This resource was created to help you fully understand some of the common terms used in the world of college admissions.

Campus Interview

An optional component of the application process. An on-campus interview with an Admissions Officer or staff member can be scheduled during a campus visit or an alumni interview may be arranged in their area.

Campus Tour

An opportunity to observe campus culture, talk to current students, and visit the surrounding community. Virtual campus tours are an option when travel is not possible or inconvenient.

Class Rank

A measure used to show how a student’s academic performance compares to that of their peers within the same high school class.

Coalition Application

A college application accepted by 130 colleges and universities. The application platform also offers a set of free online college planning tools that help students learn about and prepare for college.

College Essay

A common component of the admission process that allows students to showcase their individuality. Additional essays may be required for specific programs and/or scholarship applications.

College Fair

A convenient way for students to meet representatives from many colleges and universities under one roof.

Common Application

A college application accepted by over 1,000 colleges and universities.

Conditional Admission

An offer of admission contingent upon certain conditions, such as a mandated grade point average.

Deferred Enrollment

A decision made by the student to postpone their admission to college, sometimes used to take a gap year.

Demonstrated Interest

Various ways in which a student shows their interest in attending a specific institution prior to the official application process. Measures of demonstrated interest vary from college to college, but can include taking a campus tour, contacting the admission office, registering for a overnight program on campus, and more.

Early Action

Early action is non-binding. Students receive an early response to their application, but do not have to commit to the college until the normal reply date of May 1.

Early Decision

Students commit to a first-choice college and, if admitted, agree to enroll in that college, and withdraw their other college applications. Colleges may offer ED I or II with different deadlines. This is the only application plan where students are required to accept a college’s offer of admission and submit a deposit prior to May 1.

Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

Required application for anyone filing for federal financial assistance, including all federal loans.

Financial Aid/Financial Assistance

Monetary assistance applied toward postsecondary education, which can consist of gift-aid, work-study, or loans.


College applicants who are the first in their families to apply and attend a postsecondary institution.

Gap Year

A student’s decision to postpone their acceptance to college, usually during the year between senior year of high school and freshman year of college.

Grade Point Average

A component on high school transcripts that averages all of a student’s grades, typically on a 4.0 scale. Some schools give more weight to grades earned through higher-level coursework.

Letter of Recommendation

Non-familial references submitted by students during the admission process.

Need Blind

A college or university that is “need blind” does not consider an applicant’s ability to pay when making admissions decisions. This is different from a college or university that is “need aware” and may take the applicant’s ability to pay tuition into consideration in the admissions process.

Placement Test

A test given to students before they enroll in college, and usually after they are accepted, to align their educational needs with the appropriate coursework.

Private College

An academic institution financed primarily by tuition and endowments.

Public College

An academic institution financed by tuition, endowments, and state or local taxes. Tuition for in-state students is reduced and programs and policies are state-regulated.

Regular Decision

A decision offered during the regular admission cycle. Students submit their applications by a specified deadline and are notified of a decision within a clearly stated period of time.

Retention Rate

The percentage of first-year students who continue at that college or university for a second year of studies.


Institutional statistic that compares the number of students who apply to those who are accepted.

Standardized Test

A national college admission exam with subject areas in english, math, reading, and science with an optional writing component. The ACT and SAT are the two most popular versions in the US.


A student’s academic history, usually curated by a high school counseling department, submitted as part of the college application.

Test Optional

A test-optional institution allows students to decide whether or not to submit standardized test scores with their application for admission. Test-optional schools will consider test scores if they are submitted. A “test-blind” institution does not consider test scores as part of the application review, even if an applicant submits them.

Wait List 

Wait lists give students who were not initially admitted another opportunity to be considered for admission, and they help colleges manage their enrollments. By placing a student on the wait list, a college does not initially offer or deny admission, but extends to the candidate the possibility of admission no later then June 1 should space become available.