College Terminology 101
Academic advisor. The assigned school official who helps you choose classes and ensures you’re taking the right courses in order to graduate.
Academic term. A measurement of time to divide up the academic year. Colleges and universities use two semesters, three trimesters or four quarters.
Common application. A college application (www.commonapp.org) accepted by more than 600 schools.
Cooperative education. A program that combines classroom work and actual work experience. Students may get course credit for “co-ops.”
Credit hours. The number of hours assigned to a class; usually the number of hours students are in that class each week (e.g., a class held for an hour on Monday, Wednesday and Friday would be worth three credit hours). To be considered a full-time student, you must be taking a certain number of credit hours.
Deferred decision. A delay by a school in making the decision to accept or deny a student. Students who aren’t offered admission for early decision are often deferred and considered for regular decision.
Deposit day. May 1 is the day by which accepted students must notify a college of their intent to enroll along with a nonrefundable deposit.
Dual enrollment. A process allowing high school students to take college-level courses that can be transferred to a college or university for credit. Also called concurrent enrollment. The credits may be available both for college and high school credit.
Early action. A process allowing students to apply to a college or university earlier than the standard deadline in order to receive an earlier decision. Students are allowed to apply to other schools at the same time and are not required to accept an offer of admission.
Early decision. A process allowing students to apply to only one college or university earlier than the standard deadline in order to receive an earlier decision. If offered admission, you’ll be required to withdraw all other applications and accept the offer of admission (unless you can show you can’t afford to go, taking into account the financial aid offered by the school). A school typically will let early decision applicants know by mid-December if they’ve been accepted, denied or deferred.
Elective. An optional class that is not required for your major or minor.
Expected family contribution. The amount a student’s family is expected to pay toward the cost of college.
Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). A form that all students must fill out to be considered for federal financial aid.
Greek life. The system of fraternities and sororities and their activities.
Internship. An (often) unpaid job in your field of major. Internships can provide you with work experience and sometimes, college credit.
Major/Minor. A major is your main field of study in an undergraduate program, typically requiring 30 to 60 credit hours. Aminor is your secondary field of study, often providing more of a specialization to support your major. For example, a business major might minor in economics.
Merit-based aid. Financial aid awarded based on the student’s achievements (e.g., academic) or talents (e.g., athletic).
Need-based aid. Financial aid awarded based on the student’s ability to pay for college.
Prerequisite course. A class that you must take before taking the class at the next level (e.g., English 101 may be required if you want to take English 201).
Public vs. private institutions. Public colleges are supported by state funds and typically are less expensive for residents of that state. Private colleges get their funding from tuition, endowments, alumni support and other donations. Although private colleges may have a higher sticker price, most offer substantial financial aid packages.
Recommendation. A letter written on your behalf, explaining why you make a good candidate. Most applications require three recommendation letters.
Regular decision. The standard admission process and timeline for a school. Typically, applications are due by January 1 and decisions are made by April 1.
Resident advisor/resident assistant (“r.a.”). A college student who supervises the other students living in a dorm, usually in exchange for free housing and food from the college or university.
Rolling admissions. A process that allows schools to review applications as they are received, providing students with a faster response.
Scholarship. A form of financial aid—usually based on merit, such as academic or athletic—that does not need to be repaid.
Transcript. An official academic record from the student’s school that shows his/her courses and grades, as well as the dates attended.
Waitlist. Applicants who have been neither accepted nor denied by the college. As openings arise, the school may offer admission to students on the waitlist.
Work-study. A job (typically on campus) that allows a student to earn money to help pay for the costs associated with college.