College Admissions Glossary

Accreditation is a type of quality control. An accredited college or university satisfies a set of minimum standards. Before applying for admission to a college or university, check whether the institution and the specific educational program are accredited. There are six regional accreditation agencies in the U.S.A.
The ACT is one of two major college admissions tests that evaluate a student’s preparation for college-level academic work. The other test is the SAT. Most students take either the ACT or the SAT and some students take both.
Admission occurs when a college or university accepts a student’s college application, allowing them to enroll at the institution.
Affidavit of Support
An affidavit of support is a legal document in which a sponsor agrees to pay for an international student’s college costs, including living expenses, and demonstrates sufficient resources to cover those costs.
AP Test
An Advanced Placement (AP) test evaluates a student’s mastery of college-level academic study. Some colleges and universities will award college credit if the student’s AP test scores are high enough.
Associate’s Degree
An Associate’s degree is an undergraduate credential awarded after completion of a two-year course of study.
Bachelor’s Degree
A Bachelor’s degree is an undergraduate credential awarded after completion of a four- or five-year course of study. Examples of Bachelor’s degrees include the Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degrees.
College Campus
College campus refers to the grounds and buildings of the college. The word “campus” may also refer to the students, faculty and staff of a college or university.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
The Cambridge English Language Assessment (CELA) is an exam that evaluates an international student’s
English language proficiency. Very few U.S.A. colleges and universities accept the CELA.
A certificate is a non-degree undergraduate credential awarded after completion of a one-year or shorter course of study.
Class Rank
A student’s class rank reports the student’s position within their graduating class, when all students are arranged according to their GPA. Usually, the valedictorian is the student with class rank of 1 and the salutatorian is the student with class rank of 2. Some secondary schools report class rank as a percentile or ratio as opposed to a specific number.
Coed, short for coeducational, refers to a college or university that enrolls both men and women, as opposed to a single-sex institution.
A college is a postsecondary institution that awards mainly undergraduate degrees, such as Bachelor’s degrees, Associate’s degrees and certificates. Some colleges award Master’s degrees and some award more advanced degrees. In the U.S.A., the terms “college” and “university” are used interchangeably. This differs from other countries, where a college awards only Associate’s degrees or certificates. Such uses of the term college are more similar to community colleges (sometimes called 2-year colleges) in the U.S.A., which primarily award
Associate’s degrees and certificates. The term “college” can also refer to a part of a university, such as the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Texas at Austin. The term “school” may also refer to a part of a university, such as the School of Engineering and the School of Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Commencement refers to a graduation ceremony during which degrees are awarded to graduating students.
Community College
A community college is an institution of higher education that awards certificates and Associate’s degrees. Community colleges may be referred to as junior colleges or 2-year institutions. Community colleges also provide job training programs. Some students transfer from a community college to a 4-year college or university to obtain a Bachelor’s degree, with the Associate’s degree counting as the first two years of college credit. Community colleges often charge lower tuition than 4-year colleges and universities.
Conditional Admission
Conditional admission when a college or university accepts a student’s application for admission, subject to certain conditions. For example, a college or university might admit an international student, provided that they take additional English classes and achieve a particular score on the TOEFL exam.
Core Curriculum
A core curriculum is a set of common courses taken by all undergraduate students at a college or university, regardless of their academic major.
Cosigner: A cosigner on a student loan agrees to repay the student loan if the primary borrower defaults on the loan. A cosigner is a co-borrower, equally obligated to repay the debt.
Curricular Practical Training (CPT). CPT is available to international students with an F-1 visa and must be part of the international student’s academic major.
Credential Evaluation
Credential evaluation services translate the information on an international student’s transcripts and diplomas, such as grades, into the U.S.A. equivalents. Each college and university specifies which credential evaluation services they accept. The cost of credential evaluation is paid by the student.
Culture Shock
Culture shock is the feeling of disorientation and anxiety that occurs when international students arrive in the U.S.A. and are exposed to a different culture for the first time. Causes of culture shock include the use of a different language, differences in conventions, differences in personal space, differences in personal hygiene, differences in traffic rules, differences in food and beverages, jet lag, information overload, a lack of parental support and homesickness. It can take a few weeks to a few months to get over culture shock as one becomes more familiar with the new environment.
Duration of Status (D/S) provides an expiration date for an international student’s lawful presence in the U.S.A. International students must apply for an extension at least 60 days before expiration.
College applications must be submitted by a specified date, known as the deadline. If an application is submitted after the deadline, it will not be accepted.
A degree is a type of postsecondary credential awarded to a student upon completion of an academic course of study.
Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
Doctral Degree
A doctoral degree is the most advanced graduate degree. Examples of doctoral degrees include the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) and Doctor of Science (Sc.D.) degrees.
A dorm (short for dormitory) is a residence hall owned by a college or university, which provides housing for students who attend the institution. The rooms in a dorm provide sleeping quarters for 1-4 students and usually do not have private bathrooms.
Double Major
A double major occurs when a student pursues completion of a course of study in two academic majors at the same time. Some colleges or universities will provide the student with two degrees, one for each major, while others will list both majors on a single degree.
The DS-2019 form certifies an international student’s eligibility for a J-1 visa. To obtain a J-1 visa, an international student must demonstrate that they have sufficient financial resources to pay for their entire education program. The DS-2019 form is issued by the college and then used by the international student to obtain a J-1 visa.
The Designated School Official (DSO) is the international student advisor, who handles visa and employment authorization for international students on behalf of the college or university. The DSO reports information on international students to SEVIS.
Duolingo is a computer-adaptive test of English language proficiency. In addition to answering questions interactively, it also includes a short video interview to assess conversational English skills and to provide identity verification.
Early Admission
There are two types of early admission programs offered by colleges and universities, early action and early decision. The student applies for admission by an earlier deadline and is notified about the admission decision earlier. The college admissions office may choose to accept or reject the application early, or to defer the decision to the regular admission pool. Early decision is binding and requires an accepted student to withdraw applications from other colleges and universities. Early action is not binding. Some colleges and universities allow international students to apply early action or early decision, and some do not.
An elective is a course that is not required for the student’s academic major or degree program.
English Language Proficiency
A student is considered to be proficient in the English language if he or she is able to read, write, speak and understand the English language with sufficient skill to participate in and benefit from classes taught in English. Most U.S.A. colleges and universities require international students to provide proof of English language proficiency if English is not an applicant’s native language or if the student graduated from a high school where English is not the primary language of instruction. International students can demonstrate English language proficiency by taking a test of English language proficiency, such as the TOEFL, IELTS or DuoLingo, or by performing well on the English language section of a standard college admissions test, such as the ACT or SAT.
English as a Second Language (ESL) is a class that teaches English to non-native speakers.
An exam (short for examination) is a test of knowledge or skill that consists of a series of questions to be answered by a student. The test score is based on the number of questions answered correctly.
Exchange Program
A student exchange program allows students to study abroad at another college or university for a semester or an entire academic year. Exchange programs are the result of formal arrangements between two colleges, in which courses taken at the foreign institution are accepted for credit at the student’s home institution.
If a student is expelled, the student’s enrollment at a college is terminated for violating the college’s rules and standards of behavior. For example, students may be expelled for cheating or plagiarism.
Final Exam
College classes often give students two tests, the mid-term exam and the final exam. The final exam is given toward the end of the academic term. The final exam counts toward the student’s overall grade in the class.
First Name
The first name is a person’s given name.
A grade point average (GPA) is a measurement of a student’s overall academic performance. A GPA is based on a weighted or unweighted average of the student’s grades. A weighted GPA emphasizes the grades in certain courses, such as more academically challenging courses. A GPA calculator can be used to calculate weighted and unweighted GPA.
A grade is a measure of the student’s academic performance on a test, assignment or class. Grades are reported differently in each country. (There are several resources that review grading systems in other countries. Examples include the International Credential Guidebook and the A-Z Manual for Evaluating Foreign Transcripts.) Colleges and universities use credential evaluation services to translate an international student’s grades into the U.S.A. equivalents.
Graduate Student
A graduate student is a college student who is pursuing a more advanced course of study than an undergraduate student, such as a Master’s degree, doctoral degree (Ph.D.) or professional degree (M.D. or J.D.) program.
Health Insurance
International students are required to obtain health insurance to get an F-1 or J-1 visa. Health insurance (also known as health assurance or health cover) pays for unanticipated medical expenses. International students should also consider obtaining dental insurance, even though it is not required to get a visa.
High School
High school is a common name for secondary school programs in the U.S.A., including grades 9 (freshman), 10 (sophomore), 11 (junior) and 12 (senior). A junior high school usually includes grades 7 and 8. High school students apply for admission to colleges and universities during the senior year in high school.
Higher Education
Higher education refers to the tertiary education system in the U.S.A. Higher education may sometimes be referred to as postsecondary education. Higher education refers to education beyond a secondary school education.
The humanities are fields of study that involve aspects of human culture. The humanities include academic majors in art, geography, history, languages, literature, music, philosophy and religion.
HYPSM is an acronym that refers to five of the most prestigious and selective U.S.A. colleges and universities, namely Harvard University, Yale University, Princeton University, Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
The I-20 form certifies an international student’s eligibility for an F-1 visa. Eligibility for a visa requires an international student to demonstrate English language proficiency, that they are academically qualified and that they have sufficient financial resources to pay for college. The I-20 form is issued by the college and then used by the international student to obtain an F-1 visa.
The I-94 is the arrival/departure card. It is stapled into an international student’s passport by CBP when they enter the U.S.A.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE enforces U.S.A. immigration laws.
The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is an exam that evaluates an international student’s English language proficiency. It is the second most popular test of English language proficiency.
Institution of Higher Education
Colleges and universities are institutions of higher education.
The International Revenue Service (IRS) processes income tax returns and collects taxes for the U.S.A. federal government.
The International Student Advisor (ISA) is a college official who helps international students with cultural adjustment, visas, work authorization and other matters.
The Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) is an identification number provided to a person who is not eligible for a Social Security Number.
Ivy League
The Ivy League refers to eight of the most prestigious and selective U.S.A. colleges and universities, namely Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University and Yale University.
Last Name
The last name is a person’s family name or surname. The last name is usually shared by a person and his or her siblings.
Letter of Recommendation
A letter of recommendation is a letter in which a teacher, school counselor of employer supports the student’s application for admission to a college or university or application for a scholarship or fellowship. In addition to serving as a reference for the student, the letter of recommendation may describe attributes of the student that support their candidacy and review the recommender’s personal experience with the student.
Liberal Arts
Liberal arts includes fields of study in the humanities, arts and sciences. The liberal arts do not include professional, vocational and technical fields of study.
An academic major is a field of study for which a college or university awards an academic credential upon completion of the course of study.
Master’s Degree
A Master’s degree is a graduate degree for advanced study beyond a Bachelor’s degree. Example of Master’s degrees include the Master of Arts (M.A.) and Master of Science (M.S.) degrees.
When a student matriculates in a college or university, they enroll in the college or university.
The Michigan English Test (MET) is an exam that evaluates an international student’s English language proficiency. Very few U.S.A. colleges and universities accept the MET.
Mid-term Exam
College classes often give students two tests, the mid-term exam and the final exam. The mid-term exam is given midway through the academic term. The midterms provide students with an indication of their academic progress so far. The midterm counts as part of the student’s overall grade in the class.
A minor is a field of study that is studied in addition to the student’s academic major. The minor is secondary in importance to the academic major and may involve less restrictive requirements. Students do not earn academic credentials for minors, but may have the minor mentioned on the academic credential received for the student’s major.
Need-Aware Admissions
A college or university with a need-aware admissions policy considers a student’s ability to pay when deciding whether to admit the student. Most U.S.A. colleges and universities have need-aware admissions policies.
Need-Blind Admissions
A college or university with a need-blind admissions policy admits students without considering their ability to pay. Only about a dozen U.S.A. colleges have need-blind admissions policies for international students: Amherst College, Cornell University, Georgetown University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Pomona College, Princeton University, Thomas Aquinas College, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Richmond, University of Southern California (USC), and Yale University.
Need-Sensitive Admissions
Need-sensitive admissions is a synonym for need-award admissions.
Notarization is the certification of a document or signature as authentic by a public notary.
Optional Practical Training (OPT). OPT is available to international students with an F-1 visa and must relate to the international student’s academic major. OPT is normally limited to 12 months in duration, but the student can apply for a 24-month STEM extension.
Orientation is an introduction for newly admitted students to college programs, policies and procedures that occurs before the start of the academic year. Most colleges and universities require international students to participate in an international student orientation program.
A passport is a travel document that certifies a person’s identity and citizenship and includes travel authorization documents, such as visas.
Permanent Resident
A permanent resident or green card holder is authorized to live and work in the U.S.A. permanently.
Placement Test
A placement test is used to evaluate a student’s academic ability in a subject so that the student can be placed in the correct courses for their field of study.
Plagiarism involves copying or paraphrasing the writing and ideas of an author without giving proper credit to the author. Plagiarism and cheating are not tolerated at U.S.A. colleges and universities and are grounds for expulsion. To avoid plagiarism, place quotation marks before and after the quoted text and attribute the quote to the author. For example: Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
Postsecondary Education
Postsecondary education refers to higher education.
Practical Training
Practical training provides international students on an F-1 visa with work experience related to the student’s education program during or after college. There are two types of practical training, CPT and OPT.
A prerequisite (or prereq) is a class or skill that must be mastered before a student can continue on to a more advanced class. For example, a student must complete an Algebra class before taking a Calculus class.
Private College
Private colleges are colleges that are under private ownership and control, as opposed to government ownership and control. Private colleges include non-profit and for-profit colleges, but not public colleges. Private colleges are sometimes called independent colleges.
Prospective Student
A prospective student is someone who is considering applying for admission to or enrolling in a college or university.
The Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE-A) is an exam that evaluates an international student’s English language proficiency. Very few U.S.A. colleges and universities accept the PTE-A.
Public College
Public colleges are colleges that are owned and controlled by the state government.
A quarter system splits the academic year into four academic terms.
When a student’s application for admission is rejected, the college or university has decided to not allow the student to enroll.
Resident Assistant
A resident assistant (RA) lives with students in a dormitory, fraternity or sorority and provides help to the students. Resident assistants may also provide community-building programming for the students, such as organizing social events and study breaks. Resident assistants may be students or staff, and receive specialized training.
SAT Subject Test
A SAT Subject Test evaluates a student’s academic performance in a specific subject.
The SAT is one of two major college admissions tests that evaluate a student’s preparation for college-level academic work. The other test is the ACT. Most students take either the ACT or the SAT and some students take both. The SAT is administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) and is a product of the College Board. The SAT was previously known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test and Scholastic Assessment Test, but is now known as just the SAT.
Secondary School
Secondary school is a synonym for high school.
Security Deposit
A security deposit or damage deposit is key money required when a person rents an apartment. It is usually equal to two month’s rent and will be returned if the apartment is maintained in an undamaged condition and the renter does not violate the terms of the apartment lease. If a renter moves out before the end of the lease, the landlord will keep the security deposit even if there is no damage to the apartment.
A semester system splits the academic year into two academic terms.
A seminar is a type of college class that involves more discussion and interaction between the professor and a small group of students.
The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is a federal government database that tracks the status of international students who are in the U.S.A. on F-1 and J-1 visas.
Social Security Number
A Social Security Number (SSN) is assigned by the federal government to U.S.A. citizens for tax-reporting and employment purposes. In some circumstances, an international student may be assigned a Social Security Number.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) is responsible for issuing Social Security Numbers.
Standardized Test
A standardized test is an exam that provides the same or similar questions to all students taking the test. The scores on a standardized test allow comparisons of students who attended different secondary schools that may have different grading standards. The ACT, SAT, TOEFL and IELTS are examples of standardized tests.
A syllabus provides information about a course, including required and optional textbooks, class policies, rules and expectations, and a schedule for assignments and tests.
An academic term is a division of the academic year, such as a semester, trimester or quarter.
The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is an exam that evaluates an international student’s English language proficiency. It is the most popular test of English language proficiency.
Test Prep
Test prep (short for “test preparation”) are classes and books that help you study for a test.
An academic transcript is a record of the student’s academic performance, such as a list of the classes taken by the student and the grades earned in each class. Transcripts also include a list of the honors and credentials earned by the student.
A trimester system splits the academic year into three academic terms.
U.S. is an abbreviation for the United States of America, sometimes written as U.S.A.
Undergraduate Student
An undergraduate student is a college student who is pursuing a Certificate, Associate’s degree or Bachelor’s degree.
A university is a postsecondary institution that awards undergraduate and graduate degrees, not just undergraduate degrees. A university may also award professional degrees such as law (J.D. or L.L.B.) and medicine (M.D. or D.O.). The terms college and university are often used as synonyms in the U.S.A. Some universities, such as Dartmouth College, have retained the term “college” as part of their names even though they are now universities.
U.S.A. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). USCIS is part of DHS. USCIS was formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).
A visa is a stamp in a passport indicating that the individual is authorized to enter the U.S.A. An F-1 or J-1 visa authorizes an international student to enter the U.S.A. for the purpose of study at a college or university. An M-1 visa is used for vocational training programs and is limited to a year in maximum duration. International students are required to demonstrate that they have sufficient resources available to pay for college and to have health insurance before they can get a visa.
If a student’s application for admission is waitlisted, the student’s name is placed on a list of students who may be admitted if space becomes available.