Terms to know as you take on college admissions

Terms to know as you take on college admissions

USNEWS and World Report


Step 1: Get started


Advanced Placement courses High school courses that lead up to an examination that can, depending on a student's score, result in college credit. AP courses are generally looked upon favorably by college admissions officers as evidence of a challenging high school program.

IB International Baccalaureate. IB courses focus on critical thinking and writing and were designed to provide an international credential for university entrance. Like APs, IB courses can result in college credit and are considered more rigorous than standard high school courses. Some high schools award IB diplomas upon the completion of a certain sequence of IB courses.

lab sciences High school science courses which supplement textbook study with hands-on experimentation. Examples include biology, chemistry, and physics. Other courses, such as economics, may be considered scientific disciplines, but do not qualify as lab sciences. Consult your guidance counselor or your prospective college's admissions office for further details.

National Merit Scholarship A distinction awarded upon the basis of a high school junior's score on the NMSQT/PSAT (National Merit Scholar Qualifying Test/Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test). Those scoring at or above certain level are eligible to apply for a limited number of National Merit Scholarships. NOTE: The test may be administered for practice during the student's sophomore year, but only the junior year score counts.

transcript Your high school academic record. Your guidance counselor or school registrar compiles this listing of all your courses, grades, and standardized test scores. Your college will likely ask for official copies of your transcript. They should be signed across the seal by the appropriate school official and shouldn't be opened.

weighted GPA Some high schools add 0.5 grade points to grades earned in AP or IB courses to reflect their unusual level of difficulty. If you have taken such courses, your GPA may be considered weighted. Some colleges convert weighted GPAs to standard GPAs for the purposes of comparison.

Step 2: Choose the right schools


college Though the term "college" is commonly used to describe many types of post-secondary education, it is also used to describe a particular kind or subset of educational institution. "College" can be used to distinguish solely undergraduate institutions from those which also maintain graduate programs. Within a given school, its "colleges" may be its areas of study, like the "College of Arts and Sciences" or the "College of Architecture."

community college Also known as "junior" or "two-year" college. These schools provide college courses for recent high school graduates and adults in their communities. Community colleges generally have fewer admissions requirements than four-year instiutions and courses typically cost less than comparable courses at four-year schools. Most community colleges award two-year associates degrees, though some are now awarding bachelors. Many students use community college as a springboard to a four-year college or university.

concentration A concentration is a grouping of courses in a certain area like feminist theory or global economics. Concentrations are generally offered as supplements to majors or minors and as such require fewer courses than either. When investigating schools, it can be helpful to look over their lists of majors, minors and concentrations in order to make sure that a good number of courses in your areas of interest are present.

Ivy League The athletic conference that boasts academic powerhouses Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton, and Yale. Acceptance to an Ivy League school is considered the brass ring of the application process, although many argue that an equal–if not better–education can be achieved at many other non-Ivy League schools.

private counselors You may consult private counselors as you prepare to select and apply to colleges. They may operate as consultants or as employees of educational service providers such as Kaplan or the Princeton Review. Private counselors can help you assess your personality and academic needs to form a list of desirable college attributes. They can also assist you in figuring out where and to how many schools you should apply to. Private counselors can give you more attention than the average high school guidance couselor, but they can be pricey.

university Though we use the term "college" to describe all post-secondary schools, you may be applying to universities as well as colleges. There can be some important differences: Universities generally support both undergraduate and graduate programs and tend to be larger than colleges. You may find more research opportunities at a university, but you might get more attention from professors at a college.


Step 3: Build a great application


ACT The ACT Assessment is a curriculum-based college admissions test. This means that the multiple choice questions on the ACT are a measure of what you've learned in your high school classes rather than aptitude or IQ. The ACT tests the following four subject areas: English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science Reasoning. ACT results are accepted by most U.S. colleges.

College Board The College Board is a not-for-profit organization that administers many standardized tests including the PSAT, SAT, SAT II, and AP tests. You will register with the College Board when you take any of these tests. Additionally, the College Board offers official test prep materials, a scholarship search, a personal inventory tool, and educational loans.

electronic applications An alternative to traditional paper applications, electronic apps can take several forms. Some schools allow you to print application forms from their website or a CD-ROM which you can fill in by hand and send to the admissions office. Other schools support online applications which you can fill out and submit over the Web. If you decide to apply electronically, you won't have to wait to receive materials in the mail and you may even save some postage. Best of all, applying electronically will get your application in the hands of admissions officers that much sooner.

hook When you write your admissions essays, you'll want to engage your readers quickly. Using your "hook," a unique personal trait or experience, is one way to achieve this goal. If you're a dedicated and accomplished cellist, or have trekked through the Himalyas, these might make good starting points for college essays. Your hook will be something about you that's unique and interesting.

online applications Online applications are a specific type of electronic application. When you use an online app, you'll submit your personal and academic information to the school over a secure Internet site – no envelopes to address, no stamps to attach. You will, however, probably be required to supplement your online app with hard copies of your transcript, letters or recommendation, etc.

PSAT The Preliminary Standard Aptitude Test (PSAT) is administered by the College Board. You may take the PSAT in order to familiarize yourself with the test and kinds of questions you'll encounter on the SAT. The PSAT is also used as the qualifying test for the National Merit Scholar competiton. This test is usually taken during the junior year of high school, but a practice PSAT may be given during the sophomore year. Like the SAT, the PSAT use multiple choice questions to test verbal and mathematical reasoning ability.

registration Registering on time is an important part of doing your best on admissions tests. Generally, registration involves filling out a form with your personal information, indicating your testing site preferences, and submitting a fee. Register as early as possible and you'll have a good chance of getting your first-choice test site. Consult the College Board or ACT Web site or your guidance counselor at least two months before your desired test date to begin the process.

SAT The Standard Aptitude Test (SAT), administered by the College Board, is the most widely-used college admissions test. The SAT uses multiple choice questions to assess verbal and mathematical reasoning ability. The SAT is taken by college-bound high school students during their junior and/or senior years.

SAT II The SAT IIs assess knowledge in various high school subject areas. Most colleges require the Writing test, some version of the Math test, and a foreign language test. Even colleges that don't require the SAT IIs will usually review the scores as additional info about a student's abilities. Students tackle these tests in the spring of junior year and the fall of senior year. If the test is linked to a specific subject like Chemistry, it's best to take the test as soon as possible upon the completion of the course.

test prep Preparing students for the college admissions tests is big business. There are books, videos, CD-ROMs, and classroom courses designed to help you do your best on the tests. It is wise to do some sort of prep, if only looking over the informational packet about each test to familiarize yourself with the number and type of questions you'll be expected to answer. Beyond that, expect to shell out both time and cash for other prep methods. And don't expect miracles -- you'll have to do some hard work to make any kind of test prep successful.

transfer Despite your best efforts, you may find that your chosen school isn't the perfect fit. Or, you may start out at community college and decide that it's time to attend a four-year univeristy. In either case, you may need to transfer to a different school. Transferring can be a tricky process, especially when it comes time to figure out how many of your previously earned credits will count at your new school. To make your transition as simple as possible, request application materials from prospective schools as early as possible and figure out how your credits will be accounted for BEFORE you apply. Once you're in, take advantage of transfer student resources designed to help you get comfortable in your new setting.


Step 4: Find the money

commerical loans Commercial loans, also known as private or alternative loans, are available through several financial services providers. To qualify, you must pass a credit check, and the interest rate will be higher than that of a Direct or FFEL Stafford or Perkins loan. For these reasons, it is wise to investigate such low-interest, federally-sponsored options before applying for a commercial loan. In addition, beware scholarship scams that are simply commercial loans in disguise.

co-op Cooperative education (co-op) integrates classroom study with paid, supervised work experiences. These jobs are part- or full-time and may lead to academic credit.

Direct Loans Direct Stafford Loans are low-interest education loans made by the federal government to students and parents. These loans may be either subsidized or unsubsidized and several repayment plans are available.

EFC The Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is the total amount of their collective assets and income that a student and his/her family are expected to contribute towards the cost of college. The federal government determines the amount of the EFC based on the information you supply on the FAFSA and the total cost of attendance for the college of your choice. (The total cost includes tuition, room and board, books, transportation, and other personal expenses.) You will fill out the FAFSA each year and will thus get a unique EFC for each year of college.

FAFSA The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is used to apply for federal student financial aid, including grants, loans, and work-study. In addition, it is used by most states and schools to award non-federal student financial aid. The form is a snapshot of your family's financial situation including income, debt, assets, etc., for both the parents and the student. You will have to fill out the FAFSA every year that you are in college.

fellowships
Fellowships and scholarships are available to students in most disciplines, and they are sponsored by colleges and a broad range of organizations and institutions. Fellowships offered by organizations are often allocated in monthly stipends and can usually be used at any university. Fellowships are more common at the graduate level, but some undergraduate scholarships do exist. Additionally, there may be grant and fellowship money available for specific research projects or study abroad. Contact your major department, financial aid office, or career center for more information.

grant aid The most sought after type of financial aid, grant aid does not have to be paid back. You may receive grant aid on the basis of either need or merit, and it may come from your school or the federal government. Federal grants include the need-based Pell and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity (FSEOG) grants.

Hope credit A nonrefundable federal income tax credit equal to all of the first $1,000 "out-of-pocket" payments for qualified tuition and related expenses and 50% of the second $1,000, for a maximum $1,500 per student, per year. The Hope credit applies to the first two years of post-secondary education. You may not claim both the Hope Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit (see below) for the same student.

Lifetime Learning Credit The Lifetime Learning Credit may be claimed for the qualified tuition and related expenses of the students in the taxpayer’s family who are enrolled in eligible educational institutions. Through 2002, the amount that may be claimed as a credit is equal to 20 percent of the taxpayer’s first $5,000 of out-of-pocket qualified tuition and related expenses for all the students in the family for a maximum of $1,000. Individuals with modified adjusted gross incomes of $50,000 or more and joint filers with modified adjusted gross incomes of $100,000 or more are not eligible for the Lifetime Learning Credit.

merit-based aid In general terms, merit-based aid is any form of financial aid not based on demonstrated financial need. Merit-based aid, which can take the form of grants, scholarships, or loans on favorable terms, is generally granted by each school and/or its alumni associations and wealthy benefactors. You may qualify for it by meeting a certain academic requirment, such as grade point average, test scores, or career goal. Alternatively, you may qualify through an essay competition or the like. Your financial aid package may include both need- and merit-based aid.

need-based aid If the Cost of Attendance (COA) for your college exceeds your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), you will be eligible for need-based aid to cover the difference. You may be awarded a financial aid package that consists of a combination of grants, scholarships, loans, and work-study. The total amount of your package will be determined by a combination of demonstrated financial need, federal award maximums, and your school's available funds.
Pell grants Given by the Federal Government, these grants are awarded to those students demonstrating exceptional financial need. Pell grants do not need to be paid back.

Perkins Loans Awarded by the student's school, these low-interest loans (%5) are given to students (both undergraduate and graduate) that demonstrate exceptional financial need. Repayment of this loan begins 9 months after the student graduates, leave school or drop to less than half-time student status.

Plus Loans This is an unsubsidized federal loan for parents or legal guardians of dependent undergraduate students. This loan allows parents to borrow all or some of the difference between financial aid received and the cost of attending the school, including room, board, and other charges. The PLUS is not based on need, so the FAFSA is not required.

PROFILE The CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE is a customized financial aid application form required at certain colleges, which collects additional financial information to determine eligibility for institutional aid.

scholarships A type of financial aid which does not require repayment or employment and is usually awarded to students who demonstrate or show potential for achievement–usually academic–at that institution.

Stafford loans These loans, both subsidized (need based) and unsubsidized (non-need based), are guaranteed by the federal government and available to students to fund education. Federal Stafford Loans are the most common source of education loan funds. They are available to both graduate and undergraduate students. See also Direct Loans and FFEL.

Student Aid Report (SAR) The official notification sent to the student four to six weeks after filing the FAFSA. This report explains your FEC in relation to your school's expected cost of attendance. Students may be required to submit this document to the financial aid office at the college they decide to attend.

subsidized / unsubsidized loans Subsidized loans are based upon financial need. With these loans, the interest is paid by the federal government until the repayment period begins and during authorized periods of deferment afterwards. Unsubsidized loans are not need-based, so all students are eligible to recieve them. Interest payments begin immediately on unsubsidized loans, although you can waive the payments and the interest will be capitalized.

work-study An institutionally or federally-funded employment program that provides student with part-time jobs–generally 10 to 15 hours per week–for students who are in need of earnings to help meet a part of their educational cost.

Step 5: Begin college on the right foot


career office This is one of the offices you should get to know early on in your college career. With help ranging from resume tips to interview techniques to finding an internship, it's the place to go for anything related to finding a job.

freshman fifteen The extra weight gain–about 15 pounds–associated with freshman year. Late night snacks, mass amounts of beer, and constant availibility of food are usually the culprits behind this non-academic growth.

Greek system The common governing body for fraternities and sororities. These organizations vary in their role, size, mission, and traditions from college to college. First and foremost, they act as a social outlet from the rigors of intensive study. These organizations have espoused high ideals of friendship and service since the founding of Phi Beta Kappa in 1776.

internships These are part-time or full-time opportunities to gain professional work experience while in college. Some interns are paid, while others recieve college credit. Either way, the experience is invaluable to anyone looking for employment after college. This means you.

orientation Most schools offer orientation for incoming students to help ease the tradition from high school to college. During orientation (which can last a couple of days to over a week) students have the opportunity to participate in a variety of programs and information sessions that allow them to experience a small taste of what their undergraduate years will be like.

study abroad While in college, many students choose to spend time studying in a foreign country. During their stay there, students are immersed in the culture, history, and academic-life of their chosen destination. Once dismissed as playtime, studying at a school overseas is being transformed into an academically rigorous program on par with many American institutions.
 
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