College Glossary

Below you’ll find a list of common college related terms used throughout the college admissions and financial aid processes.


  • Accredited: Official recognition that a college or university meets the standards of a regional or national association. Employers, other schools and governments worldwide often only recognize degrees from accredited schools.
  • ACT (American College Test): A standardized college entrance exam administered by the American College Testing Program. Four separate, multiple-choice tests measure knowledge of English, math, reading and science, and one optional writing test measures essay planning and writing skills. Most students take the ACT during their junior or senior year. Every college accepts both the ACT and SAT.
  • AP (Advanced Placement program): A program offered by the College Board, that allows students to take college-level courses while in high school. Students can then take standardized AP exams; those with qualifying scores can earn credit at certain colleges and universities.
  • Associate’s: An undergraduate degree awarded by a college or university upon successful completion of a program of study, usually requiring two years of full-time study. An associate’s is typically awarded by community colleges; it may be a career or technical degree, or it may be a transfer degree, allowing students to transfer those credits to a four-year bachelor’s degree-granting school.


Bachelor’s: An undergraduate degree awarded by a college or university upon successful completion of a program of study, typically requiring at least four years (or the equivalent) of full-time study. Common degree types include bachelor of arts (B.A. or A.B.), which refers to the liberal arts, and bachelor of science (B.S.). A bachelor’s is required before starting graduate studies.


  • Common Application: A standard application form that is accepted by more than 750 member colleges and universities for admissions. Students can complete the form online or in print and submit copies to any of the participating colleges, rather than filling out individual forms for each school.
  • 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.
  • Co-op: Cooperative education programs allow students to work – often full time – to gain skills and experience in their chosen field. Students participating in a full-time co-op don’t take classes, but they are still enrolled at their college or university. Co-ops often last longer than internships, and they are usually paid. These programs are common in engineering and technology fields.
  • Core requirements: Mandatory courses that students are required to complete to earn a degree.


Deferral / Deferred admission: A school’s act of postponing a student’s application for early decision or early action, so that it will be considered along with the rest of the regular applicant group.

Dual degree: Program of study that allows a student to receive two degrees from the same college or university.


  • Early Action: A program offered by some colleges and universities that allows students to submit their applications early, typically in November or December, and receive decisions early, usually in mid- or late December. Students are not required to accept the admissions offer and have until May 1 to decide.
  • Early Decision: A program offered by some colleges and universities that allows students to submit an application to their top-choice school early, typically in November or December, and receive the decision early, usually in mid- or late December. If accepted, students are required to enroll at that school and withdraw all applications to other schools.
  • 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.
  • ESL (English as a Second Language): A course or program of study used to teach English to nonnative English speakers.
  • Exempt: Not required to do something that other students may be required to do. For example, a school may require all students to take a freshman English course, but some students may be exempt based on their high scores on a college entrance exam or their previous coursework.
  • Extracurricular activities: Optional activities, such as sports, that students can participate in outside of academic classes.


  • FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid): Application used by U.S. citizens and permanent residents to apply for financial aid from U.S. federal and state governments. International students are not eligible for U.S. government aid, but schools may ask international students to submit a FAFSA to determine financial need. (Note: A social security number is required to complete the FAFSA.)
  • 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.
  • 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, and work-study jobs. 
  • Full-time student: A student who is enrolled at a college or university and is taking at least the minimum number of credits required by the school for a full course load. This is determined by the each individual college.


  • GPA (Grade point average): A student’s overall academic performance, which is calculated as a numerical average of grades earned in all courses. The GPA is determined after each term, typically on a 4.0 scale, and upon graduation, students receive an overall GPA for their studies.
  • Grade: A score or mark indicating a student’s academic performance on an exam, paper or in a course. A “grade” can also refer to which year a student is in while at elementary, middle or high school, but that usage typically does not apply at the college or university level.
  • Graduate school: The division of a college or university students attend after earning a 4 year degree.
  • 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.”


  • 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.
  • IRS (Internal Revenue Service): The U.S. government agency that collects income taxes. International students who work on or off campus or receive taxable scholarships must pay taxes. A college or university’s international student adviser can provide further information, including on relevant tax treaties between the United States and specific countries that may allow certain benefits.
  • 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 UniversityColumbia UniversityCornell UniversityDartmouth CollegeHarvard UniversityPrinceton UniversityUniversity of Pennsylvania and Yale University


Junior college: A two-year postsecondary institution that offers the associate degrees and certificates (certificates are not covered by Inspired Pathways scholarships.)


  • 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.”
  • Liberal arts college: A postsecondary institution that emphasizes an undergraduate education in liberal arts. The majority of liberal arts colleges have small student bodies, do not offer graduate studies, and focus on faculty teaching rather than research.
  • 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.


  • 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.
  • Master’s: A graduate degree awarded by a college or university upon successful completion of an advanced program of study, typically requiring one or two years of full-time study beyond the bachelor’s degree.
  • Matriculate: To enroll in a program of study at a college or university, with the intention of earning a degree.
  • Merit aid / merit scholarships: A type of financial aid awarded by a college or university to students who have demonstrated special academic ability or talents, regardless of their financial need. Most merit aid has specific requirements if students want to continue to receive it, such as maintaining a certain GPA.


  • Need-based financial aid: Financial aid that is awarded to students due to their financial inability to pay the full cost of attending a specific college or university, rather than specifically because of their grades or other merit.
  • Need-blind admissions: A college or university’s policy of accepting or declining applications without considering an applicant’s financial circumstances. This policy does not necessarily mean that these schools will offer enough financial aid to meet a student’s full need. Only a handful of U.S. colleges or universities offer need-blind admissions to international students.
  • Net price calculator: An online tool that allows students and families to calculate a personalized estimate of the cost of a specific college or university, after taking into account any scholarships or need-based financial aid that an applicant would receive.


  • 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.
  • Private school: A postsecondary institution controlled by a private individual(s) or a nongovernmental agency. A private institution is usually not supported primarily by public funds and its programs are not operated by publicly elected or appointed officials. Cornell University, for example, is a private school.
  • PSAT: The Preliminary SAT, a standardized practice test cosponsored by the nonprofit College Board and the National Merit Scholarship Corp., which measures reading, writing and math skills, giving students experience with the SAT. Students usually take the PSAT in their junior year of high school, and U.S. citizens and permanent residents can submit their scores to qualify for National Merit scholarships.
  • Public school: A postsecondary institution that is supported mainly by public funds and whose programs are operated by publicly elected or appointed officials. The University of California—Berkeley, for example, is a public school. 


  • Registration: The process in which students choose and enroll in courses to be taken during the academic year or in summer sessions.
  • 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.
  • Rolling admissions: An admissions process used by some colleges and universities in which each application is considered as soon as all the required materials have been received, rather than by a specific deadline. Colleges and universities with this policy will make decisions as applications are received until all spaces are filled.
  • 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. 


  • SAT: A standardized college entrance exam administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) on behalf of the nonprofit College Board, which measures reading, writing and math skills. Most students take the SAT during their junior or senior year of high school, and most colleges and universities accept scores from either the SAT or ACT. Inspired Pathways suggests Khan Academy official SAT Prep (it’s the best, and free)
  • 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.”
  • Subsidized Loan: A type of loan that does not accrue interest until after you graduate. It is better to take these loans than unsubsidized loans, which do accrue interest while you’re in college.
  • Standardized tests: Exams, such as the SAT, ACT. Standardized tests are intended to help admissions officials compare students who come from different backgrounds.
  • STEM: The collective subjects of science, technology, engineering and math. 


  • Transcript: An official record of a student’s coursework and grades at a high school, college or university. A high school transcript is usually one of the required components of the college application process.
  • Transfer credit: Credit granted toward a degree on the basis of studies completed at another college or university. For instance, students who transfer from a community college to a four-year college may earn some transfer credit.
  • Trimesters: Periods of study that divide the academic year into three equal segments of approximately 10 to 12 weeks each.
  • Tuition: An amount of money charged by a school per term, per course or per credit, in exchange for instruction and training. Tuition generally does not include the cost of textbooks, room and board, and other fees. 


  • 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.


  • Withdraw: To formally stop participating in a course or attending a university.
  • Work-study: A financial aid program funded by the U.S. federal government that allows undergraduate or graduate students to work part time on campus or with approved off-campus employers. To participate in work-study, students must complete the FAFSA. In general, international students are not eligible for work-study positions.