College Admissions Process Vocab: Important Terms to Know Before Applying

November 1, 2021 at 4:00 AM

The college admissions process can feel overwhelming, especially to new students. To help, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most commonly used and often misunderstood terms you'll encounter during the application process. While not comprehensive, this glossary provides a good resource for understanding common college admissions terminology.

Common College Admission Terms Glossary

Admission, Types of


Admission that is dependent on the student meeting certain criteria (i.e., completing coursework or doing well on a placement test).


A policy that allows a student to defer their enrollment after admission if agreed upon by the school. It is often used for gap years or other long-term life events.

Early Action (EA)

A program that allows students to submit applications before the general deadline. EA offers are not binding.

Early Decision (ED)

A program that allows students to apply to their first-choice college before the regular deadline. This may result in an earlier admission decision, which is binding. The student must immediately enroll in the college upon acceptance.


A policy of accepting or rejecting applications without considering the financial circumstances of the applicant.


The policy of accepting all high-school graduate applications until classes are full.


A process that requires applicants to submit their applications by a certain date. An admissions decision is then returned by a later date, and a response is required at a final date.


Admission policy under which each complete application is considered on a first-come, first-serve basis until all spaces have been filled.

Financial Aid

Any type of monetary assistance available to help students pay for educational expenses. Financial aid may come from a variety of sources and may be based on several factors, such as merit or need.

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

An application used to apply for financial aid from federal and state governments.


Financial aid that does not need to be repaid. It may be given by a government, school, charity, or private organization or individual.


Financial aid that needs to be repaid at a later date (often after completing a degree). Loans may be subsidized or unsubsidized and provided by governments or private entities such as a bank.


A program funded by the government that allows students to work with approved employers while attending school.

First-Generation Students

Applicants who are the first in their families to attend a postsecondary school.

Grade Point Average (GPA)

A number that indicates a student’s overall academic based on the average of all grades earned in all courses.

Priority Date/Priority Deadline

The date by which an application must be received in order to be considered for acceptance.

Resident Status

The ability to meet the state’s residence requirements. Resident students may be offered lower tuition costs than non-resident students.

Standardized Admission Tests/Placement Tests

Also called college entrance exams, the results of these tests help college admissions programs evaluate student readiness. Standardized tests all measure the same things in the same way, providing an equal opportunity for students to showcase their knowledge.


A common college admissions test featuring four sections: English, Reading, Science, and Math.


A standardized entrance exam that indicates proficiency in reading, writing, math, and additional optional subjects. Most high school students take the SAT in their Junior year.


The official record of your coursework at a school. Admissions offices will generally require you to submit a high school transcript.


The amount of money a student is expected to pay per term, course, or credit hour. It often does not include the cost of housing, materials, or fees.

Wait List

A list of college applicants who were not accepted at first but may be admitted if space becomes available.

Have Questions About the College Admissions Process? Educational Attainment Services Can Help

Understanding the lingo is a small part of the college admissions process. If you’re still unsure about the application and admission process, discouraged about applying for Ivy League schools, or have questions about how to make your application shine, we’re here for you.

Our team is proud to offer counseling and consulting services that can help students and parents navigate the college admissions process. To learn more, call us today at 800-706-4134 or reach out to us via our online contact form.

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