Co-authored by Ian Fisher
With the passing of many admission deadlines, a whole class of students can put the college application process behind them. But due to the cyclical nature of college admission, a whole new class of juniors is also beginning to think about their college applications. If you’re in eleventh grade, you’ll be applying to college before 2017 is out! To help you understand everything that will be thrown at you over the next few months, we’ve prepared a glossary of common terms below. Study hard!
Application Review Systems
Numeric Review – A school makes its decision (admit, waitlist, deny) entirely on the numbers, using a combination of grades, coursework, and testing to select its admitted class.
Holistic Review – In addition to numeric factors like grades, courses, and scores, a school will also use some combination of more subjective application materials like essays, extracurricular engagement, letters of recommendation, or an interview.
Rounds of Admission
The vast majority of students apply under the Regular Decision (RD) round of admission, with the deadline usually occurring in mid-winter, between December and February. But there are other rounds of admission available to applicants, defined below.
Early Action (EA) – You apply earlier than you would under RD, usually in November, and receive an admission decision around January. EA is non-binding, which means that if you are admitted, you are under no obligation to attend the institution.
Early Decision (ED) – You apply early and receive an admission decision early. ED is binding, however, which means you, your parents, and your school counselor sign a contract, which says if admitted you will attend that institution and withdraw all other applications to other schools. Because of this binding contract, you can only apply ED to one school at a time.
Rolling – You are able to submit your application on a continuum, with no specific deadline. You are notified of an admission decision as they get to your application, on a first come, first served basis. In general, it is advantageous for students to apply as early as possible to rolling admission schools.
Types of Applications
School-Specific Applications – Some schools and systems have their own application. If you want to apply to the University of Washington (UW), for example, you must submit the UW application. To apply to any school in the University of California (UC) system, you must use the UC application.
Common Application – The most widely used application platform, with nearly 700 member colleges and universities.
Universal Application – Accepted by just 34 schools, including a handful of Ivies.
Coalition Application – The newest application platform, accepted by approximately 80 schools, all of which pledge to meet 100% of demonstrated financial need.
Personal Statement – See also: Personal Essay or College Essay. Most applications require one major essay, usually between 500 and 650 words. This should be roughly one solid page of your best writing, written in a narrative style and with a personal focus.
Essay Supplement – Many schools require students to write additional essays specific to their school, the most common of which asks some version of, “Why do you want to attend this college?” These essays tend to be shorter than the main personal statement, though some can be just as long.
ACT – The most widely administered college entrance exam. Takes three hours and 35 minutes to complete, and scored on a scale from 1 to 36, with sections in English, Reading, Math, and Science. An optional Writing section is scored from 1 to 12.
SAT – Administered by The College Board, the SAT is the second most widely taken college entrance exam. It’s a four hour test that covers two sections: Math and Evidence-Based Reading & Writing. There is also an optional Essay section. The SAT is scored on a 1600-point scale, with 800 points each available in the two main sections.
SAT Subject Tests – Hour-long tests specific to a particular school subject, especially in science and language, e.g., world history, biology, and Spanish. Scored on an 800-point scale.
Official Scores – Scores sent directly from the testing company to a college, often required for an application to be considered “complete.”
High School Record
Transcript – Not to be confused with your report card, the transcript is an official document from your high school that includes your courses, grades, and a variety of other information such as class rank, number of absences, and in some cases, even an immunization record. This is perhaps the most important piece of the admission evaluation so if you have never seen yours, ask to see it!
GPA (unweighted vs. weighted) – Boils your academic performance down to one number. Unweighted GPA takes your grades at face value; a weighted GPA adds points in the calculation for advanced classes like honors, AP, or IB courses.
Course Rigor – The difficulty of your coursework, especially relative to available classes at your school. Indicates whether you are taking the most demanding classes available, some of the more advanced classes but not all, or a standard level of coursework.
Building your College List
“No Problem” School – A school where your numeric stats (grades, courses, testing) places you above average relative to a typical admitted student. We would expect at least 90% chance that you will be admitted. These are typically referred to as “safety” schools.
“Just Right” School – A school where your numeric stats place you right in the middle: average relative to other admitted students. These are typically called “target” or “likely” schools.
“Challenging” School – A school where you are either below the average admitted student in numeric terms, or the school has such a selective admission process (less than 15 percent of applicants admitted) that the school is challenging for all applicants. Students should not expect to get into a challenging, or “reach,” school, but with compelling holistic components in the file, challenging schools can be possible.
Extracurricular Activities – Anything a student does outside the classroom and studying, e.g., sports, volunteering, work, babysitting, hobbies, caring for younger siblings, family responsibilities, places of worship.
Portfolio – Some schools allow for students to submit an additional part of the application to showcase talent in a particular area, most notably in the arts, but also in some cases for engineering.