College Terminology 3: Admissions Process

As I start writing more blogs for your information, I realize that some of the terminology might be a bit foreign to you. If you have ever done a college visit, your head begins to spin with what they are saying. I have compiled a great list of college terminology that will help you through the entire process, whether you are thinking of the a 2- or 4-year school.

IMAGE CREDIT:  dantesz


Since the list is quite extensive I am going to break it down into easier sections for each part of the process.

  1. High School Related
  2. Post-secondary Institutions & Programs
  3. Admission Process
  4. Financial Aid & Scholarships
  5. On-Campus Terms

Feel free to add more in the comments section if you come across a term we should include!



A two-hour-and-55-minute examination that measures a student’s knowledge and achievement in four subject areas -- English, mathematics, reading and science reasoning -- to determine the student’s readiness for college-level instruction. There is also an optional writing test that assesses students’ skills in writing an essay. The ACT is scored on a scale of 1 to 36 for each of the four areas. The four subject area scores are averaged to create a Composite Score.


Admission is the act of being accepted into a post-secondary institution. After the application process to a post-secondary institution, the admissions office at the institution will notify the student by phone, mail or e-mail of whether or not the student has been admitted. Admission to a postsecondary institution does not mean the student is required to go there, and does not mean the student is automatically enrolled. Admission is simply the acceptance of a student into the institution.

Application Deadline

The date set by college admissions when applications are due. If deadlines are missed, students will usually be denied or lose valuable opportunity for scholarships.

Campus Visit/Tour

A service by the college admissions office for prospective students, allowing them to visit various campus buildings, meet key institutional personnel, and get a firsthand look at campus life.

College Entrance Exams

The ACT and SAT are national exams that students must take to be admitted to most colleges and universities. Both tests are designed to measure a student's level of knowledge in basic areas, such as Math, English, Reading, and Science. It is recommended students take both the ACT and SAT. It is best to take at least one test during the junior year. Students may retest either test and should do so at the start of the senior year. The SAT II Subject area test is also required by some colleges and universities whose admission standards are more select. Visit for more information and registration.

Some schools use tests such as ACCUPLACER and PERT. Typically these are 2 year community colleges that will take these or the ACT/ SAT.

College Essay

A brief composition on a single subject, required by many colleges as part of the application process for admission.

College Fair

An event at which colleges, universities, and other organizations related to higher education present themselves in an exposition atmosphere for the purpose of attracting and identifying potential applicants.

College Rep Visit

This is when a college or university admissions representative visits a high school or community site for the purpose of recruiting students for admission to the institution.

Common Application

A general application accepted by 517 colleges and universities throughout the United States and abroad (

Deferred Admission

A college’s option to postpone making a decision on whether to accept or deny an applicant. If deferred, they may be waiting for additional information from the student, like end of semester 1 grades for seniors, or to move you from one type of admission (early) to another (regular).

Deferred Enrollment

An accepted student’s decision to put off a college’s offer of admission in order to take a one-year absence (e.g., to travel, work or take care of a family member).

Demonstrated Interest

This includes a student’s expression of his or her desire to attend a particular college through campus visits, contact with admissions officers, and other actions that attract the attention of college admissions personnel. While not all institutions use this as a factor in accepting students for admissions, studies have shown that more than half of schools do consider demonstrated interest in their admissions decisions.

Early Action

A process that allows students to apply to a school earlier than normal (often before November) in order to receive an earlier decision (usually by mid-December). Students are allowed to apply to other schools as well, but they typically need to let the accepting colleges know by late spring if they’ll be attending. With early action, you don’t have to accept an offer of admission.

Early Decision

A process that allows students to apply to ONE college or university with the promise to attend if accepted. Early decision is binding, so students should be sure it’s the school they want to (and can afford to) attend before applying early decision.

Fee Waiver

Students with financial need may receive fee waivers to take the SAT, SAT II, and the ACT. Students who take the test using a fee waiver may then receive college application fee waivers.

First Generation College Student

Any student whose parents did not obtain a Bachelor's degree or higher at a U.S. accredited institution. It is up to the individual institutions to evaluate any Bachelor's degree or higher obtained from outside of the U.S.


The college search is not about getting into the best college. There is no school that is best for all students. Some students do best at large public universities; others excel in small liberal arts colleges; still others want to study far from home. If you want to make the most of college, don't just apply to the big–name schools or the ones your friends are excited about. Do your own research to find schools that are the best fit for you.


This is a personal, face-to-face interaction between an admissions applicant and an institutional representative (admissions officer, alumnus, faculty, etc.). Interviews are rarely required, but at colleges that offer them it can be beneficial to take advantage of the opportunity.


A student who is not an official resident of the state where a public university is located. Tuition at public universities is less expensive for residents.

Open Admission

A policy of some colleges of admitting all high school graduates, regardless or academic qualifications, such as high school grades and admission test scores.

Personal Statement

An application essay in which a student gives more insight into his/her personality, achievements, history and character.

“Reach School”

A college or university that you have a chance of getting into, but your test scores, GPA and/or class rank are a bit on the low side when you look at the school's profile. The top U.S. colleges and top universities should always be considered reach schools.


A letter written on your behalf, explaining why you make a good candidate. Most applications require three recommendation letters and include teachers, counselor, or school administrators.

Regular Decision

The application period in which a student applies that does not have any binding or non-binding agreement attached to it.


A student who lives in and meets the residency requirements for the state where a public university is located. Tuition at public universities often is more expensive for non-residents.

Rolling Admissions

A process of reviewing and making decisions on applications as they are received, rather than according to a specific deadline.

“Safety School”

A college or university where you clearly meet the admission requirements: minimum GPA, test scores, etc. It’s important, though, that the school also be one that you would want to attend, should you not gain admission to more selective colleges.


SAT is shorthand for the Scholastic Assessment Test. The SAT is a standardized test which may be used for admission into post-secondary institutions. It tests knowledge in writing, critical reading and math. The exam is typically taken in the Spring of a student's Junior year, and can be retaken beginning in Fall of Senior year of high school as a student works to increase his/her score.

School Profile

This is an overview of your high school’s program, grading system, course offerings, and other features that your school is submits to admissions offices along with your transcript. For better or worse, admissions offices use this information to weigh your GPA, placing a student’s GPA against the academic reputation of the school she or he attends.


An official academic record from a specific school, typically your high school or post-secondary institution. It lists the courses you have completed, grades and information such as when you attended.

Wait List

A list of college applicants who haven’t been accepted or denied. If openings develop, the college may offer admission to some of the students on the wait list.