College Lingo

The college search process can seem overwhelming. Oftentimes it becomes more mind-boggling when you encounter a whole host of acronyms and special jargon along the way. Let me try to ease your confusion with this guide to college lingo!

College Application Deadlines

It's always a good idea to check the school's website or contact the Admissions Office to make sure you know the application deadlines and which models that school offers.

  • Early Decision"”This is a legally-binding form of application. If you are admitted to a school as an early decision applicant, you must attend that school.
  • Early Action"”This model is not legally-binding. You may apply to more than one school as an early action applicant. The benefit of applying through early action is that you typically receive an admissions decision much sooner from that college or university.
  • Rolling Admission"”If you're uncertain which schools are in your top two or three, or if you aren't ready to apply right away in the fall, this might be the option for you. Rolling admission means the school will accept and review applications as students apply. The deadline might be a much later one than early decision or early action schools.

Types of Applications 

  • Common App"”The Common App is accepted by over 700 colleges and universities nationwide. As you visit schools, ask if they accept this type of application because it is free. If they do accept the Common App., then you can select all of the schools you want to receive it and won't have to complete individual applications for each school.
  • School-specific applications"”All colleges and universities offer their own application. There is often a fee associated with completing this type of application, so make sure to check the website or ask the Admissions Office to know how much you will pay just for the application.

Application Materials 

In addition to the application itself, schools often require supplemental materials. Here is a list of common items the schools might request from you.

  • Transcripts"”Colleges and universities need your high school transcript, and will also ask for transcripts from any colleges where you might be dual-enrolled or taking classes as a high school student. The transcript is a list of all the courses you have taken, the grades you have earned, and the years you were enrolled at the school.
  • Educator's Reference"”Think about your favorite teacher or another educator like a guidance counselor who knows you well. This person would be the ideal fit for writing a good reference. They might submit a form required by the school, send an email, or write a formal letter. Colleges and universities are interested in learning more about your academic performance, your character, your work ethic, and your leadership skills.
  • Personal Statement/Essay"”Many colleges and universities want to evaluate your writing skills. They might ask you to cover a specific topic within a specific word limit. Others will leave the prompt open-ended to allow you to cover something meaningful and show your creativity. If you need ideas for possible topics, reach out to your admissions counselor. They can give the best insight on what the college wants to see in your essay.
  • ACT/SAT Scores"”While some schools are becoming "test optional," and don't require test scores anymore, there are still many schools that require your ACT or SAT scores. On the day you take the ACT or SAT you have the opportunity to select a group of schools to receive your scores right away. However, many students will wait to send them until they know how well they actually did on the test. There is a fee for sending your test scores at a later date, but it might be beneficial to wait if you are concerned about how well you did.

Tuition and Fees

This section identifies terms used to talk about the cost of attending a college or university. Keep in mind that these amounts usually increase each academic year.

  • Tuition"”Tuition is the cost of taking classes at a college or university. When you visit the school's website, tuition might be listed per credit (find out how many credits students need to take per year) or per academic year.
  • Room"”This amount will tell you how much it costs to live on campus each year.
  • Board"”This fee covers what it will cost to eat on campus for the year. There is a wide variety of dining options on college campuses.

Financial Assistance

Once you know how much it will cost to attend a college or university, you need to know how to afford your education.

  • FAFSA"”Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is your first step in applying for financial aid. For more information, visit
  • Grants"”Federal and state governments award grants based on your family's financial need. You do not have to repay this money.
  • Scholarships"”There are ways to earn money based on your talents and interests. Schools might offer scholarships for academics, music, art, theatre, dance, or athletics. You do not have to repay these funds.
  • Loans"”Student loans are funds borrowed by the student to help afford college, and they must be repaid to the lender.
  • Work Study"”This would be a way for you to earn money working on campus while you also attend school.

Important Dates

  • Application deadline"”Make sure you know when applications are due when you start your senior year of high school. You wouldn't want to miss an early fall deadline.
  • Scholarship application deadline"”These will vary depending on the school and the scholarship for which you are applying. Just like the application deadline, it helps to look into scholarship deadlines early.
  • Notification of acceptance"”This term refers to the time that you will hear from a college regarding your acceptance.
  • Financial Aid notification"”This is the date that schools will start to send financial aid awards to students.
  • Deposit/decision deadline"”The national college decision deadline is May 1, but schools may ask students to make a decision prior to this date. Make sure you know when the deadline is, and if the school tends to fill its class early. You don't want to wait too long and lose your spot.

Other Helpful Terms 

  • Prospective Student"”This term refers to students who are interested in the college but who haven't applied yet.
  • Admitted Student"”This term refers to any student who has been accepted to a college or university.
  • Enrollment Deposit"”Students submit their deposit to hold their spot at a college. This tells the school that you intend to enroll and it might be nonrefundable.
  • Adviser"”This person is either a faculty or staff member who will serve as a mentor for you during your time at the college or university. They often help with class scheduling.
  • Resident Assistant (RA)"”Schools call them different things, but an RA is usually a sophomore, junior, or senior who lives on your floor. They plan social events, offer roommate advice, and help keep the living spaces safe.

Hopefully this guide to college lingo is helpful. Good luck with your search!