College Applications Terms

Here’s a list of common terms used in the college application process.

Also available:

1)      ACT – A standardized college admissions test consisting of four sections, English, math, reading and science, along with an optional essay. ACT scores are accepted by most colleges as an alternative to SAT scores; most schools do not favor one over the other.


2)      Admissions Tests – College entrance exams used to measure a student’s skills and preparedness for college coursework. The ACT and SAT are the main admissions tests used by colleges.


3)      CEEB Code – The identification number assigned to each high school by the College Entrance Exam Board. This number must be used when registering for the SAT and applying to colleges.


4)      Class Rank – A measurement of a student’s academic achievement as compared to other students in his or her graduating class. May be determined using a weighted GPA.


5)      College Application Essay – An essay that must be submitted by a student as part of the college application packet. Some colleges will ask specific questions, while others may require the student to write about him- or herself. This latter type of essay is referred to as a “personal statement.”


6)      Common Application – A standard application accepted by over 500 different colleges in 47 states and the District of Columbia, as well as the European nations of Austria, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and Switzerland. All of the Ivy League schools accept the Common Application.


7)      FAFSA – The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, a form produced by the U.S. Department of Education and used to determine a student’s eligibility to receive financial aid.


8)      Grade Point Average (GPA) – A number computed by assigning a point value to each grade, usually 4 points for an A, 3 for a B, 2 for a C and one for a D. The GPA is used to quantify a student’s overall academic performance.


9)      In-state (Resident) Student – A student whose permanent address is in the same state as the college he or she plans to attend. In-state students pay lower tuition at state schools, and may be given preference when it comes to admissions.


10)  Legacy Applicant – A college applicant with a close relative, usually a parent or grandparent, who is a graduate of that institution. Certain colleges give preference to “legacies.”


11)  Official Test Scores – ACT or SAT scores sent directly from the testing agency to the college. These scores are required by many colleges as part of the application process.


12)  Out-of-State (Nonresident) Student – A student whose permanent residence is in a state other than that of the college he or she plans to attend. Out-of-state students pay higher tuition at state schools than do in-state ones, although students from the District of Columbia are eligible to receive the DC Tuition Assistance Grant of up to $10,000 per academic year to make up the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition, as DC has no state school system of its own.


13)  PLAN – An ACT prep test, usually taken in a student’s sophomore year of high school.


14)  Priority Date – The deadline by which an application must be received in order to be given preferential consideration.


15)  PSAT/NMSQT – The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. This standardized test allows high school sophomores and juniors to practice for the SAT, while also providing them the chance to qualify for National Merit Scholarships.


16)  Registrar – The college official in charge of registering students and collecting tuition payments. This official may also be responsible for maintaining student records such as transcripts.


17)  SAT – A standardized college admissions test administered to high school juniors and seniors that measures their abilities in three areas: critical reading, mathematics, and writing. SAT scores are accepted by most colleges in lieu of ACT scores; in most cases, neither test is given preference.


18)  SAT Subject Test – Standardized tests that measure academic achievement in any of 14 different subject areas. These tests are required by some of the more highly selective colleges.


19)  School Profile – A document which gives a statistical snapshot of a college applicant’s high school. School history, course offerings, grading scale, standardized test performance and a list of colleges to which the previous year’s graduates have been admitted are all part of the profile, which may be sent out to colleges by a school’s guidance department.


20)  Transcript – An official record of coursework completed and grades received at a high school or college. High school transcripts are usually required for college admissions.


21)  Transfer Student – A student who enrolls in a college after having attended a different college.


22)  Universal College Application – A standard application for admission accepted by any of 43 member colleges, including Cornell, Duke, Harvard, Johns Hopkins and Princeton.


23)  Weighted GPA – A grade point average determined by assigning a higher value to classes of greater difficulty. For example, an A earned in an AP course may be assigned 5 points, as opposed to the 4 points normally assigned to an A earned in a non-honors course.

Looking for more information?

Check out our College Admissions Glossary and Financial Aid Glossary. 

If you have any questions about a term that is not included in these guides, please drop us an email at or fill out this form.