Admissions and Financial Aid – Essential Terminlogy
The world of college admissions and financial aid exposes applicants to a whole new vocabulary that can make the process intimidating and confusing. Listed below are some terms that may be helpful in navigating the process easier.
(AP)- Advanced Placement courses – Students who want to challenge themselves academically, potentially earn college credit and make themselves more competitive for college admission can choose to take AP courses in twenty subjects. Each high school varies according to the AP courses it offers. AP courses may be available online for home schooled students. In May of each year all AP students sit in for their respective AP exams on the same day. Scores range from 0-5. A score of 3 or more is typically required for a college to give a student credit for that course. The College Board administers the AP program. Details can be found at www.collegeboard.com.
ACT- American College Test- Almost all colleges will accept either SAT or ACT scores as part of their admission requirements. Both are timed, standardized tests but they have very different grading scales. A perfect ACT score is 36 while a perfect SAT score for Critical Reading and Math sections is 1600. Some students find they test relatively better on one test over the other. To compare SAT to ACT scores, see the article on the collegescholarshipplan.com site in the Articles and Videos section of the Toolkit.
Academic Common Market- A cooperative agreement between the members of the Southern Region Education Board (SREB) to grant in-state tuition to students from other SREB states who want to study particular subjects. The participating states span from Kentucky, down through the southeast and across to Texas. North Carolina, Texas and Florida restrict their participation to the graduate school level only. For a list of participating schools and programs, visit www.sreb.org/acm.
Associate degree A two-year degree awarded as a stand-alone degree or as part of a larger four year program. Community colleges as well as four year schools may offer associates degrees.
Award letter (or award package)- Colleges and universities notify accepted students of the assortment of financial aid that the school is offering to them, should the student decide to attend. The package may include grants, scholarships, loans and work study opportunities. Most schools do not guarantee that they will meet 100% of the student’s need, so there may be some unmet amount that the family will have to address independently. That amount is referred to as the “gap”. Some elite private colleges and Ivy League schools do promise to meet 100% of demonstrated financial need without requiring the student take on student loans.
Bachelor’s or baccalaureate degree– A degree earned after about 4 years of full-time study at an accredited four year university or college. The last 2 years are spent concentrating one or two major areas of study. Degrees can be a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Science (BSc).
(CRDA) Candidates Reply Date Agreement – The CRDA says that all students who have been offered college admission have until May 1st to commit or decline the offer. By having one universal date, students are given the opportunity to hear from all their potential colleges and weigh financial aid offers before committing. Some colleges may request a deposit to “hold” a student’s place until the May 1st deadline but the deposit should be refundable as long as the student requests it within the correct timeframe.
College Scholarship Service (CSS) Also referred to as PROFILE. Students who wish to qualify for federal student aid must complete a FAFSA application each year. However, some schools also require that students complete a comparable CSS/PROFILE application in order to qualify for non-federal need based aid, grants and scholarships. Not all colleges accept or require PROFILE information so it is best to check with your prospective schools to find out what is needed. While FAFSA is free application, PROFILE costs $8 to file plus $16 for each school to which you want the report sent. Find the PROFILE application at www.collegeboard.com. (Type PROFILE into the site search window to find it quickly.)
Common Application – Students who would like to streamline their application process to multiple schools may choose to explore the Common Application. They can go to www.commonapp.org to see the list of 400 schools who have chosen to be a participating member of the Common Application organization. Common Application schools take an oath to consider all applications equally, whether received via the Common Application or through their own private application.
Cooperative education — Some larger schools (usually state schools) offer co-op programs for students who want to alternate classroom training with practical work experience in their desired field. Even though it takes slightly longer to earn a bachelor’s degree through a co-op program, the student can make important contacts with future employers, earn money and get practical experience. Co-op programs are often found in engineering and technology degree programs, though it is possible to find them in other areas too.
Cost of education — When considering the true costs of college, be mindful that this is more than just tuition. It includes room and board (if living on campus), student fees, books, school supplies, lab fees, transportation costs, computer costs, club dues and related expenses.
Credit hours — Each college level course is assigned a number of credit hours that it is worth. Most classes count for 3 credit hours because they meet three times per week for one hour each time. Courses that require extra lab time, such as biology and chemistry, typically count for 4 hours. An average course load per semester for a full time student is 15-16 hours. Students who take too few credit hours may jeopardize their financial aid and scholarships. A course load of less than 12 hours will qualify the student as a part time student. Twelve hours or more per semester will qualify the student as full time.
Double major — If a student has two areas of interest, a college will typically allow that student to choose two majors that they pursue simultaneously. The majors may be related to each other (ie. Business and Accounting) or may have no connection at all. It is possible to take a normal course load and still graduate in four years with two majors. In that situation, the student would simply forfeit many of their non-major electives in order to pursue the requirements for the other major.
Dual enrollment — Some high schools have adopted dual enrollment programs which allow students to earn college credit and high school credit simultaneously while still in high school. Some students opt to take these course instead of AP courses, which also can provide college credit for the course if the student scores a 3 or higher on the AP exam given in May. Each student should discuss this option with his or her guidance counselor to determine if a dual enrollment class is a better option for them than AP classes.
Early Action (EA) — For students who want to secure their college placement early and potentially increase their chances of admission, Early Action is a viable option. Since a student is not legally bound to enroll at a school simply because they are offered admission (unlike Early Decision) students can apply EA to more than one school. EA deadlines vary by institution so read the requirements carefully. Most EA deadlines fall between early October and late November of a student’s senior year.
Early Action Single Option- This Early Action program has been adopted by some schools who want to know how serious the Early Action applicants are about attending their institution. Though admission through this program is not legal binding for the student, the Single Option applicant is only allowed to apply Early Action to one school. They may still apply for general admission to other schools but not as an Early Action applicant..
Early Decision (ED) — For students who wish to secure their college placement early and potentially increase their chances of admission, ED is an option that is similar in timing to Early Action (EA) but is important in one major sense; that acceptance as an ED applicant is legally binding. If a student applies to a school for Early Decision and is accepted, he or she is legally bound to attend that school. A student, therefore, can only apply Early Decision to one school but could apply Early Action to many schools if they choose. Some schools are softening the ED program to state that acceptance doesn’t become binding until the student agrees to attend. Because of the rigidness of an ED contract, students are encouraged to enter into this agreement carefully.
Emphasis – An academic emphasis is similar in nature to choosing a minor. While a minor may be unrelated to a student’s major, an emphasis is typically a concentrated area of study within a major. For example, students majoring in business may be required to select an emphasis in either marketing, accounting or economics.
Expected Family Contribution (EFC) — Families who are hoping for any federal student aid must complete a FAFSA application between January and May before the student begins college the following fall. FAFSA must be resubmitted every year. The resulting report from FAFSA provides a calculated EFC (expected family contribution) which represents the amount of money the family will be expected to provide for a student to attend college. Administrators of additional grants, loans or need-based scholarships will often consider the EFC before determining additional aid. Families who would like a prediction of their FAFSA report before they really file it officially can visit www.fafsa4caster.org .
Federal Pell Grant Program — This is a federally sponsored and administered program that provides grants up to $5350 per year, based on the student’s financial need and related factors, such as the cost of the school the student is attending. The financial aid office will help arrange for this grant. Students qualify for this funding based on the results of their FAFSA application.
Federal Perkins Loan Program – A student’s FAFSA report may qualify a student for a low interest Perkins Loan, which will be set up by the school’s financial aid office. The official government site, www.ed.gov/programs for Perkins Loans states, “Borrowers who undertake certain public, military, or teaching service employment are eligible to have all or part of their loans canceled.”
Federal Stafford Loan (subsidized and unsubsidized)- This is a federal loan program that facilitates educational loans from private banks and occasionally from colleges themselves. These loans may be either subsidized or unsubsidized. It is to the student’s benefit, if they must take out loans at all, to get subsidized loans rather than unsubsidized ones. A loan is subsidized if it incurs no interest while the student is a full time student. However, interest begins to accrue at graduation and loan repayment must begin soon thereafter unless the student requests a 12 month deferment because of lack of employment or some other hardship.
Federal Work-Study Program (FSW) — Sometimes a student’s aid package will include a work-study portion, which will allow the student to hold a part-time on-campus job. The pay from that job will be credited to the student’s educational bills.
Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) — Students wanting to be considered for federal student aid must have their parents complete a FAFSA report between January and May of the year preceding their fall admission to college. Go to www.fafsa.ed.gov to file the report and to get step by step instructions. Families who would like to know what to expect from FAFSA in advance can take advantage of the new FAFSA forecaster by visiting www.fafsa4caster.ed.gov. Families must fill out a new FAFSA application every year.
Grade Point Average (GPA)– Weighted vs Unweighted. An unweighted GPA is the average grade of a student’s cumulative high school grades, regardless of the course difficulty. For example, every A counts as a 4.0, a B is a 3.0, a C is a 2.0 and a D is a 1.0. Each of a student’s report card grades are assigned a numeric value, are added together and then divided by the number of grades. Therefore a perfect straight A semester would be a 4.0. For weighted GPA’s, more challenging courses, such as AP or IB courses are weighted more heavily so that an A counts as a 5.0. Weighted GPA’s can go well over a 4.0.
Grants- Grants are funds given to a student to help pay for college expenses. Unlike student loans, grants do not need to be repaid. Most grants are based on financial need and may be granted by the federal government or by the granting institution. Grants based on merit are typically categorized as scholarships.
Greek life – Schools with an active Greek community are schools with a busy campus presence of fraternities or sororities.
Honors program – Many of the large, state universities entice top-performing students by offering an Honors College. Admission to the Honors College can be as rigorous as admission to a top university (SAT scores of 1400+) and offers the student many advantages over the non-honors students. Honors College students typically receive separate, nicer housing, special advisors, smaller classes, advance registration for their course choices and other perks. Most colleges require that students complete a separate/additional application in order to be considered for admission.
Independent study – Sometimes students choose a unique major or would like to focus on a specific subcategory within a major for which a class may not be available. In this case, the student may coordinate an independent study class by coordinating with his or her faculty advisor to get it approved for academic credit. Some sort of final project or exam is typically expected before a final grade is given.
Internship – Students can choose to seek to get unpaid experience in their future career and perhaps earn college credit in the process. Colleges will often help students find and arrange for summer internships.
Major- Students at four year colleges will typically declare a major by their junior year, if not before. A major is the subject in which the student wishes to focus most. Each major will require a certain number of hours and will require defined classes in order to qualify. A major may earn the student a Bachelor or Arts (BA) degree or a Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree, depending on the nature of the subject.
Merit scholarships– Merit scholarships are not based on a student’s financial need but instead seek to reward outstanding achievement in academics, leadership or community service. Some merit scholarships are “full rides”, meaning they cover all of the tuition, room, board, fees and other college expenses. Increasing numbers of scholarships are offered for students who have shown leadership and commitment to community service.
Minor– While students at four year colleges always declare a major, it is typically optional for them to select a minor. A minor is a subject in which the student takes extra courses, but not enough to qualify as a major. Some students choose minors that relate to their major, such as a major in Business and a minor in Economics, or they may choose a minor that is unrelated, such as a major in Psychology and a minor in Dance.
Need blind admissions policy- Some of the more selective and well-funded universities and colleges have adopted need blind admission policies as a way of attracting the top performing students from all economic backgrounds. The college’s application focuses only on the student’s academic merit without any knowledge of the student’s financial ability to pay for college. Once admitted, the university constructs a financial aid package that addresses the student’s financial need with little or no emphasis placed on student loans.
Open admissions — Most community colleges or junior colleges have open admissions policies, meaning that they do not selectively choose who may attend their school. SAT scores are typically not required. Students with a valid high school diploma or GED are eligible to enroll as full or part time students.
PROFILE– Students who wish to qualify for federal student aid must complete a FAFSA application each year. However, some schools also require that students complete a comparable PROFILE application in order to qualify for non-federal need based aid, grants and scholarships. Not all colleges accept or require PROFILE information so it is best to check with your prospective schools to find out what is needed. While FAFSA is free application, PROFILE costs $8 to file plus $16 for each school to which you want the report sent. Find the PROFILE application at www.collegeboard.com. (Type PROFILE into the site search window to find it quickly.)
PSAT/NMSQT – Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test (PSAT)/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. The PSAT is given in October of each year and allows students to experience a test similar to the SAT but without the pressure of having the scores sent out to universities. However, when a student takes the test in the 11th grade, the scores are also considered for the National Merit Scholarship Awards Program. Some colleges offer scholarships to students who are National Merit semi-finalists and finalists. Therefore, it is important for students to make sure they take the PSAT in their junior year, even if they have taken it in past years.
ROTC- Reserve Officers’ Training Corps – Students planning to (or willing to) serve in the military may choose to receive college funding by participating in ROTC in college. ROTC plans will typically pay for tuition plus a monthly book allowance and living stipend for students who are willing to commit a certain number of years to military service after they graduate. The Army’s HPSP program will pay for graduate students to attend graduate school to become a doctor, dentist, veterinarian, psychologist or optometrist. The National Guard also offers an ROTC program for students willing to be part of the National Guard after college.
Residency- State supported colleges provide a much lower tuition rate for students who are residents of the same state in which the college is located. Students from out of state pay a substantially higher tuition. Residency rules are strict and should be addressed with the college’s admission office. Students in the Southeast region of the US may be able to attend other southern universities and pay only in-state tuition by applying through the Academic Common Market. Visit www.sreb.org/acm for details.
Retention rate – The number and percentage of students who return to the college for their sophomore year. A higher retention rate can indicate a high level of satisfaction of the students in the quality of education they are receiving. A low retention rate could indicate student dissatisfaction or that the admissions staff admitted students who were not qualified fits for the school.
Rolling admissions – Some colleges, especially state schools, may have a rolling admissions policy, meaning they are always accepting applications for future admission. Students typically receive their admission or denial within a month.
SASE– Sometimes colleges ask that you include a SASE, which confounds some students and parents. Not to worry, it only stands for “self addressed stamped envelope”.
Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) I: Reasoning Test — This standardized aptitude test includes three components; math, critical reading and writing. The highest possible score in each component is 800. SAT or ACT scores are required by most colleges for admission consideration. Most colleges, when citing the average SAT’s for incoming freshmen, typically refer to the combined scores of only the critical reading and math portions. Get comprehensive details and test dates at www.collegeboard.com.
SAT II Subject Tests — These subject-specific exams are given on the same test dates and in the same centers as the SAT I. However there may be dates on which only the SAT I is administered. Some highly selective universities, including the Ivy League schools, often require three or more SAT Subject tests for admission. SAT Subject tests can also be used by the school for accelerated placement or AP credit. Home schooled students are often required by colleges to have SAT Subject test scores.
Student Aid Report (SAR) — When families file for federal student aid through the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), the government will review the data and provide a Student Aid Report which states if the student is available for student aid. The SAR is sent to the student and to any colleges the student indicated as desired recipients. FAFSA will also calculate and provide an EFC (Expected Family Contribution) which tells the schools how much the government thinks the family in question can afford to spend to send that student to college in the coming year.
Wait List– Sometimes students will be placed on a wait list for admission; indicating that they may still be admitted if other students who were admitted decide not to attend. If you are wait listed, follow the instructions given by the school to indicate your willingness to stay on the wait list.
Yield — The percentage of students who are accepted to a college who also end up attending that college. More selective and competitive schools have higher yields.