Too many acronyms and tough words around college? We hear you!
Here are some definitions written by our experts.


  • 529 Savings Plan
    An education savings plan operated by a state or educational institution designed to help families set aside funds for future college costs. It is named after Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code which created these types of savings plans in 1996.


  • Award Letter
    Letter sent by a college, outlining a student's financial aid award.
  • ACT
    A national college admissions examination that measures what you have learned in English, mathematics, reading, and science.
  • Application Fee
    Fee colleges charge to review student applications for admission. Typical fees range between $40 and $75. Depending on students household income and family size they may be eligible for fee waivers, which make them exempt from the fee requirement.
  • Associate Degree
    Certification granted by a college to a student who completes the associate degree course of study; it is also known as a two year degree. Often, associate degrees are focused on particular job preparation, like nursing or computer technology. Many students use associate programs as stepping stones to bachelor's programs, transferring the credits to a four-year college. Associate degrees are often referred to by initials, such as AS (Associate of Science), AAS (Associate of Applied Science), or AA (Associate of Arts).


  • Bursar
    The office in a college that handles all student billing, including tuition, fees, housing, and meal plan.
  • Bachelor's Degree
    Certification granted by a college to a student who completes the bachelorメs course of study; generally known as a four year degree. Depending on full or part-time status, however, it can sometimes take a student longer than four years to earn one. Bachelor's degrees are divided into a few basic categories such as liberal arts or science, and then by major. For example, a student could earn a Bachelor of Arts in Economics or a Bachelor of Science in Biology. Bachelor's degrees are sometimes referred to by initials, such as BA (Bachelor of Arts), which refers to the broad group of humanities- based subjects, or BS (Bachelor of Science).


  • Certificate Programs
    Programs offered by colleges (usually community colleges) for short-term job training; they do not grant college credits or build toward a college degree.
  • College Catalog
    Official book or online publication of a college that contains information about academic programs and courses, dorms, rules and regulations, faculty and staff contact information, holidays, scholarships, and more. It is a useful research tool to learn more about a college.
  • Co-op
    Usually a paid work experience that lasts several semesters and may also carry college credits.
  • Cost of Attendance (COA)
    The total cost of attending college for one year, including tuition, room and board, fees, books, travel, and personal expenses. Each college must calculate a COA for each student. Students are allowed to receive a total combination of financial aid sources up to the amount of their COA. (CPH)
  • Career Services
    An on-campus career development service that helps students, alumni, faculty and staff prepare for successful careers, and connects employers with students and alumni.
  • Core Requirements
    The set of common courses required of all undergraduates and considered the necessary general education for students, irrespective of their choice in major.
  • CUNY Assessment Test (CAT)
    The CUNY Skills Assessment Program consists of tests in three important areas: reading, writing, and mathematics. Results of these tests are used in determining students' readiness for college-level work, and also for course placement purposes. Students can demonstrate readiness for college-level work by meeting specific SAT, NYS Regents, and other testing criteria. Students who do not meet these criteria may take the appropriate CUNY Assessment Test offered at each CUNY college campus. They may not be able to enter a senior college until they have passed all three basic skills tests.
  • Concentration
    A specific subject or field within a major, i.e. international business.
  • Career Inventories
    Survey designed to help you discover what jobs you would find most interesting, and suggest career options that you will enjoy and do well.
  • College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile
    A type of financial aid application required at some schools


  • Deposit
    Payment that you must submit to a college in order to hold your place as a student and/or for housing once you have been accepted. Deposits are usually non-refundable, but will be subtracted from your bill when you enroll.
  • Developmental Education/ Remediation
    Classes that bring underprepared students to the level of skill expected of new college students.
  • Doctoral Degree
    The most advanced academic degree you can earn for graduate study, typically completed after a bachelor's and master's degree.
  • Default
    The negative status you receive if you are delinquent on your loan repayment. Default is usually conferred after four to six months of not making payments. There are serious consequences if you default. Possibilities include garnishing of your wages (money is taken directly from your paycheck); negative credit rating, which can make it difficult to buy a house or car; inability to receive financial aid in the future; and inability to get government jobs. It is always better to negotiate with your loan-holder and to defer or reduce your payment amount if you are experiencing financial hardship. To negotiate deferrals, call the loan-holder's number on your payment invoice and they will transfer you to the correct department.
  • Dropping
    During the first several weeks of a semester you can 'drop' a class from your courseload with no penalty. This means that the class will no longer be on your schedule and will not count against your GPA. Keep in mind that there is a a limited time at the beginning of a semester in which you can drop a class, usually called a 'drop-add period'. If you decide you don't want to, or can't, take this class after the 'drop-add period' ends, you can withdraw from the class, but it will still appear on your transcript with a W and your school may limit the number of times you can take a class after you have withdrawn.


  • Early Action
    Admissions process offered at some colleges that allows students to apply by an early deadline (usually in October or November); the college will notify the student much earlier if they are accepted (usually in December). The advantage is that students know, early in the process, that they are accepted to their top-choice college.
  • Early Decision
    Admissions process offered at some schools that allows students to apply by an early deadline (usually in October or November). The college will notify the student much earlier than in the regular application timeline if they are accepted (usually in December). However, if accepted via Early Decision, students must withdraw all applications from other colleges. The program is a binding agreement between the college and a student that, if accepted, a student will attend that college. The advantage is that students know they are accepted to their top-choice college, and they donメt need to deal with many applications, but Early Decision also limits their options dramatically.
  • Expected Family Contribution (EFC)
    This is the amount your family is expected to contribute to your college education.
  • Externship
    A required period of supervised practice done off campus or away from one's college.


  • Fee Waiver
    An exemption from having to pay a fee, granted on the basis of household income and size. Separate fee waivers are available for several college application related fees, such as the college application fee itself, SAT registration, ACT registration, and CSS PROFILE. You may need to show proof of income in order to qualify for a fee waiver.
  • Full-Time Enrollment
    Student who is enrolled in 12 credit hours or more. Full-time status may be required for some types of financial aid and/or for insurance purposes.
  • Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
    An acronym for Free Application for Federal Student Aid: a form, available online, that students must complete before each year of college to be considered for almost any kind of financial aid. For more information, visit the FAFSA Web site.


  • Grade Point Average (GPA)
    A calculation of your average grades. Usually an A=4.0, a B=3.0, a C=2.0, and a D=1.0.
  • Graduation Application
    In order for your degree/certificate to be awarded, your college may require you to apply for graduation. Before you complete the application, make sure you have met all requirements for graduation through courses completed or in progress. If there are any discrepancies, contact your campus your academic adviser.


  • HBCU
    HBCU is an acronym used for the term, Historically Black Colleges and Universities. HBCUs are higher education institutions in the United States that were established before 1964. There are 106 historically black colleges and universities in the U.S., including public and private institutions, community and four-year institutions, as well as medical and law schools.


  • Immersion Program
    A program that integrates lecture based instruction with experiential and applied activities.
  • Immunization Records
    Documents describing your most recent state of immunity against various diseases and illness.
  • Internship
    Paid or unpaid work experience for which you may earn college credits.
  • Individualized Education Program (IEP)
    The guiding document for a student's educational program. It includes all of the goals, objectives, present levels of performance and related services that are recommended for the student.


  • Major
    Academic subject area in which students concentrate their study. At most colleges, students identify a major within their first two years of study. Certain programs at certain colleges may require prospective students to apply directly for a specific major as part of the application process to the school.
  • Master Promissory Note (MPN)
    Legal document students are required to sign before receiving their first student loan. The MPN outlines their legal obligations regarding the loan. Many colleges set up the MPN as an online document that they sign using a password or PIN.
  • Minor
    Academic subject area in which a student concentrates, though with fewer credits than a major.
  • Major Requirements
    The specified course requirements necessary for obtaining a degree in a given major. Check the departmental course requirements.
  • Matriculate
    To enroll in a college or university as a candidate for a degree.
  • Master's Degree
    An advanced degree, typically two years beyond a bachelor's degree.


  • Non-Credit
    Carrying or conferring no official academic credit in a particular program or toward a particular degree or diploma.


  • Open Admission
    Admissions policy at some colleges (usually community colleges) stating that all students who have a high school diploma or GED can enroll.
  • Orientation
    A, usually one to three day, session held on campus, before a student's first semester, to help students learn more about campus, meet others, and register for classes.
  • Official High School Transcript
    Transcript that is sent directly from the high school to the college. To indicate the transcript has not been altered it is sometimes stamped or sealed with a faculty or staff person's signature across the closed envelope flap. Colleges generally require students to submit an official transcript, as opposed to a student's copy of the transcript, to ensure the document's authenticity.


  • Perkins Loan
    Low-interest, long-term, subsidized loan made through school financial aid offices to help qualifying students pay for college.
  • Private Loan
    Funds that you pay back over time, from a private lender such as a bank or other financial institution.
  • Practicum
    The part of a course consisting of practical work in a particular field.
  • Part-Time Enrollment
    A student enrolled in a number of course credits that is less than full time. Usually, this is less than 12 credits a semester.
  • Pell Grant
    Named after the late Senator Pell, this grant is awarded by the federal government to an undergraduate student to help pay college costs. Eligibility is based on the student's family financial situation.
  • PLUS Loan
    Parent Loans for Undergraduate Students: Loans that parents take for their child's education. They are fixed-rate and are based on credit rating.


  • Registrar
    Office at college that handles all student records, including transcripts, declared majors, and enrollment verification.
  • Rolling Admission
    Admissions system in which a college reviews applications as they are received in complete form. The college may have no deadline, or the deadline may be during the summer before the school year starts. It accepts or rejects applications as they are received until the college has no more spaces available.


  • SAT II Subject Test
    College admissions tests, part of the College Board SAT program (see above). Each test is an hour long with multiple-choice questions on one academic subject area, for example Biology, Spanish, or American History. Only a small number of colleges require students to take SAT II Subject Tests as part of the college application. See the College Board Web site: ( for more information.
  • Scholarship
    Money awarded to a student to help pay college costs. Scholarships are not usually paid back. Depending on the scholarship, which can come from many sources, the award could be renewable for each year you are in college. Most scholarships require that you keep your grade point average above a certain level.
  • Secondary School Report
    Document or set of documents requested by the college from your high school(s). It usually consists of your high school transcript, sometimes it includes a form for the high school counselor to complete.
  • Stafford Loan
    Federal, fixed-rate, low-interest loan available to undergraduate students attending accredited schools at least half-time. These are the most common source of college loan funds, and may be subsidized or unsubsidized.
  • Student Aid Report (SAR)
    Summarizes the information you report on your FAFSA.
  • Scholastic Apptitude Test (SAT)
    Exam offered nationally, used by colleges as a tool to evaluate students' applications. It is administered by the College Board. Community colleges (and some Bachelor's Degree granting colleges) may not require the SAT. See the College Board Web site: ( for more information.
  • Subsidized Loan
    Loan based on financial need, where recipients generally don't have to pay any interest until six months after they graduate from college.
  • Summer Immersion
    A program that integrates lecture based instruction with experiential and applied activities that takes place in the summer.
  • Supplemental Action
    Additional form(s) required of students applying to some colleges. For example, students use the same general application for all SUNY colleges; but some campuses require additional or supplemental applications. Some supplemental applications include essay questions or letters of recommendation.
  • Supplemental Material
    Documents or other material students include with their college applications that may or may not be required by a college. Some examples are letters from coaches, extracurricular teachers, employers, or mentors; essays; term paper written in high school.
  • Study Abroad
    An academically focused time overseas during which at least 1 academic credit is earned.
  • Syllabus
    A class outline, usually given to students on the first day of class. It includes: the course title and meeting times, the name of the professor and his/her contact information, expectations and attendance policies, topics and chapters covered, test dates, grading policy, required texts and other supplies.


  • Tuition
    Amount of money a college charges for the instructional part of your college attendance. Tuition is one part of the total cost of attendance (COA).
  • The Common Application
    A college admission application, online and in print, that students may submit to any of its 456 college or universities.
  • Transcripts
    Document listing all of a student's classes and grades at a school. Colleges generally require copies of a high school transcript when students apply for admission, even if they have a GED.
  • Tuition Assistance Program (TAP)
    Administered by the Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC) of New York State, TAP is a grant to help pay college costs for residents of New York State who attend a college in the state. Eligibility for TAP is based on a family's financial situation.


  • Unsubsidized Student Loans
    A loan that is not based on need, and for which recipients begin paying interest as soon as they receive the loan.
  • Undocumented student
    Students born abroad who are not U.S. citizens or legal residents.


  • Waitlist
    When a college does not accept or reject you, but puts your name on a list, in order to see how many students choose to attend that college. If the college has openings before the school year starts, it will accept students from the waitlist.
  • Withdrawal
    Official process of dropping a course or leaving a college. If you need to remove yourself from school, even temporarily, you must do the required paperwork at the college, or you will still be considered enrolled. Failure to withdraw officially could cause you to fail classes you did not attend or be charged tuition for a semester you did not complete.
  • Work Study
    A federal financial aid program that provides part-time jobs on campus to eligible students so they can earn money to help pay their college costs. Not all jobs on campus are federal Work- Study (FWS) jobs, but FWS jobs are found in all parts of the college including the cafeterias, library, or financial aid office.
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