We’ve put together a glossary of common admission terms and phrases to help you better understand the college admission process and its terminology.
Missing something? Check out our Glossary of Financial Aid terms!
Admission Plans and Deadlines
Colleges typically have a variety of options when it comes to application deadlines. These might include:
Early DecisionAn option to submit an application to your first-choice college that is binding. If admitted, you are obligated to enroll at that school and you must withdraw any applications you’ve submitted to other colleges. You are only allowed to apply Early Decision (ED) to one school so make sure it’s 100% what you want. ED deadlines are usually in November; some schools also have a second ED II deadline in January.
Early ActionAn option to submit an application earlier to get an admission decision earlier. Early Action (EA) plans are not binding, which means that you are not obligated to attend a school that admits you. EA deadlines are usually in November-December; some schools also have a second EA II deadline in January-February.
Regular DecisionTypically the latest deadline you can apply to a college (unless they have rolling admission). Regular Decision is a great option if you need more time to work on your applications, get your grades up, study for standardized tests or just don’t feel ready to apply early. Regular Decision deadlines are usually in January-March.
Rolling AdmissionSome schools review an application as soon as it is complete rather than waiting for specific deadlines. This usually means you have more flexibility in the timing of your application and colleges using this method typically render decisions quickly. In other words, you can submit an application at any time and get a decision at any time.
A measurement of how your academic achievement compares to other students in your grade. This number is usually determined by using a weighted GPA that takes into account both your grades and the difficulty of the courses you’ve taken.
Deferred Admission or Deferral
Sometimes plans change and you need to take time off before starting college. If you’ve already been admitted to a college, you can ask to postpone your offer of admission until the following semester or year without having to re-apply.
These are typically things like scheduling an interview or attending an Open House that show the school you’re really excited about them.
Some colleges charge a fee to apply, but they might offer a program or set of requirements to meet which allow you to skip the fee. If you aren’t sure, contact the admission office or your admission counselor and ask. At Merrimack, we do NOT charge an app fee!
Grade Point Average (GPA)
A number that shows your overall academic performance in high school. It’s calculated by assigning a point value to each grade you’ve earned, usually on a 4.0 scale.
Legacy (applicant or scholarship)
A college applicant with a relative—usually a parent or grandparent—who graduated from that same college where they are applying. Being a legacy applicant means different things to different schools, but it might mean you’re eligible for special programs, scholarships or other perks.
A policy of making admission decisions without considering the financial circumstances of an applicant. Colleges that use this policy may not offer enough financial aid to meet a student’s full need.
Placement Tests or Exams
Before starting college-level work at the school you’ve chosen to attend, you might be asked to take placement tests or exams. These tests measure the academic skills needed to continue your studies in subjects like math, science, or foreign language. They also help college advisors determine what courses you are ready for—but don’t worry! They don’t affect your admission decision or financial aid; the results are merely used for advising purposes.
Priority Date or Deadline
The date by which your application—whether it’s for admission, student housing or financial aid—must be received to be given the strongest consideration.
Standardized Tests or Admissions Tests
Also known as college entrance exams, these are tests designed to measure your skills and help colleges evaluate how ready you are for college-level work. The word “standardized” means that the test measures the same thing in the same way for everyone who takes it. The ACT and the SAT are the most common standardized tests, although not all schools require them as part of your application. In fact, Merrimack does NOT require test scores as part of your admission application as they are not part of our review process!
When a school is test optional, it means that they will review your application with or without standardized test scores. As the applicant, it’s entirely up to you if you want to include your scores. For some applicants, test scores might make their application stronger; others might feel more confident without them. Many schools switched to test optional during COVID-19 so check with your admission counselor if you are unsure about their policy.
Similar to a report card, your transcript is the official record of your coursework at a school or college that shows which classes you took and what grades you received.
Weighted Grade Point Average (GPA)
A grade point average that’s calculated using a system that assigns a higher point value to grades in more difficult classes. For example, some schools assign the value of 5.0 (instead of the standard 4.0) for an A earned in an AP or Honors class.
Still Have Questions?
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