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HC’s College App Vocab Guide: Decoding the Trickiest Lingo

Are you stumped when it comes to cracking college lingo? Are you unsure of the actual definition of a weighted GPA?  A holistic application?  And what does rolling admission really mean?  If you can confidently and accurately nail these definitions, power to you!  But if you, like many other pre-collegiettes™, are overwhelmed by the expanse of college lingo, relax.  Her Campus has you covered!  We made a glossary of all the confusing terms that appear on tests and applications, and the slang heard during tours and information sessions, so you can become a lingo-savvy pre-collegiette™!  

Application Vocabulary


The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test is a standardized test that helps high schoolers get ready for the SAT (see below!). The PSAT tests your aptitude in critical reading, math, and writing. It has the same format as the SAT, so it can be extremely helpful to eager pre-collegiettes™ who are looking to get a taste of what to expect on the SAT.  You receive feedback on your strengths and weaknesses after the taking the test and you can also see how your performance might compare to others applying to college which can help you make your list of potential schools! (However, your PSAT scores are not considered in the college admissions process.) Online registration for the PSAT/NMSQT is not available, so make sure to ask your guidance counselor about signing up for the 2011 tests which will take place October 12 and October 15.


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The SAT I exam is an aptitude test that measures critical reading, math, and writing skills. Students generally take it during their junior year. Combined with your high school grades, your SAT scores are used by colleges and universities to make admission decisions. You can register for the SAT here!  Many colleges provide the “middle 50%” SAT scores of admitted students which allows you to compare the accepted averages to your own scores. Always remember that 25% of students who were admitted scored below the middle 50%, so don’t get discouraged if your score doesn’t fall in that middle range!


The SAT II, or Subject Test, is an hour-long exam that highlights achievement in specific subjects (like biology, world history, French, etc.)  If you are planning on taking the SAT II for a specific course, it is suggested to take that exam immediately after finishing the course.  Excelling in SAT Subject Tests can allow you to stand out from the rest of the admissions pool.  If you’re applying to a specific program and to study a specific major, these tests can help show your academic interest.  Many colleges require that you take two SAT II tests in order to be considered for admission.

Math I

The Mathematics Level I Subject Test (an SAT II test) covers the information learned from two years of algebra and one year of geometry.  If you’ve done well in these classes, you should consider taking the Math I Subject Test!  The exam is an hour long and contains 50 multiple choice questions.

Math II

The Mathematics Level II Subject Test (also an SAT II test) covers the information you learned  from a year of trigonometry and a year of precalculus. CollegeBoard suggests taking this exam if you’ve received a B or better in these courses.  Although it may be tempting to opt for Math I, take Math II if trigonometry and precalculus were the last math courses you’ve taken.  The material will be fresh in your mind!


The ACT is another test that examines an applicant’s academic achievement.  The subject areas on the test are English, mathematics, reading, and science.  The ACT Plus Writing exam includes a 30-minute Writing Test, as well as the four subject areas.  The 215 multiple-choice questions take approximately three hours and 30 minutes to complete (even longer if you are taking the ACT Plus Writing!). 



GPA stands for your grade point average. This is a quantitative measure of your academic record, usually on a scale from 1.0 to 4.0. An “A” is worth four points, a “B” is worth three points, a “C” is worth two points, and a “D” is worth one point.  To calculate GPA, you also need to know the number of credit hours each class is worth.  For example, a student takes Mathematics, English, Biology, and Drama, with each class worth four credits.  She receives an “A”, two “B”s, and a “C”.  You would multiply the corresponding grade points by the amount of credit hours.  (4*4) + (3*4) + (3*4) + (2*4) = 48 total grade points.  Then you take the total grade points and divide it by the total credit hours attempted.  48/16 =3.0!

Unweighted GPA

An unweighted GPA is based on a scale of 4.0, with an A equaling 4 grade points.  An unweighted GPA gives equal grade points to every course, regardless of difficulty.  Colleges consider both the weighted and unweighted when comparing applicants; the weighted GPA reflects the rigor of the courses you took while the unweighted shows how well you’ve done.

Weighted GPA

A weighted GPA takes into consideration that some high school classes are harder than others, and these classes (for example, AP Calculus vs. Algebra) are “weighted” more and given more points. The weighting system is different for every high school, but in every case an “A” in an advanced, honors, or AP class would be worth more than an “A” in an introductory level course.


The acronym FAFSA denotes the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.  To be considered for federal financial aid, you are required to complete a FAFSA.  FAFSA is the form used by the U.S. Department of Education to determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC).  An analysis is conducted of your family’s financial information (think income, assets, other household information).  When you submit your form, it is received (and processed) by a federal processor from the U.S. Department of Education (ED).  The results are then electronically transmitted to the financial aid offices of the schools that you listed on your application. You can download the FAFSA here and the deadline differs for every state – check the deadlines out here!

Common Application

The Common Application is the most widespread method of applying to colleges. Most institutions accept the Common Application; otherwise, the school creates its own application. The application includes questions about your high school grades, standardized test scores, family information, and extra-curricular activities, among other subjects. You are also required to submit a personal essay. After filling it out online, you are able to submit your application to the schools that accept the Common Application.  Many colleges require additional supplements, as well as letters of recommendation.


Schools that use the Common Application may also require or strongly suggest you submit supplements along with your application. These supplements typically come in the form of essays. Common prompts include “Why X University?” and “How will you bring diversity to our campus?” These supplements must be submitted at the same time as your application and will also be a factor in your admission.

Early Decision

Early decision is a type of application in which you apply to your first choice school early in the year and hear whether you’ve been accepted by December.  The catch?  Early decision plans are usually binding, which means if you apply as an early decision candidate you are agreeing to attend if they accept you.  You can only apply to one school as an early decision candidate, with deadlines usually in November.  This doesn’t mean you can’t apply to schools as a regular decision applicant!  But if you are accepted to your early decision school you have to withdraw your applications from your regular decision schools.

Early Decision II

Early Decision II is also a binding early decision process, but the submission deadline is the same as the (later) regular admissions deadline.  With Early Decision II admissions, the decision from the school is sent to the applicant in February instead of April.  The advantage to this type of application process is that you have an extra two months to apply than if you had applied Early Decision I. If you were rejected from your Early Decision I school, you may choose to apply Early Decision II at your second choice school to cut the waiting period by two months (from April to February).

Early Action

Early Action is similar to Early Decision I and II, as you learn early in the admissions cycle if you’ve been accepted or not.  However, early action is not binding.  You don’t necessarily have to commit to that specific school.  No matter which type of admissions process you choose, make sure you are reading the application guidelines and deadlines carefully!

Regular Decision

You submit your application by a given date (usually between January 1 and January 15) and within a specified amount of time, you’ll receive a decision by April 1.  When applying regular decision to a school, you are able to apply to others without any restrictions. Once you make your final decision, you must notify all your schools if you are enrolling or not by May 1.

Rolling Admission

Rolling admissions means the College Admission Committee reviews applications as they are completed and received.  Students are usually notified three to four weeks later.  Some schools that use rollings admissions are Colby-Sawyer, Drexel, Eckerd, Le Moyne, Keene State, and Quinnipiac. 

Decisions, Decisions

Holistic Review

College admissions boards who review applications holistically take grades and test scores into consideration, but evidence of leadership skills, extra-curricular activities, community service, and accomplishments in special talents (for example, making the state team for soccer or successfully completing an internship) are also factored into the final decision. Schools that are read applications holistically are interested in seeing well-roundedness and motivation to succeed.

Numbers-Based Review

College admissions boards who review applications based on numbers only consider grades and test scores. Evidence of leadership skills, extra-curricular activities, community service, and accomplishments in special talents are not factored into the final decision.


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Scholarships for college are highly accessible and available to high school seniors to help pay for college tuition. A sum of money is granted to a student to help provide financial assistance based on their accomplishments.  Scholarships can be awarded to students for academic, athletic, or artistic achievements (to name just a few) by their own high school, local businesses, and the college itself.  In many cases, when a college offers a scholarship to a student, the student must maintain a certain GPA or number of credits each semester.


A student loan may be granted to a financially-eligible student upon receiving their financial assistance packet.  The difference between a loan and a scholarship is that this money must be paid back.  Although a loan is given directly to the student and is reassuring to see in your bank account, it is temporary – and the money, at some point, must be paid back. The amount of money on loan is determined by the information you sent the college in your FAFSA.


And the waiting game continues… Getting waitlisted at your top choice school is almost more nerve-racking than outright rejection.  If you are put on a waitlist, it means that the college thinks you are qualified, but is unable to admit you at the current time due to a high volume of applicants for a limited number of spots. When admitted students notify the college that they plan to enroll elsewhere, spots open up for the waitlisted students. Check out our tips to boost your chances of getting to the top of the waitlist.


Early decision and early action applicants may be deferred, which means that the admissions board decided to review your application during the regular decision round. Deferred applicants will hear if they have been accepted, rejected, or waitlisted by April 1. Typically, colleges defer students in order to wait to see how deferred students stack up against the regular decision candidates. If you are deferred, move forward and apply to other schools while you wait to hear back from your deferred school.


If a member of your immediate family attends or attended the college you are applying to, you have “legacy status.” The legacy status of an applicant may be considered a positive factor in  your admissions decision, but it doesn’t excuse a poor high school transcript. 








Maddie is a junior at Boston University. She is studying English and Art History and is excited to be a part of the Her Campus Team! Maddie is from Chester, Vermont and loves the outdoors. She is an enthusiastic skier, runner and student, and is invested in maintaining a healthy lifestyle at school!
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