Academic Advisor: A member of a school's faculty who provides advice and guidance to students on academic matters, such as course selections.

    Academic Year: Annual period during which a student attends and receives formal instruction at a college or university, typically from August or September to May or June. The academic year may be divided into semesters, trimesters, quarters or other calendars.

    Accredited: Official recognition that a college or university meets the standards of a regional or national association. Although international students are not required to attend an accredited college or university in the United States, employers, other schools and governments worldwide often only recognize degrees from accredited schools.

    Associate Degree: a type of degree awarded typically by a community college following two years of college. An A.A. (Associates of Arts) or A.S. (Associates of Science) is typically awarded to students who successfully complete programs designed for transfer to a baccalaureate-granting institution (see bachelor’s degree). An AAS (Associate of Applied Science) degree is awarded to students who successfully complete a degree program designed for direct entry into a specific career.

    Bachelor’s Degree (Baccalaureate degree): a type of degree awarded by a university, typically following four years of college.

    Candidate Notification Date: The date by which a student must notify a college of their decision to attend or not. Typically May 1 is the national confirmation deadline.

    College: A postsecondary institution that typically provides only an undergraduate education, but in some cases, also graduate degrees. "College" is often used interchangeably with "university" and "school." Separately, "college" can refer to an academic division of a university, such as College of Business. (See U.S. News's rankings of Best Colleges.)

    The Common Application: Some colleges & universities are a member of The Common Application. This undergraduate application allows for one form to be submitted to multiple schools in hopes of simplifying the application process.

    Community College: A public, two-year postsecondary institution that offers the associate degree. Also known as a "junior college." Community colleges typically provide a transfer program, allowing students to transfer to a four-year school to complete their bachelor's degree, and a career program, which provides students with a vocational degree.

    The Coalition Application: Several colleges and universities have joined the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success. This application platform is only open to U.S. colleges and universities that provide need-based financial aid or low-cost in-state tuition, and have a six-year graduation rate of at least 70%.

    Conditional Admission: An acceptance to a college or university that is dependent on the student first completing coursework or meeting specific criteria before enrollment. For an international student, this can include a requirement to attain a certain level of English-language proficiency if the student's TOEFL score doesn't meet the minimum required.

    Core Requirements: Mandatory courses that students are required to complete to earn a degree.

    Course: A regularly scheduled class on a particular subject. Each college or university offers degree programs that consist of a specific number of required and elective courses.

    Course Load: The number of courses or credits a student takes during a specific term.

    Credits: Units that a school uses to indicate that a student has completed and passed courses that are required for a degree. Each school defines the total number and types of credits necessary for degree completion, with every course being assigned a value in terms of "credits," "credit hours," or "units."

    Curriculum: A program of study made up of a set of courses offered by a school. 

    Dean: The head of a division of a college or university.

    Deferred Decision: A student may have applied early action or early decision, but their application is moved to regular decision. This typically allows for additional time for the student to submit additional materials and/or for the admission committee to take more time with the application before making a final decision.

    Degree: A diploma or title awarded to students by a college or university after successful completion of a program of study.

    Drop: To withdraw from a course. A college or university typically has a period of time at the beginning of a term during which students can add or drop courses.

    Early Action: a non-binding application option where applicants receive a decision regarding their candidacy much earlier than other applicants, but with no obligation to enroll or withdraw their applications from other colleges.

    Early Decision: a binding application option where applicants receive a decision regarding their candidacy much earlier than other applicants. In exchange, the applicant -  if admitted -  will immediately accept the offer of admission and withdraw their applications from other institutions.

    Electives: Courses that students can choose to take for credit toward a degree, but are not required.

    Enroll: To register or enter a school or course as a participant.

    Fees: An amount of money charged by colleges and universities, in addition to their tuition, to cover costs of services such as libraries and computer technology.

    GPA: “Grade Point Average.” Most colleges will use your GPA as part of the admission process. Some will recalculate weighted grades. It is essentially a record of your academic performance in high school.

    Humanities: Academic courses focused on human life and ideas, including history, philosophy, foreign languages, religion, art, music and literature. 

    Independent Study: An academic course that allows students to earn credit for work done outside of the normal classroom setting. The reading or research assignment is usually designed by the students themselves or with the help of a faculty member, who monitors the progress.

    Internship: An experience that allows students to work in a professional environment to gain training and skills. Internships may be paid or unpaid and can be of varying lengths during or after the academic year.

    Ivy League: An association of eight private universities located in the northeastern United States, originally formed as an athletic conference. Today, the term is associated with universities that are considered highly competitive and prestigious. The Ivy League consists of the highly ranked Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania and Yale University. 

    Junior College: A two-year postsecondary institution that offers the associate degree. (See "community college.")

    Letter of Recommendation: A letter written by a student's teacher, counselor, coach or mentor that assesses his or her qualifications and skills. Colleges, universities and graduate schools generally require recommendation letters as part of the application process.

    Liberal Arts: Academic studies of subjects in the humanities, social sciences and the sciences, with a focus on general knowledge, in contrast to a professional or technical emphasis. "Liberal arts" is often used interchangeably with "liberal arts and sciences" or "arts and sciences."

    Major: The academic subject area that a student chooses to focus on during his or her undergraduate studies. Students typically must officially choose their major by the end of their sophomore year, allowing them to take a number of courses in the chosen area during their junior and senior years.

    Matriculate: the process of enrolling in a college or university.

    Midterm Exam: An exam given after half of the academic term has passed and that covers all material studied in a particular course until that point. Not all courses have midterm exams.

    Minor: An academic subject area that a student chooses to have a secondary focus on during their undergraduate studies. Unlike a major, a minor is typically not required, but it allows a student to take a few additional courses in a subject different from his or her major. 

    Need-Blind Admissions: An admission policy where a college or university will have no knowledge of financial background or parent employment as part of the admission decision making process.

    Open Admissions: A college or university's policy of accepting all students who have completed high school, regardless of their grades or test scores, until all spaces are filled. Most community colleges have an open admissions policy, including for international students.

    Orientation: A college or university's official process of welcoming new, accepted students to campus and providing them with information and policies before classes begin, usually in a half-day or full-day event. Many colleges and graduate schools offer a separate orientation just for international students to cover topics such as how to follow immigration and visa regulations, set up a U.S. bank account, and handle culture shock. 

    Postsecondary: Any type of education that takes place after high school, or secondary school. (See "higher education.").

    Prerequisite: A required course that must be completed before a student is allowed to enroll in a more advanced one.

    Priority Date: The date by which an application must be received in order to be given full consideration. This can apply to admissions, financial aid and on-campus housing. After the priority date passes, applications may be considered on a case-by-case or first-come-first-served basis.

    Registration: The process in which students choose and enroll in courses to be taken during the academic year or in summer sessions.

    Regular Admission: The traditional admission process timeline with no restrictions or early deadlines. Colleges notify applicants of their acceptance in the spring of their senior year.

    Regular Decision: An admissions process used by colleges and universities that typically requires applicants to submit their materials by January 1; an admissions decision is generally received by April 1, and if admitted, students usually have until May 1 to respond to the offer. The majority of applicants are evaluated during regular decision, rather than early action and early decision.

    Restricted Early Action: similar to Early Action, except that the college has placed some additional restrictions on their applicants. For example, you may be able to apply early action to all but a few competing schools.

    Rolling Admissions: application process that offers students the opportunity to apply in a large window of time and applications are reviewed on a rolling basis.

    Room and Board: Housing and meals. "Room and board" is typically one of the costs that colleges and universities will list in their annual estimated cost of attendance, in addition to tuition, fees, and textbooks and supplies. If students choose to live in dormitories, they may be required to buy into a meal plan to use on-campus dining facilities. 

    School Profile: summary report of information about a high school’s enrollment, curriculum, and grading system. Typically sent to colleges and universities to help them know more about the high school if they are unfamiliar.

    Secondary School Report: Often a part of The Common Application. A form that your high school counselor completes including class rank, GPA, school profile, and a letter of recommendation.

    Student Search: When taking the PSAT or SAT you have the option of sharing your information with colleges and universities. Colleges will communicate with College Board and send brochures to particular students based on the profile.

    Term: Periods of study, which can include semesters, quarters, trimesters or summer sessions.

    Transcript: Your academic record including list of courses and final grades, GPA, class rank, test scores. Please visit the “forms” section of the counseling page to access the transcript request form.

    Undergraduate Student / Undergraduate Studies: A student enrolled in a two-year or four-year study program at a college or university after graduation from high school, leading to an associate or bachelor's degree.

    University: A postsecondary institution that typically offers both undergraduate and graduate degree programs. "University" is often used interchangeably with "college" and "school." 

    View Book: a brochure produced by a college or university describing their campus environment, academic programs, housing, athletics, etc.

    Wait List: Some colleges and universities maintain a waitlist as part of their admissions process. If students decline their offer of admissions or more room in the class becomes available, the school may begin to offer additional acceptance offers to those listed on the waitlist.

    Withdraw: To formally stop participating in a course or attending a university.


    EFC: Expected Family Contribution. A number calculated based on the completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) that helps to determine an applicant’s eligibility for federal student aid. Each college will use this number to package a financial aid award.

    CSS Profile: an additional form to apply for financial aid. Some colleges require both the CSS Profile and the FAFSA to determine your financial aid/scholarship eligibility.

    FAFSA: Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This is the financial aid application used by all colleges and universities to determine the amount of federal aid/scholarships to be awarded.

    Federal Perkins Loan Program: A low-interest rate federal loan awarded to students who demonstrate exceptional financial need. Must be repaid.

    Financial Aid: All types of money offered to a student to help pay tuition, fees and other educational expenses. This can include loans, grants, scholarships, assistantships, fellowships and work-study jobs. (See the U.S. News paying for college and paying for grad school guides for more information.)

    Grant: A type of financial aid that consists of an amount of free money given to a student, often by the federal or a state government, a company, a school or a charity. A grant does not have to be repaid. "Grant" is often used interchangeably with "scholarship."

    Loan: A type of financial aid that consists of an amount of money that is given to someone for a period of time, with an agreement that it will be repaid later. International students are generally not eligible for U.S. federal government loans and will typically require an American cosigner to apply for a private bank loan.

    Pell Grant: Federal grant awarded to undergraduate students who have demonstrated financial need. Unlike a loan this grant does not have to be repaid.

    Student Aid Report (SAR): a paper or electronic document that provides some basic information about your eligibility for federal student aid with your answers to the questions on your FAFSA.

    Scholarship: A type of financial aid that consists of an amount of free money given to a student by a school, individual, organization, company, charity, or federal or state government. "Scholarship" is often used interchangeably with "grant." (See the U.S. News scholarship guide for more information.)

    Work Study: a federal program that provides a portion of the financial aid package through on-campus employment.


    ACT: The American College Test. The ACT is similar to the SAT I and can be used to meet the test requirement for some colleges. The exam is scored on a scale of 1 to 36 and covers four curricular areas: English usage, mathematics, reading and science.

    AP: Advanced Placement tests are administered by the College Board and provide the opportunity to earn college credit at some universities while still enrolled in high school.

    ASVAB: a multiple-aptitude battery that measures developed abilities and helps predict future academic and occupational success in the military.

    College Board: Nonprofit Corporation aimed at connecting students with college success and opportunity. They design and administer the SAT and AP exams, but are also involved in research and advocacy on behalf of students, educators and schools.

    PSAT/NMSQT: Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test and National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. Exam offered through the College Board as a preparation assessment for the SAT.

    PLAN: A practice exam for the ACT administered during the sophomore year.

    SAT: Scholastic Assessment Test. Can be used to meet the test requirement for some colleges. The exam was redesigned to provide a focused and useful assessment to reflect what students had already been learning in their classrooms.

    SAT II Subject Test: Additional assessment offered by The College Board for a variety of subjects such as writing, history, math, science, and foreign languages. Some highly selective institutions require these exams.

    Standardized Tests: Exams, such as the SAT, ACT and GRE, which measure knowledge and skills and are designed to be consistent in how they are administered and scored. Standardized tests are intended to help admissions officials compare students who come from different backgrounds.

    TOEFL - Test of English as a Foreign Language. Students for whom English is not their first language may take this exam to demonstrate English proficiency to U.S. Colleges and Universities. Exam covers grammar, vocabulary, and listening.