on specialized knowledge, research skills, and professional development in specific fields of study.

Business people discussing documents and ideas at meeting

Attending graduate school is a decision that usually comes after completing a bachelor’s degree and is driven by various factors, including the pursuit of advanced expertise, a requirement for certain professions, or a passion for research and academia.

Graduate programs can vary greatly in structure and duration. For example, a master’s degree may take one to two years to complete, while a Ph.D. program can extend for several years and involves significant research, culminating in a dissertation.

19. HIPAA Release Form

  • Description: A form that allows parents to access their college-aged child’s medical records.
  • Settings: College preparatory meetings, health services discussions, and legal planning for college students.
  • Usage: “Before I leave for college, my parents and I are completing a HIPAA Release Form for emergency situations.”

The HIPAA Release Form, though less discussed, is a vital component in the array of must-know college admission terms, particularly regarding students’ health and privacy rights. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a federal law that protects the privacy of an individual’s health information. Once students turn 18, their health records become confidential, and parents or guardians can no longer access them without explicit permission. This is where the HIPAA Release Form becomes relevant.

View of a doctor studying a case

The form is a legal document through which students can grant their parents or guardians access to their medical information. This could be crucial when the student faces a health emergency or when important health decisions must be made. For college students who often live away from home, having a HIPAA Release Form can ensure that parents can quickly and effectively intervene or provide support in case of a medical issue.

20. Homesickness

  • Description: Emotional distress experienced by students adjusting to life away from home.
  • Settings: College orientation, counseling center discussions, conversations with resident advisors.
  • Usage: “Many freshmen experience homesickness, but there are campus resources to help cope with it.”

Homesickness is a term that, while not academic in nature, is crucial among the must-know college admission terms due to its impact on a student’s transition to college life. It refers to the emotional distress or anxiety often felt by students who are away from their familiar home environment, especially for those living on campus for the first time. This condition can manifest in loneliness, sadness, or longing for home, affecting a student’s academic performance and overall well-being.

A female student studying in the library.

Homesickness is a common experience for many college freshmen as they adjust to a new environment, new responsibilities, and the challenges of living independently. It’s a natural part of the transition to college and is typically most intense during the first few weeks or months of college life. However, for some students, these feelings can be more persistent and may require additional support.

21. Independent Study

  • Description: A course where students pursue individual research or projects, typically under faculty supervision.
  • Settings: Academic planning meetings, discussions with professors, and curriculum exploration sessions.
  • Usage: “For my independent study, I’m researching renewable energy technologies under Professor Smith’s guidance.”

Independent Study is an academic term with significant importance among must-know college admission terms, particularly for students seeking a personalized and self-directed educational experience.

a student taking online class

It refers to a course of study that allows a student to explore a particular interest or topic in depth, under the guidance of a faculty member, but outside the structure of traditional classroom courses. This option is typically available in most colleges and universities and is highly valued for its flexibility and focus on individual learning.

Undertaking an Independent Study usually involves a student proposing a specific topic or project, which a faculty advisor or a department committee must approve. This proposal often includes objectives, study methods, and how the project will be evaluated. The student then works autonomously, though regularly meeting with their advisor for guidance and progress reviews. The culmination of an Independent Study is often a final paper, presentation, or creative project.

22. In-State Student

  • Description: Students who reside in the same state as the public college they attend; they are often eligible for lower tuition.
  • Settings: College admissions discussions, financial planning sessions, and state residency discussions.
  • Usage: “As an in-state student, my tuition at the state university is significantly lower than for out-of-state students.”

The term ‘In-State Student’ is an essential part of must-know college admission terms, particularly when understanding the financial aspects of higher education. An in-state student is considered a resident of the state where a public college or university is located. This designation is significant due to the difference in tuition costs for in-state and out-of-state students at public institutions.

Two students walking in the campus.

Public colleges and universities typically offer lower tuition rates to in-state students, a benefit supported by state taxes. To qualify for in-state tuition, a student must generally meet certain residency requirements set by the state and the institution. These requirements include living in the state for a specific period, typically at least a year, and demonstrating intent to make the state a permanent home, not just living there for educational purposes.

23. Internship

  • Description: A work experience opportunity in a student’s field of interest, which can be paid or unpaid.
  • Settings: Career services offices, academic advising meetings, professional development workshops.
  • Usage: “I’m applying for internships this summer to gain practical experience in my field of study.”

The term ‘Internship’ is a crucial element within the spectrum of must-know college admission terms, representing a significant opportunity for practical learning and career exploration for students. An internship is a professional learning experience that offers meaningful, practical work related to a student’s field of study or career interest. It is often a part of a college curriculum and can be completed during the academic year or over summer breaks.

Mature businessman communicfating with young workers while walking through distribution warehouse.

Internships can be paid or unpaid, depending on the industry and the nature of the internship. They are instrumental in providing students with hands-on experience in a real-world environment, bridging the gap between academic theories and practical application. This experience is invaluable, as it enhances a student’s resume and provides insights into their chosen field, helping them make informed career choices.

24. Liberal Arts

  • Description: Academic disciplines that include a broad range of subjects focusing on critical thinking and communication.
  • Settings: College fairs, academic departmental meetings, course selection sessions.
  • Usage: “I chose a liberal arts college because I value a broad and diverse education.”

Liberal Arts is a significant term within the must-know college admission terms, encapsulating a broad and multifaceted approach to higher education. A Liberal Arts education is centered around a curriculum emphasizing various disciplines, including the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and sometimes fine arts and mathematics. This educational approach is designed to provide students with a diverse, well-rounded learning experience that fosters critical thinking, effective communication, and analytical skills.

Modern Bright Students

In a Liberal Arts program, students are typically encouraged to explore a variety of subjects before specializing in a major. This approach not only equips students with knowledge across a spectrum of fields but also enhances their ability to think critically and creatively, to analyze complex problems from multiple perspectives, and to communicate effectively. Such skills are highly valued in a rapidly changing and interconnected world.

25. Need-Based Financial Aid vs Merit Aid

  • Description: Financial aid based on economic need versus scholarships awarded for academic or other achievements.
  • Settings: Financial aid office discussions, scholarship application workshops, family financial planning.
  • Usage: “I’m eligible for need-based financial aid, but I’m also applying for merit scholarships.”

Understanding the distinction between Need-Based Financial Aid and Merit Aid is crucial within the must-know college admission terms, as it fundamentally influences how students can finance their higher education.

Group of students walking in the campus.

Need-Based Financial Aid is determined by the student’s and their family’s financial situation. This type of aid is designed to make college more accessible to students who may not have the means to afford it otherwise. It considers factors such as family income, assets, and the number of dependents in the household, typically assessed through forms like the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and, in some cases, the CSS Profile.

On the other hand, Merit Aid is awarded based on a student’s achievements rather than their financial need. This can include academic accomplishments, athletic skills, artistic talents, or other personal achievements. Merit scholarships are a way for colleges to attract talented students, regardless of their financial background. Unlike need-based aid, colleges can offer merit aid to recognize and reward a student’s high school performance and extracurricular involvement without considering financial need.

26. Net Price

  • Description: The actual college cost after accounting for scholarships and grants.
  • Settings: Financial planning sessions, college admissions workshops, parent-student meetings.
  • Usage: “To understand the affordability of each college, we’re comparing their net prices.”

The term “Net Price” is a crucial element among the must-know college admission terms, offering a clearer picture of the actual cost of attending a college or university. Unlike the sticker price, which includes tuition, room, board, and fees, the net price subtracts any grants and scholarships a student can receive. This figure provides prospective students and their families with a more accurate estimate of the financial burden they can expect to bear.

Group of students walking in the school.

Understanding the net price is essential for making informed decisions about college affordability. It helps students gauge the true cost of their education after accounting for financial aid rather than basing decisions on the often higher published costs. Colleges must provide a net price calculator on their websites, enabling students to input their financial and academic information to receive a personalized estimate of what they would pay to attend.

27. Restrictive Early Action (REA)

  • Description: A non-binding early college application option with restrictions on applying early to other schools.
  • Settings: College application strategy discussions, meetings with guidance counselors, and family decision-making.
  • Usage: “I applied through Restrictive Early Action to my first-choice school, so I can’t apply early elsewhere.”

Restrictive Early Action (REA) is an essential term within the must-know college admission terms, representing a specific early application process to colleges and universities. Like Early Action (EA), REA allows students to apply early to an institution and receive an admission decision before the regular decision deadline. However, REA’s “restrictive” nature sets it apart, meaning that students who apply to a college under REA are typically not permitted to submit early applications to other private institutions.

student in front of university building looking at camera

The key feature of REA is that, while it is a binding agreement, students are not committed to enrolling if accepted. This differs from Early Decision (ED), a binding agreement requiring students to enroll if admitted. REA is designed for students who strongly prefer one specific institution but still want the flexibility to compare financial aid offers and consider other colleges if admitted.

28. Single Choice Early Action (SCEA)

  • Description: An early application option where students cannot apply early to other institutions.
  • Settings: College admissions strategy sessions, high school guidance counselor meetings, application planning.
  • Usage: “I chose Single Choice Early Action for my top university to demonstrate my strong interest.”

Single Choice Early Action (SCEA), or Restrictive Early Action, is a pivotal concept in must-know college admission terms. This application process allows students to submit an early application to their first-choice college, typically receiving a decision before the regular admission cycle. However, the “single choice” or “restrictive” aspect defines SCEA: applicants commit to applying early to only one institution under this plan, although they are not bound to attend if accepted.

college student at campus

This early application strategy is designed for students who clearly prefer one institution and wish to demonstrate their commitment to that school. Unlike Early Decision (ED) programs, SCEA does not require a binding commitment to enroll, offering students the flexibility to compare financial aid packages and consider other colleges if accepted. The restrictive nature of SCEA aims to streamline the early admissions process for both students and institutions by encouraging applicants to carefully consider their top choice without the pressure of a binding commitment.

29. Supplemental Essay

  • Description: Additional essays required by some colleges, specific to each institution.
  • Settings: College application workshops, English classes, meetings with writing tutors.
  • Usage: “Besides my main essay, I have to write three supplemental essays for my application to that college.”

The Supplemental Essay is an indispensable term in the lexicon of must-know college admission terms, serving as a critical component of many college applications. Unlike the main personal statement that is often part of a standardized application like the Common App, supplemental essays are specific to individual colleges or universities. These essays allow admissions committees to investigate applicants’ interests, motivations, and fit for their institution.

How To Prepare For Grad School

The prompts for supplemental essays can vary widely, from asking about a student’s academic interests and how they align with the programs offered by the college to more personal or creative questions designed to gauge the student’s character or thought processes. This variety allows students to showcase different facets of their personality and experiences beyond what is captured in their grades and test scores.

30. Test-Blind/Test-Optional/Test-Flexible Policies

  • Description: Policies regarding considering standardized test scores in the admissions process.
  • Settings: College information sessions, discussions with admissions officers, and college prep courses.
  • Usage: “The university I’m applying to is test-optional, so I’m deciding whether to submit my SAT scores.”

Test-blind policies represent the most radical departure from traditional admissions criteria. Colleges adopting this approach do not consider standardized test scores in their admissions decisions, even if the applicant submits them. This policy is rooted in the belief that standardized tests are not always accurate indicators of a student’s academic potential or capabilities.

Test-optional policies allow students to decide whether to submit SAT or ACT scores as part of their application. Institutions with test-optional policies evaluate other aspects of an application, such as high school grades, courses taken, essays, and extracurricular activities, more heavily if test scores still need to be submitted. This approach aims to level the playing field for students who may not perform well on standardized tests but show academic promise through other achievements.

Test paper and a pencil

Test-flexible policies offer a middle ground, allowing students to submit scores from various tests, not just the SAT or ACT. For example, a college might accept Advanced Placement (AP) exam scores, International Baccalaureate (IB) exam scores, or subject-specific SAT scores instead of the traditional SAT or ACT. This policy gives students more options to showcase their strengths in specific areas.


College admissions is paved with terminology that can sometimes be overwhelming. However, with the right information, prospective students can navigate this process more smoothly, making informed choices that best suit their educational and career goals.

Our list of 30 must-know college admission terms is more than just definitions—it’s a roadmap to understanding the opportunities and challenges of higher education. By familiarizing yourself with these terms, you’re taking an important step toward making your college dreams a reality, poised to tackle the application process with assurance and clarity. Remember, knowledge is power, especially when making life-changing educational decisions.


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