Know The Lingo

Do you know what FAFSA means? How about PSAT? Here's a guide to help students and families make sense of college information.

 
ACT
ACT stands for American College Testing. The ACT is a Standardized Test that high school juniors and seniors take to prove competency in the areas of English, math, reading and science reasoning. Students are given a composite score from each of the four sections that ranges from 1 to 36. The other major standardized test students take is the SAT. Most colleges require either the ACT or SAT as part of the admissions process. Financial assistance towards the cost of these test may be available — talk to your counselor to determine if you are eligible.
 
Admission Rate
The admission rate of a college represents the number of students granted admission divided by the total number of students who applied. Admission rates are normally expressed in a percent. Highly-selective schools such as Harvard University or Cooper Union have admission rates of 6% and 8% respectively. Other schools like the University of Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology have much higher admission rates, 36% and 60% respectively. Community colleges like Monroe Community College have more open enrollment, allowing most students who apply to enroll at the college in an appropriate program.
 
Admissions Counselors
All colleges employ admissions counselors to help guide interested students through the application process. Admissions counselors will answer your questions, provide information and assist with your applications. RCAN provides access to a number of local Admissions Counselors including contact information to reach them directly.
 
AP Class
AP stands for Advanced Placement and refers to college-level classes taken by high school students. Because AP classes are college-level, many high school students find them challenging. However, students who enroll in AP classes are offered the opportunity to take AP Exams in the subject of their completed classes. The exams are scored on a scale of 1 through 5, with 5 being the highest. If a student scores at least a 3 or 4 on their AP Exam, they may be able to use the AP class as college credit towards a college degree, and, therefore, may not have to take certain classes while in college.
 
Application Essay
Most college applications require an essay of some kind. Application essays help colleges understand who you are apart from grades and academic achievements. Essay prompts range from "Tell Us Who You Are" to a little crazier, "What's your favorite word and why". Some schools use these prompts to challenge applicants to think outside the box. Along with your GPA, ACT and SAT scores, these essays help shape who you are for the admissions boards and can play a large role in your acceptance to the school of your choice. Click here for our essay-writing checklist.
 
Associate's Degree
This is a college degree usually achieved after two years of study and can be awarded by two-year colleges, four-year colleges, junior, technical, vocational or community colleges.
 
Bachelor's Degree
This is a college degree usually achieved after three to five years of study at four-year colleges or universities. Many careers require a Bachelor's Degree (called either a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science) because it signifies an increased specialization in a field or profession over an Associate's Degree.
 
Community College
Community colleges are an easily accessible option for students of all ages. These colleges offer affordable degree programs and offer training programs that prepare students for careers at local employers. Community colleges offer flexible schedules such as night classes to accommodate students who want to work through school. Many community colleges also offer "2+2" programs where students can attend a community college for 2 years and then complete their Bachelor's Degree at a traditional 4 year university. These programs make attaining a Bachelor's Degree much more affordable.
 
Credit
College Credits—also referred to credit hours or course credits—are the units of value for each class. Most college courses are valued between 2 and 4 credits and in general, the greater number of credits per course equates to greater time requirement needed to satisfactorily pass the course. Colleges also use credit hours to determine eligibility for Financial Aid, that is, students who take more credit hours than other students most likely use more resources and therefore are more deserving of aid.
 
FAFSA
FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This form is filled out by students who are thinking about going to college in the upcoming year. Students must fill out and file a FAFSA form before your first year of college and then again every year they plan to attend college. It is the first and most important step towards accessing available financial aid. By filing your FAFSA form with the US Department of Education, eligible students gain access to federal, state, and college-sponsored Financial Aid awards. The FAFSA form is explained in more detail on our Paying for College page.
 
Financial Aid
Financial Aid refers to any money given to a student in order to pay for college expenses. This money may be given with or without requirement for repayment. The three main types of financial aid are scholarship, grants and student loans.
 
For-Profit College
Most traditional colleges and universities are non-profit institutions. For-profit colleges vary in their quality and value for students. They are operated as businesses. Researching schools using tools like the College Scorecard can give you the information you need to decide if a school is a good fit for you.
 
Four-Year College
A college typically attended for 4 years to earn a degree. Most four-year colleges offer graduating students a Bachelor's Degree in their field of study. Universities often have multiple 4-year colleges within the same school. Many careers require a Bachelor's Degree because it signifies an increased specialization in a field or profession over an Associate's Degree.
 
GED
GED stands for General Education Development. Students who pass five GED subject tests earn a Certificate of High School Equivalency as a substitute for a High School Diploma. Almost all colleges require a High School Diploma or GED substitute in order to apply for admission.
 
GPA
GPA stands for Grade Point Average and is a standardized system of grading used by most high schools and colleges in the United States. Schools calculate a GPA by dividing the number of grade points earned by the total number of class credit hours attempted. The number of points assigned to each letter grade and number of credits assigned to each class are determined by the school or college. Overall, a higher GPA reflects better academic achievement.
 
Major
A major is the area of study that students specialize in during their time in college. Choosing or declaring a major is an important part of the college journey. Once a major is declared, students take courses that meet the requirements of their major. For instance, students majoring in nursing take courses in healthcare and medicine. Some students will double-major which requires an in depth study of two subjects. Many students will start college seeking one major and then switch to another. Many other students enter college without knowing which major they would like to declare. The College Board has a great website profiling college majors and careers on their Big Future page. Knowing which major and career you are interested in increases your likelihood of successfully finishing college in four years.
 
Minor
Along with a declaring a major, many students also declare a minor while in college. A minor is similar to a major but is not as demanding and requires a less in-depth study of a subject. Some students declare a minor that is beneficial to their career goals - such a major in education with a minor in history for a student who wishes to become a high school history teacher. Other students declare a minor that allows them to explore a passion - such as a major in engineering with a minor in dance.
 
Prerequisite
Prerequisites are requirements that must be met before something else happens, like being accepted to a college or a degree program. Prerequisites are a way to make sure each incoming student has the best chance to handle the workload, time requirement and overall demand of classes. Some colleges require a certain score on Standardized Tests, a certain GPA, or completion of a number of different types of classes.
 
PSAT
PSAT stands for Preliminary SAT and refers to a Standardized Test given to high school students. Students often take the PSAT in the 10th or 11th grade. Because the PSAT test is the same format as the SAT test, many students take it in the 11th grade to prepare for the SAT in 12th grade. Another benefit to taking the test in the 11th grade is that if a student scores well enough, they qualify for National Merit Scholarship program that offers financial aid to college-going students. Additionally, colleges identify potential future applicants through the PSAT, and will send information to students.
 
Public vs. Private
There are two major categories of schools. Public schools receive a significant part of their revenue from local or state government. Independent, or private, colleges don't have the same extent of public financial support and raise their own funds. For more information on the differences between public and private colleges, visit our Picking a College page and our discussion of The Independent College Option.
 
Room and Board
Room and Board is a significant amount of a student's total college costs. It refers to the cost for a dorm room and meal plan. Students can minimize these costs by commuting to college from home.
 
SAT
The SAT is a standardized test widely accepted for college admissions in the United States. The SAT, along with the ACT are the most common standardized tests high school students take in order to apply to college. The SAT has three sections: reading, math and writing. The SAT score is the total of the scores from the three sections and ranges from 600 to 2400. You may qualify to have the test fee waived — talk to your counselor to determine if you are eligible.
 
Scholarship
A college scholarship is a monetary award used to cover college expenses. Scholarships are special because unlike other types of financial aid, they do not need to be repaid. College scholarships are generally merit based, that is, awarded based on a student's achievements such as good grades, high test scores or athletic ability. Other scholarships are awarded to students who meet the goals of the scholarship program, such as students who want to enter certain professions or who show leadership skills. Check out our Paying for College page for detailed information on how and where to apply for scholarships, grants and student loans.
 
Standardized Test
Applying to college typically requires a student to take one or more standardized tests. These tests require students to answer the same question or selection of questions in the same way. The tests are then scored in a consistent way so that colleges can use test scores to compare performance of individual students or groups of students. On your college journey, you may be required to take the PSAT, ACT, SAT and some regents exams.
 
Student Loan
A student loan is financial aid borrowed in order to cover college expenses that must be repaid. Nearly all college students take out student loans to help with college expenses such as books, living expenses, food and transportation. Understanding student loans and the strings attached to them can be complicated. Please check out our Paying for College page for your guide to undestanding student loans.
 
Tuition
A large part of college cost is tuition. This is the charge each school assigns for the instruction they provide. Tuition is different at every school but generally speaking, private schools have higher tuition costs than public schools.
 
Two-Year College
A college typically attended for two years to earn a degree; normally referred to in contrast to a four-year college. Two-year colleges often offer graduating students an Associates Degree or a certificate in a specific trade or vocation. Some two-year colleges offer students the opportunity to transfer credits they've earned to another college for a higher degree. Community colleges, technical and vocational schools are examples of two-year colleges. Although referred to as "two-year colleges", many degree programs can be completed in much less time.
 
University
Some people use the words "college" and "university" interchangeably but there are actually big differences between the two. Colleges typically offer two-year or four-year degrees and certificates, whereas universities offer two-year or four-year undergraduate degrees as well as 2, 4 or 6-year graduate level degrees such as master's degrees, law degrees and medical degrees. Because of this, universities are often so large that they are divided into smaller colleges or schools, each with a specific purpose and area of study.