A College Application Glossary: Everything You Need to Know


Jacob Birdsong

College–it seems like it’s the thing that everyone talks about, but that’s too dreadful to confront at face value. It’s the specter that haunts the great halls of Clark. 

I think a lot of kids are put off by the notion of college just because of how we talk about it, and we shouldn’t discredit them. There are a lot of different stigmas that are attached to the word. Everyone worries about it in a unique way.

For some, the actual experience of a college education is unimportant. Instead, college is really a badge of honor that can come in different shapes and sizes. For some, that’s getting into Harvard’s pre-med program to avoid filial disavowal. For others, the honor is going to any school and being the first family member to do so. Some people aren’t concerned with a school’s swagger nearly as much as they are about the circumstances themselves: the city and weather; the pedagogy and curriculum; the insane amounts of money that must be coughed up just to receive a higher education… 

So, for those of you who are thinking of getting some kind of post-secondary education, notwithstanding all the unique things that will be considered by all of you in forging your own path, this glossary below with a few college-related terms could help as an antidote to the tumult that all current and future seniors feel during their final year of formal schooling.

FAFSA: This stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and you’ve probably heard it murmured by people all around you. It’s an application to receive Pell grants (federal scholarship money), and anyone can apply as long as they’re eligible. Filling out the form is pretty rigorous, but it’s worth doing. If you don’t receive a Pell grant, it’s still possible to use your FAFSA form to apply for other things, including subsidized student loans.

Scholarships: This is when someone agrees to pay for part or all of your tuition. This is different from financial aid, which is more complex and can vary in form. Scholarships are available from different agents, including schools themselves, state programs, or independent funds.

Early Decision: Early decision (ED) is a way to gain a competitive advantage over other applicants at your top-choice school. You can only apply ED to one school; most applications are due Nov. 1. You will hear back from the school before January 1st, when most regular decision applications are due. If you get into the school you applied to for ED, you are required to accept; there’s no room for hesitancy. Highly exclusive schools often have higher rates of admission for early applicants. So, if you have a dream school and want to finish college season before the new year, applying early might be worth a shot.

Early Decision 2: Early decision 2 works the same way as regular ED, but the deadline is later. If you are deferred or rejected from your first ED school you can apply to another if it offers ED2. The same restrictions still apply: you must attend if accepted.

Early Action: Early action is like a mix between regular decision and early decision. Early action does not give you a competitive advantage in terms of acceptance probability, but you still apply in November and hear back by December. The EA decision is nonbinding, which means that if you get in you can either accept immediately or postpone a decision until May 1st.

Both senior year and the admissions process are insanely neurotic periods, but general knowledge of the jargon that gets thrown around is helpful and can make the road to graduation far less bumpy.