College Applications

College Application Glossary: Must Know Terms

Here's a compilation of over 110 definitions of every term and phrase you need to know when applying to college, sorted by category.

๐Ÿ“„ Applications

Early Action (EA)

  • EA is a non-binding round of early applications. You can apply to as many as you want and commit to wherever you wish! EA has an earlier deadline and a smaller application pool compared to regular decisions. Financial aid is usually the same. The deadline to apply is in early November. Colleges will notify students of their application status by January or February.

Early Decision (ED)

  • ED is a completely binding first round of college applications. It's the earliest deadline, and if accepted, you are going! ED has a small application pool, so the odds of getting in are better with Early Decision. However, financial aid can be hit or miss.
  • Although this agreement is "binding" by nature, they are often signed by a student under 18. These agreements are not legally binding. Though backing out of an Early Decision is not easy, it is doable without legal ramifications. Students are only allowed to back out if they are completely unable to pay the cost of tuition.

Regular Decision (RD)

  • RD is the largest and most competitive application pool. However, it is non-binding and the latest deadline. Financial aid can vary based on application. RD deadlines fall in early January, and offers of admission are sent out by late March or early April. Students have until May 1 to accept or decline their offers.

Restrictive Early Action/Single Choice Early Action (SCEA)

  • REA is similar to early action, but you can only apply early at 1 private institution. You can apply to only 1 private institution for REA/SCEA and other public schools with regular early action. For these rules, it's important to check each university's specific guidelines.

Rolling Admissions

  • Rolling admissions are the least restrictive option for college applications. These colleges will consider you for admission as soon as the required materials are received. A student can apply as early as the summer before senior year, or as late as the summer after and still be considered.

Direct Admission

  • Direct admission is offered to students who apply to a specific major or program. This means you have declared your major and can begin studying during freshman year. Direct admission is more competitive than general admission. The most competitive programs for direct admission are Pre-Med and Pre-Law or majors such as Nursing.

Open Admission

  • Open admission is the policy of accepting any high school graduate, regardless of their grades. Students are accepted until all spaces in the incoming class are filled. Most two-year colleges have open admission policies, but some may have requirements for programs.


  • Deferral occurs when an individual applies ED or EA, and the application is moved into the Regular Decision pool. Though the application was competitive, the admissions office wants to see the entire application pool before reviewing the application again.


  • Waitlist is the term for deferral in the regular decision round. Once accepted students make their decision, the admissions committee will re-evaluate applicants to find which waitlist students.

Qualified Acceptance

  • Though this is rare, a college may ask a student to complete a course in the college's summer session. If the course is completed to the standards of the college, then the student is able to register at the school full-time.

Statement of Intent to Register (SIR)

  • The SIR is a form that should be returned to the college you select on May 1. This confirms that you selected that particular college or university.

Letters of Continued Interest (LOCI)

  • LOCIs are emails or formal additions to your application that you write after a waitlist decision from a college. LOCIs remind college admissions officers that you still want to attend their college. LOCIs are sent after deferral from an early action/decision round or after the waitlist from the regular decision round.

Common Data Set (CDS)

  • Each university is required to fill out a CDS each year. This ensures that there is specific, standardized data to compare among institutions. Some data includes freshman admission statistics (early, regular, waitlist, etc.), transfer admissions, financial aid distribution, faculty size, class diversity, and more.
  • The CDS for each school is free! Search "[college name] + common data set."

Additional Information Section

  • This is a section on the application that allows you to add anything that you may have missed. This is not a section for you to list your entire resume; instead, you may expand upon anything that you feel is needed.
  • This is a great place to expound upon some grades or a period of difficulty in your life. DO NOT add another essay. For example, some students may have undergone a major family issue that impacted their grades or extracurricular involvement. This can be explained in this additional information section.

๐Ÿ’ป Application Platforms

Common Application

  • The Common Application allows students to fill out applications to the schools of their choice. This application includes extracurriculars, essays, test scores, and more.

Coalition Application


  • The Apply Texas application is the Texas version of the Common Application. It is a unified college application process accepted by all Texas public universities and many private schools. (Note that some schools that accept ApplyTexas also accept the Common App.)
  • ๐Ÿœ๏ธHow to: ApplyTexas

Universal College Application

  • The Universal College Application is accepted by all colleges that are Universal College Application members. More than 3,044 colleges accept this application, but the Common Application is more holistic.


  • QuestBridge is a full-ride scholarship service, partnered with over 45 prestigious colleges, for outstanding, low-income students. College partners range from Caltech to UChicago to Yale University. There are rigorous criteria including academics, essays, letters of recommendation, and more.

๐ŸŒ‡ Types of Universities

Historically Black Colleges or Universities (HBCU)

  • HBCUs are higher education institutions established before the Civil Rights movement. HBCUs primarily serve the African American community while providing high-caliber education. Find the list of accredited HBCUs here.

World/Global Campus

  • Many accredited universities offer remote courses and full educations. These campuses are called world or global campuses.

Ivy League

  • The Ivy League is a group of prestigious universities on the East Coast. The Ivy League began as an athletic conference but has since become well regarded for academic aptitude. There are 8 official Ivy League schools: Brown University, Yale University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Harvard University, Dartmouth College, Princeton University, and the University of Pennsylvania.

"Little Ivies"

  • An unofficial grouping of competitive, private, liberal arts schools on the East Coast. Some of these universities began as female colleges before the suffrage and civil rights movements. Amongst the best known are Wesleyan University, Williams College, and Amherst College.

Technical Institutes and Professional Schools

  • Curriculums center around a specific career path such as music, STEM, or engineering. These may take the form of graduate schools, but often can be found in smaller and more local schools across the US.

Community Colleges

  • Community colleges are smaller colleges that offer only two-year degrees. Most are commuter colleges and do not offer dorms. As a result, they are much cheaper than a traditional four-year college. Some students transfer to a 4-year school after receiving their associate's degree at a community college.

Public University

  • Known as "State Schools," these are institutions funded by the state government. They offer variable tuition for in-state and out-of-state students. Since local students pay taxes to the state government, their tuition is always substantially lower than out-of-state students. These schools tend to be moderately priced, but do not give out much financial aid. These are schools like the University of Idaho, UCLA, and Florida State University.

Private Universities

  • Funded by private grants, these institutions do not charge tuition based on the geographic location of students. Private universities can have religious components, unlike government-funded state schools. These schools are usually more expensive, but give out more generous aid. Some private schools are the University of Portland, Columbia University, Swarthmore College, and Texas Christian University.

Liberal Arts Colleges

  • Liberal arts colleges are generally smaller colleges with an emphasis on undergraduate education. Students at liberal arts colleges have small class sizes, more classroom discussions, and closer connections to faculty. These are schools like Amherst College, Swarthmore College, and Pomona College.

Historically Women's Colleges (HWCs)

  • Historically women's colleges are institutions composed exclusively of students who identify as female, including those who identify as non-binary. These schools are liberal arts colleges that hope to empower women and gendered minorities during their undergraduate study in a small, close-knit environment. A popular term within HWCs is the Seven Sisters, which refers to the seven highly selective HWCs, including Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Smith, and Wellesley College.


  • College consortiums are a network of colleges that allow students in that consortium to make use of each college's academic and extracurricular resources. For example, students of one college can take classes at another college that is part of the consortium. Generally, these colleges are near each other and each has unique resources. Some consortiums are Claremont Colleges, the Five Colleges (Massachusetts), the Boston Area Consortia, and the Quaker Consortium.
  • Many schools have partnerships with neighboring schools, allowing for cross-registration in classes and clubs. One example is the Babson Olin Wellesley Partnership. Some schools also allow undergraduate students to take classes at the graduate level, given certain requirements.

T-20 Schools

  • Otherwise known as top-20 schools, these are the highest-ranked public and private schools on the U.S. News and World Report yearly rankings. Find the list here.

Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs)

  • PWIs are colleges that have a majority of the student body made up of students who identify as white. These institutions usually cater to white students and may have accommodating resources for students of color. Some colleges include Harvard University, UNC-Chapel Hill, American University, and many more.

Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs)

  • MSIs are institutions that serve minority populations. Some are Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), Asian American and Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs), and Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs).

Proprietary Institution

  • Proprietary Institutions are schools that are legally permitted to make a profit. They are private schools that generally offer technical and vocational education.

Jesuit Universities

  • Jesuit Universities are a group of 28 schools that are Catholic. Jesuit schools are in the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities with a focus on religion. Though they are Catholic schools, they accept people from all backgrounds.

Test-Optional Schools

  • Test optional schools are institutions that do not consider ACT or SAT scores. For some schools, sending these scores can add benefits, but they are by no means required. In other instances, ACT or SAT scores will not be considered. Here is a list of every test-optional school.

Need-Blind/Aware Schools

  • Need-blind schools only look at the merit of students instead of their ability to pay. This can differ based on the type of applicant. Some schools are only need-blind for domestic applicants, while others are completely need-blind.
  • Need-aware colleges are policies where colleges consider a student's ability to pay for admissions.

โœ๐Ÿป Essays

Common Application Essay

  • This is the main writing component in most college applications: a long essay with prompts that vary by year. Find the Common Application here.
  • There are a few components to the essays in the College application. You are allowed an optional space to explain any extraneous circumstances that may have hindered your success in high school. Use this space! Whether you struggled with a mental illness, worked a job, supported a sibling or parent, or lost someone close to you, explain what happened and how it affected you. Be sure to highlight your own personal growth and how you overcame adversity.
  • The Common Application has decided to keep their essay topic that encourages students to explain how the pandemic affected them. Be sure to use this space! Any time an application gives you "optional" essays, it's a good idea to do them. Explain how you coped with the global pandemic, and how you went above and beyond in your family or community during it.

Coalition Application Essay

  • While most schools use the Common Application, some use a different platform called Coalition for College. It is essential to understand which platforms are required for each college you hope to apply to. Find the Coalition Application here and its essay prompts here.

UC Essays

  • These are the main writing pieces for the Universities of California application: made up of four shorter essays that vary by year. Find the UC application here.
  • UC Essays are short and sweet, and the prompts vary in form. They are called "Personal Insight Questions" because they serve to humanize the applicant and provide a better picture of the individual. Because there is so little space, these are not the spaces to tell a long story. Tell a brief tale of your personal growth or an example of success.

ApplyTexas Essays

  • There are four essay prompts on the ApplyTexas application for freshman admission (Topics A, B, C, and D). There are several short-answer prompts for UT Austin and Texas A&M, as well as an extra Topic E for transfer students.
  • All Texas colleges and universities have different application requirements, including essays. Some schools require essays, some list them as optional, and others use a combination of required and optional essays. Schools use the essays to determine scholarships, honors program eligibility, or admission to specific majors.
  • There are three ApplyTexas essay topics that try to get to the heart of your identity. But since Topics A, B, and C all focus on things that are essential to you as a person, it can be difficult to come up with a unique idea for each.
  • Tips: ๐Ÿœ๏ธHow to: ApplyTexas

Supplemental Essays

  • These are typically smaller essays that accompany many applications. They vary by school, and there can be anywhere from 0-10 supplemental pieces of writing in each application.
  • It is always a good idea to complete any "optional essays," as they give the reader a full view of you as a person. You are more than your grades and scores, so show it!

"Why this..." Essays

  • In the Common, Coalition, and UC essays, schools will ask why you are applying to their university and possibly even a specific major. About a paragraph in length, applicants will explain the deeper reasoning behind why they want to attend.
  • Focus on the specifics of a university and its programs. Admissions officers have heard the same thing a million times, so make yours stand out! Comb through the websites and staff of the school and make direct reference to your prospective interests. For example, discuss a study abroad program that you want to join, a club, or a teacher you aspire to be like or learn from.

๐Ÿ‘ฉ๐Ÿผโ€๐Ÿ’ป Exams


  • The ACT (American College Test) is scored on a scale from 0-36. These questions are typically simpler than on the SAT but are faster-paced. Each section has an individual score on a scale from 1-36, which is then averaged for the final score. There are four sections on the test: Math, English, Reading, Science, and the optional writing section. Learn more here.
  • โฒ๏ธACT & SAT

AP โ“‡ Exams

  • AP Exams are tests given at the end of a full year of AP instruction to test proficiency in a subject at a college level. Graded on a scale of 0-5 (with 3 being passing), many colleges will apply any passing grade to your credits at their university or allow you to bypass an entry-level course in that subject.
  • Rules for application of this credit differ school by school, as some universities will apply the credit for a subject in which you tested at a 3, while some will only apply the credit if you tested at a 5.

CLEP โ“‡

  • Known as the College Level Examination Program, these are individual tests that operate similarly to AP exams. You can apply the credits to a participating university depending on your score.


  • The General Education Development test is for those who were unable to graduate from high school. This is an alternative to the high school diploma. The GED tests the skills in reasoning through language arts, social studies, math, and science.


  • IB is a program offered at various high schools Students working for the IB diploma take IB classes in six subject areas. Those students take exams in each subject, which are scored out of 7. Students also write a research paper and complete extracurriculars and coursework.

PSAT โ“‡

  • The PSAT is a shortened version of the SAT offered in October for high school juniors. The scores are used in preparation for the ACT or SAT and can be used for the National Merit Scholarship.

SAT โ“‡

  • The SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) is scored on a scale from 0-1600. Each section is scored on a scale from 200-800. Questions on the SAT are slightly more complicated than the ACT, but you get more time per question. The SAT is made of four sections: Math (calculator), Math (no calculator), English, and Reading. The writing section was discontinued. Learn more here.
  • โฒ๏ธACT & SAT


  • Otherwise known as the Test Of English As A Foreign Language, this test is administered for students applying to American universities from outside the U.S. The TOEFL is usually a requirement for international students. This is a 4 subject test covering reading, writing, speaking, and listening. The test is 4 hours long.

๐Ÿ’ต Financial Aid & Scholarships

FAFSA (Free Application for Student Aid)

  • The FAFSA is the form sent to all colleges and universities that makes you eligible for government aid. Each applicant and their parents fill out reports about family income, financial hazards, and personal details. Find the FAFSA here. Read more about FAFSA on Fiveable's Financial Aid - FAFSA page.

CSS Profile โ“‡ (College Scholarship Service)

  • Like the FAFSA, this is a report of family income and situation but is managed by the College Board. The CSS Profile is used for private schools that tout "100% need met," meaning that all the student's demonstrated need is filled by the school through a grant or scholarship. This profile is more in-depth than the FAFSA. CSS Profiles can be used alongside the FAFSA to give schools a comprehensive understanding of financial needs. Find the CSS profile here.

Work-Study Program

  • Work-Study programs are federally approved and funded. They offer students part-time employment while they are enrolled at a university. These are assigned as a part of the FAFSA and encourage employment in community service or a field relevant to the student.


  • Grants are need-based financial aid that is not paid back.


  • Scholarships are need or merit-based aid that is not paid back.

Federal Loans

  • Federal loans are on a fixed and low-interest rate given to students to pay for their own education. They must be paid back with interest over time.

Pell Grants

  • Pell grants are government-funded grants given to students from low-income homes. They are sent directly to universities for application towards outstanding payments.


  • The Reserve Officers Training Corps is a program that university students can join during their education that can help them pay for college and prepare for a career in the military. Students attend mandatory trainings and are required to serve a given amount of time in either active duty or military reserve in exchange for up to full tuition covered. Students can begin in any of the service branches.


  • Otherwise known as Resident Assistant, these are upperclassmen students who live in the dorms and help other residents in exchange for full room and board covered.

Aid for Military Family Service

  • Both the federal government and nonprofit organizations offer money for college to veterans, future military personnel, active-duty personnel, or those related to veterans or active-duty personnel

Room and Board

  • Room and board mean housing and meal plan. This will normally include the most standard housing, such as a double (2-person dorm), and the standard dorming meal plan.

Direct PLUS Loan

  • Direct PLUS Loans are federal loans that graduate or professional students and parents of dependent undergraduate students use to help pay for education expenses.

Direct Subsidized Loan

  • A Direct Subsidized Loan is a federal student loan for which a borrower isnโ€™t generally responsible for paying the interest while they are in an in-school, grace, or deferment period.

Direct Consolidated Loan

  • A direct consolidation loan combines federal education loans into one loan for free via completion of the Federal Direct Consolidation Loan Application and Promissory Note. You will have a single monthly payment on the new Direct Consolidation Loan.

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)

  • The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) is a grant that is awarded to an undergraduate student who demonstrates exceptional financial need to help pay for their education. Awards can range from $100โ€“$4,000 and do not need to be repaid.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program

  • The PSLF Program forgives the remaining balance on your Direct Loans after you have made 120 (10 years) qualifying monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan while working full-time for a qualifying employer.

William Ford Direct Loan Program

  • The WFDLP is a loan provided by the U.S. Department of Education to help with the costs of university tuition.

State Aid

  • States offer financial assistance to eligible residents to help reduce educational costs.


  • If you are a non-citizen who is a Texas resident, complete a Texas Application for State Financial Aid (TASFA).

Need-Based Aid

  • Financial aid is awarded only based on the student and family's financial situation as determined by the FAFSA and the CSS Profile form. Changes in the financial situation of a family from year to year can affect the amount of aid determined.

Merit Aid

  • Merit aid, scholarships, and grants are awarded to students based on merit, not financial need. Merit aid lowers the cost of the college.

Full-Ride Scholarship

  • A full-ride scholarship covers all expenses of college, including room and board. Full-tuition scholarships only cover tuition. Here is a link. to full-ride scholarship programs, but remember to research each scholarship's guidelines thoroughly.

Expected Family Contribution (EFC)

  • The EFC is the amount of money you and your family could be expected to pay for one year of college. This is based on the data gathered from the FAFSA and determined by a federal formula applied to that data.

๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€๐ŸŽ“ Types of Students

First-Generation College Student

  • This refers to students who are the first in their families to attend college. First-generation students often need more assistance in the college process, but there are lots of scholarships specifically for first-gen college students.


  • FGLI stands for "first-generation low-income." First-gen follows the definition above, and low-income is defined by Pell Grant eligibility. Many universities will have programs dedicated to FGLI students.


  • A legacy student has a relative such as a parent or a grandparent who graduated from the university. Typically, legacies are discussed in the context of Ivy League or other prestigious universities.


  • Out-of-State students generally are those applying to a state school without being from the state. For instance, applying to the University of Georgia while living in Colorado would make someone an Out-of-State student.

In-State or Resident

  • In-state students have lived in a certain state for a certain amount of time that is determined by the university. For state schools, it is generally cheaper for students in-state to attend their college.


  • Commuter students are those who do not live on a college campus. For instance, living with your parents while attending college makes you a commuter student.

Working Students

  • These students have arranged an agreement with a university to help pay for tuition (work/study programs). This is a federal program that helps graduate and undergraduate students ease the costs of college.

International Students

  • International students come from other countries into the US (or vice versa) to pursue higher education. Generally, it is more difficult for international students to get admission into universities. Colleges in the US have quotas for the number of accepted international students.

๐Ÿ“ Applying to College

Grade Point Average (GPA): Weighted GPA

  • Weighted GPA is usually on a 5.0 scale (varies by case) after adding APs and other types of advanced courses.

Grade Point Average (GPA): Unweighted GPA

  • Unweighted GPA is usually on a 4.0 scale (varies by case) that factors grades in every course.


  • Transcripts are records of academic accomplishments including grades, GPA, course titles, and test scores.

Class Rank

  • Class rank is a summary of a student's GPA in comparison to others in a certain year.


  • Honors, International Baccalaureate (IB), Dual Credit (DC), Advanced Placement (AP), Technical Education


  • Extracurricular activities are activities that are not a high school course or employment. This includes school-sponsored groups such as yearbook or sports, but also outside activities like research, and family/community activities.

Letters of Recommendation (LORs)

  • These are letters from teachers to speak on your behalf. It's recommended that you ask a teacher to write a letter for you as soon as possible, so you do not panic last minute. These letters should showcase your growth, personality, and passions, so make sure you choose teachers that truly know you. If you want to ensure your teacher adds something about you, send them your college resume.

College Resume

  • This is different from a professional resume. In essence, you are adding every activity, award, test score, work experience, community service, and anything that seems valuable to you. Sometimes, colleges will ask you to upload a resume. This works nicely if you run out of room in the activities section. Try to keep these short and concise.

Test Scores

  • Scores from AP, CLEP, ACT, and SAT are incredibly important as well.

๐Ÿ“œ Degrees

A.A. (Associate of Arts)

  • This degree is found at most 2 year and community colleges.
  • You can get an A.A. by acquiring different types of credits from Dual Credit classes.

A.A.S. (Associate of Applied Science)

  • This degree is found at most 2 year and community colleges.

B.A. (Bachelor of Arts)

  • A B.A. is the degree for arts and sciences, but with a larger focus on liberal arts. There are fewer course requirements in a certain field to allow a more expansive education.

B.S. (Bachelor of Science)

  • A B.S. degree is for subject areas that require more focus and more credits linked to the major. One can pursue a B.S. in economics, business, or even music with a B.S. This degree is less "flexible", unlike the B.A.

MA (Master's Degree)

  • An MA is obtained after a B.S. or B.A. by furthering knowledge in a specific field.


  • A Ph.D. is a doctorate degree in any field except medicine, where the degree would be an M.D.


  • A major is a concentration that students focus on in college to earn a degree.


  • A minor is a smaller type of degree that is between 18-30 credits for a secondary academic focus.

๐Ÿซ College Fit Information

Campus Interview

  • Campus interviews are personal interactions between an applicant and someone representing a university. They can increase your chances of being admitted but are rarely required.

Campus Visit/Tour

  • Campus tours are hosted by universities to help prospective students see if the college is a good fit for them. It is important to visit a variety of campuses to find the best fit.


  • A catalog is a comprehensive overview of universities that discusses admission requirements, faculty, extracurricular opportunities, costs, and more. Most universities have publicly accessible catalogs on their websites.

Safety School

  • Safety schools have much higher acceptance rates. A student has a high likelihood of getting accepted because their GPA and extracurriculars match other accepted students.

Target School

  • A target school has an acceptance rate between 25% to 65% (varies by case). It is not a guaranteed acceptance, but the likelihood of getting accepted is much higher.

Reach School

  • Reach schools include the top 30 universities with an acceptance rate of under 25%. Some aspects of a student (such as GPA or essays) might be on the lower side.

School Profile

  • A school profile is an overview of your high school, including courses, extra features, grading system, and demographics.

Best Fit Schools

  • Best fit schools are institutions that are best for each individual student. This includes a variety of factors including location, programs, cost, and other opportunities. The best way to find a school is to find the best fit instead of looking for prestige.

Examples of College Lists

  • 2-3 safety schools, 4-5 target schools, 2-3 reach schools if applying to a large number of schools
  • If you are applying to fewer or more schools, adjust the ratio!

Examples of Best Fit Factors

  • Though the wants and needs of every student are different, here are a few things that students might look for: demographics (racial, socioeconomic, religious), mental health support, career centers, and greek life.

๐Ÿง  How to Apply to College

Fill out the FASFA and CSS

  • Filing the FAFSA and CSS early is key to moving one less thing off of your plate come application season. Be sure to send your reports to each individual school that you are applying to.
  • If you choose to apply to more than 10 schools, you will have to send this out twice. The FAFSA report only allows you to send to 10 schools at a time, and any extra submissions must have a certain time in between. Allocate some time if you are applying to a lot of universities!

Develop your college list!

  • For most students, this consists of about 5-10 schools, with an even amount of reach, target, and safety schools.
  • Applications can cost up to $90 each, so start budgeting early! Track down any fee waivers you can find, and pay attention to your mailbox. Sometimes universities will mail out letters with codes to waive your cost of application. You may also receive fee waivers by applying to fly-out programs or attending virtual webinars.

Choose an application pool

  • Depending on how much time you have and when you want to hear back, you can apply in any of the three pools.
  • If you have a lot of time to work, it's smart to apply early action or even early decision if financial aid is not a concern. If you want to maximize scholarships, early action is the way to go. If you do not have a lot of time to work currently or want to hear back from all your schools at once, applying regular decision is for you!

Start your applications

  • This is the time to fill out all of the easy information in your applications, such as name, addresses, parents' place of work, etc. This essentially knocks the boring work out of the way so that you can get to the substance of your application (such as the essays) later.

Start your main essays

  • Firstly, get going on your main essays that are sent to most schools. This will be the Common Application Essays, the Coalition Application Essay, or UC Essays, depending on where you are applying. Develop your topics and write rough drafts of all your biggest essays.

Take standardized tests

  • If you plan on taking the ACT or the SAT, it's a good idea to get it out of the way early. It takes a while for testing scores to come back, and it can take up to a few weeks for universities to receive the scores that you send.
  • โฒ๏ธACT & SAT

Start supplemental essays

  • After you write a rough draft for the stars of the show, it's time to move on and draft the supplementals. Decide what you are focusing on, and knock out the first drafts of the smaller essays.

Sending testing scores and transcripts

  • Once you receive scores back from the SAT or ACT, send them off to each individual school if you choose! Some schools allow you to self-report your scores, so check before sending out your scores to save money!
  • Send the finalized transcript from your junior year to your whole list.

Refine essays

  • Carve out some time to form a second draft of your essays, refining the word choice and solidifying the theme.

Reach out to every school!

  • One of the least-known ways to assist your application is to show demonstrated interest. Whether or not schools formally take this into account, having meetings and building rapport with representatives from universities can boost your chances.
  • Schedule meetings over Zoom when possible to truly meet your counselors, but settle for emails if you have to.

Final draft of applications

  • Finish up your primary and supplemental essays, and get them ready to submit.


  • When you feel ready, go ahead and submit your essays and applications. Make sure that each school has all of your application material, including essays, FAFSA/CSS, transcripts, and test scores.

Touch base

  • If possible, have another meeting or email session with your designated college counselor from each school. Make sure that your materials are submitted, express your interest in the school, and thank them for the time and energy spent on you. Odds are that they are the person who will be reading your application and even advocating for you, so make sure to stay on their good side!

Be patient

  • Now comes the worst part of the application season: the waiting. Depending on which application pool you submitted in, you could hear back as early as October or as late as April.

Apply for scholarships

  • While you wait for colleges to send a decision, spend your time applying for scholarships both in and out of each university that you apply to. Use sites like Niche, Cappex, and Bold to track down simple and small applications, and use local organizations to find more lengthy and lucrative applications. You're more likely to receive a local scholarship from a small organization than a national scholarship that thousands apply for. Remember, you can apply to random, lottery-style scholarships for fun, but the ones that are worth your time require an essay.
  • ๐Ÿ’ธScholarships

Weigh your options

  • When you start to hear back from colleges, you will ultimately be faced with a tough decision. Start thinking deeper about what schools you connect with most, and what academics await you at each university.
  • Do you want to be close to home? Far from it? Is good food important to you? What about the community culture? This is the time to think about all of the extra bonuses that you want in college. You applied to each school on your list for a reason, and you always have good options.

Make a decision and submit a deposit

  • Now is the time to choose your university. Congratulations, you officially made it! Look for an enrollment deposit waiver if applicable. The first deposit is a marker of your commitment to the school, and can often get fairly expensive. However, many schools will waive the fee if you have demonstrated the need.

Get ready!

  • This is the time to look for a roommate, decide on a meal plan, and pick where you want to live. Use groups on Facebook, apps like Zeemee or Patio, and reach out to friends attending your college to find a roommate.

๐ŸŽ’ In College

Lower/Upper Division Courses

  • Lower Division: Courses designed for freshman and sophomores.
  • Upper Division: Courses designed for juniors and seniors.

Academic Calendar

  • Semester: two terms of 17-18 weeks
  • Quarter: three terms of 10-11 weeks (fourth term optional)
  • Trimester: two terms of 15 weeks (third term optional)


  • Auditing means that you are attending a class for review and are earning no credit or grade.

Summer Session

  • Summer sessions in college are similar to summer school in high school. These sessions allow students to take classes at any college campus and transfer credit to the home university.

Impacted Program

  • Impacted programs are closed programs due to a high level of enrollment. This term can describe programs with extra paperwork requirements.

General Education Requirements

  • Gen-Ed requirements are classes that all students must take regardless of major. These credits are fulfilled during the first 2 years of college.

Core Curriculum

  • A core curriculum is the group of courses that are required for a particular degree.

Extra Information


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