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Speaking the language: Making sense of college lingo

College lingo

Deborah Moors
September 08, 2016

If reading through college materials or searching online admission sites makes you feel like you’re wading through an alphabet soup, fear not. This glossary will help sort the lingo into knowledge you can use throughout the admission process. 


The ACT (American College Testing) is a national standardized college admissions exam with 215 multiple-choice questions in English, math, reading and science. The national average composite score is 21.0; in Colorado, it’s 20.7. 

Add/drop deadline

The last day where you can add a class or drop a class without financial or grade penalties.


A faculty or staff member who helps you with your college experience, whether you’re choosing your major or registering for classes.  

Bursar's Office

The administrative office responsible for tuition billing. 

Corequisite (co-req)

A course you must take at the same time as another course. 


Each class credit represents one hour of lecture per week. A three-credit course typically meets for three hours each week. 

Deferred admission

If you know that you want to enroll in a specific university but want to postpone attendance for up to one year, you can check and see if the university offers deferred admission. 

Early action (EA)

Some colleges allow you to apply "early action" to get an admission decision early. You don’t have to enroll if you’re accepted, but if you’ve made your college decision, this may be a good option. A caveat: Don’t rush your decision. Even if you think you know which school you prefer, consider visiting and checking other options. You may find that a campus visit offers a new perspective and options you weren’t aware of. 

Expected family contribution (EFC)

Your EFC includes both parent and student resources. Your parents’ contribution is determined by income and asset information provided on the FAFSA and takes into consideration the number of family members attending college, previous year’s income and taxes paid, number of working parents, assets, age of older parent (for estimating retirement needs), and family size. 

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

Even if you don’t think you’ll qualify for aid (the most common reason and misperception that leads to not completing the FAFSA is when students think their parents’ earnings are too high), this is a critical form to complete and file. It’s something that you’ll do annually to determine your student financial aid eligibility, and experts assert that everyone qualifies for some form of aid. 


Allows you to apply for financial aid through the FAFSA. In May 2015, the 17-year-old Federal Student Aid (FSA) PIN was replaced with the FSA ID. The change came about because the ID offers greater security than the PIN. It requires you to come up with a username and password when you apply for financial aid through FAFSA. Learn more at studentaid.ed.gov, which is a site developed by the U.S. Department of Education

Financial aid award

The total amount of all grants, loans and scholarships offered to the student. 

Full course load

A full course load is 12 credit hours or more per semester. 


Need-based financial aid that you do not need to pay back. 


Money that you'll need to repay with interest. 

Master promissory note

A legal document in which you promise to repay your loan(s) and any accrued interest and fees to the U.S. Department of Education. 

Need-based aid

Aid that includes grants, low-interest loans and work-study, based on your family’s (or your own) assets and income. 

Non-need-based aid

Loans, scholarships, no-need work-study and hourly employment that are not dependent on your assets and income.


A nonsubsidized loan is one where interest is added to your loan balance even while you’re enrolled in school. 


Students taking fewer than 12 credits during a semester are considered part-time. 

Need-blind admission

Admission decisions that don’t consider the financial circumstances of applicants. 

Open admission

Almost all two-year community colleges have an open-admission policy of accepting any high school graduate, no matter what his or her grades are, until all spaces in the incoming class are filled. Keep in mind that some colleges with open admission may still have admission requirements for certain programs. 


No grades are given in a pass/fail class. Instead, each student will either receive a “P” for passing the class or an “F” for failing the class. 

Placement tests

Tests that measure the academic skills needed for college-level work. They can cover reading, writing, math and other subjects. Placement test results help determine what courses you are ready for and whether you would benefit from remedial classes.  

Prerequisite (prereq)  

This is a course you must successfully complete before taking an advanced course. 

Priority date or deadline

The date by which a college must receive your application — whether it’s for college admission, student housing or financial aid — to be given the strongest consideration. 

Regional accreditation

Colleges and universities voluntarily submit themselves to a review process that looks at coursework, faculty, campus, mission statements, degrees and credits, and many other aspects of higher education. While it seems like national accreditation might be more important, it’s actually regional accreditation that is more rigorous, older and more prestigious. Most non-profit universities and colleges are regionally accredited. Colorado schools are reviewed by the Higher Learning Commission. 


This is the administrative office that maintains your personal and academic records. 

Subsidized loan

If you have a subsidized loan, the federal government pays interest on the loan while you’re enrolled at least half-time. When the loan goes into repayment, you’re charged interest.


An official record of a student’s work, showing courses taken and grades achieved. 

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 high schools assign the value of 5.0 (instead of the standard 4.0) for an A earned in an AP class. 


Part-time employment for students who work on campus for university employers or off campus in certain community service positions. Work-study is available to residents and nonresidents. Summer work-study requires an additional application. Students are paid according to the number of hours worked.