Understanding College Admissions Lingo

Last updated: Oct 26, 2020

When you start the process of applying to colleges, you’ll come across many different college admissions terms. You will know what some of the terms mean, but you may not be familiar with all of them. At times, the college admissions process can feel overwhelming and confusing. However, understanding college admissions lingo is essential to making your admissions process as easy as possible.

To help you navigate the college admissions process, we’ve compiled a glossary of common college admissions lingo.

Admissions Tests

Sometimes referred to as college entrance exams, admissions tests help measure your skills, so colleges can evaluate if you are ready for college-level work.

It’s important for you to prepare for admissions tests before taking them. Typically, prep courses and study materials are available online, through your high school, or in private tutoring lessons.

Depending on your high school grade level, you may be preparing to take or may have already taken these types of tests. The ACT and the SAT are two standardized admissions tests used in the United States. There are also specific admissions tests that International students take.

ACT, SAT, and SAT Subject Tests

The ACT tests students in English, math, reading and science. It also includes an optional essay section.

The SAT tests students in math, reading and writing, which includes a written essay. While the essay is optional, there are many colleges that require the essay portion as part of their required admissions documents.

Another type of admission test is the SAT Subject Test. These exams focus on specific subject areas, such as English, history, math, science and languages. Typically, Subject Tests take an hour to complete, and some colleges use them to help in admissions decisions and to place students into the right course levels.

International Admissions Tests

In order for International students to be considered for admission into United States colleges, certain standardized tests are often required. These tests include the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).

 The TOEFL iBT is provided on the internet, and it measures non-native English speakers’ skill level and ability to use and understand English in heard, spoken, and written forms in a university setting.

The IELTS is another test that measures your English language proficiency for people who want to study in the United States or in a country where English is the primary language of communication.

Students listening and taking notes

College Admissions Policies

Colleges can choose the type of admissions policy they use. For example, some colleges may follow rolling admission and others may follow open admission. There are a few other types of admissions policies, so it’s important to know what policy the colleges you’re applying to follow to give yourself the best chance for acceptance.

Rolling Admission, Need-blind Admission, and Open Admission

Colleges that follow the rolling admission policy consider each application once all required information and documents have been received. These documents may include high school records, SAT/ ACT scores, an application fee and more.

Need-blind admission is a policy that works by making decisions on admission without considering the financial situation of applicants. Keep in mind that colleges following this admission policy may not offer enough financial aid to meet the entire need of a student.

Another admissions policy is called open admission. In open admission, the college accepts any high school graduate until all spaces in the incoming class are filled, regardless of what grades the student received. Typically, two-year community colleges follow an open admission policy. However, even colleges with a general open admission policy may have specific admission requirements for certain programs within the college.

College Applications

Different colleges use different college applications. For example, some colleges use the Common Application, Coalition Application or another type.

The Common Application is a standard application form that is accepted by colleges that are also members of the Common Application association. Not all colleges use the Common Application.

The Coalition Application is another standard application form that is accepted by colleges that are members of the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success. Again, not all colleges use the Coalition Application.

Make sure you follow each college’s application requirements carefully, so the process can be as easy and simple for you as possible. Remember, each college has its own college application and requirements, so make sure you carefully follow each college’s guidelines.

Early Action and Early Decision

Many colleges offer options for students to submit their applications early and before regular application deadlines. There are two main types of these options: early action (EA) and early decision (ED). It is common for colleges to have early action and early decision deadlines.

Early Action

If you apply early action (EA), you will receive admission decisions from colleges earlier than usual. A key feature of early action plans is that they are not binding. Basically, you do not have to enroll in a college if you are accepted early action.

Early Decision

Early decision (ED) is a different option than early action. In early decision, you have the option to submit an application to your first-choice school before the regular application deadline. You will receive an admission decision earlier than most other applicants.

If you apply early decision and are accepted into the college, you must enroll in the college. Simply put, early decision plans are binding.

Always double check application due dates whether you apply to colleges for the regular application deadline, early action, or early decision.

Student reading a book in a chair

Admission Decisions

Once a college has received your application and required application materials, your application will be reviewed. After the college’s admissions committee has reviewed your completed application, an admission decision will be made and sent to the applicant.

The two most easily recognizable admission decisions are admitted and denied. If an applicant is admitted, then the applicant has been accepted into the college. If an applicant is denied, then the applicant has not been accepted into the college.

However, admission decisions of deferred or waitlisted may cause some confusion.

Deferred Admission

Deferred admission means that the college needs a little more time to review your application. Some colleges may ask you to send additional materials to include in your application. Deferment does not mean that something was wrong with your application. In fact, it means that the admissions committee found your application strong enough to continue considering it.

But, what if you applied for early action? No need to worry. If you are deferred and had applied early action, most colleges will move you from early action into the regular admission deadline, and the college will notify you when an admission decision has been made.

Waiting List

Being placed on a waiting list means that you meet the admission requirements for the college, but the college has already accepted all the students it has room for. Applicants who have been accepted have until the decision deadline to accept or decline the college’s offer.

Basically, colleges wait to hear if all accepted students decide to attend. Once the decision deadline has passed, students on the waiting list may receive offers from schools.

However, it’s difficult to know how many people from the waitlist may be offered a spot from the school. You’ll need to decide if you want to stay on the waitlist or be removed from it. Before deciding, learn if there are any conditions involved with being on the waitlist.

As the admission process moves forward, other colleges may send you acceptance letters, and you can choose which college is the best fit for you.

Take Your Understanding of College Admissions Lingo to the Next Step

You should now have a better understanding of common college admissions lingo, but remember to refer to the admissions office of every school where you are applying. Each school has specific admissions policies you must follow.

In addition, be prepared for the college application process by having all required materials for each school ready. Often, colleges will post their admissions and application requirements, dates, deadlines and other important information on their websites, so you can start there to see what you’ll need.

If you have questions about a specific school’s application or application process, reach out to the school. College recruiters are there to help you through the process.

At the University of South Florida (USF), we strive to make the college admissions process as simple as possible for everyone at each stage of the application. Our USF admissions requirements for freshman and international students are listed on our website, but our dedicated team of USF recruiters are also ready to help you take the next step into your future. Feel free to contact us at 813-974-3350.