college admissions glossary

The College Application Process: Must Know Terminology

Applying to college can often feel like a whirlwind of unfamiliar terms and confusing acronyms. Still, understanding college application jargon is critical for smooth sailing through the college application journey. So, let’s break down the most common college application terms so you can confidently navigate your college admissions process and transition into this next exciting part of your life!

Common Application (The Common App)

The Common Application is a widely used college application platform that allows you to apply to several colleges in a single application. It simplifies the process by providing a standardized form accepted by more than 900 colleges and universities (including UB!). Isn’t it nice they thought to at least make this part easier?

Early Decision (ED) and Early Action (EA)

Early Decision is a binding application process where you commit to a specific college or university if accepted. Early Action, on the other hand, is non-binding, allowing you to apply early and receive a decision from a school (accepted, denied, or waitlisted) without your commitment.

Applying Early Decision at UB means you are eligible for priority consideration for both admission and scholarships. UB offers two early action deadlines to give you the flexibility and time to visit and engage with UB while still getting the maximum scholarship award.

Rolling admissions

Rather than having an application deadline, colleges and universities with rolling admissions accept applications throughout the year and make admissions decisions as they receive applications. Applying early on gives you the best chances of admission and financial aid. UB accepts applications on a rolling basis, but if you apply by one of our two Early Action deadlines, you’ll receive your decision sooner and have priority access to scholarships.


The SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) and ACT (American College Testing) are standardized tests that are among the many tools colleges and universities use to evaluate applicants . In the past, these exams were weighed considerably when assessing candidates, but many schools have recently begun making these tests optional — including UB! We know that, while test scores can demonstrate the hard work you’ve put into your education, they’re not the only thing that makes you a valuable addition to our school community.

GPA (Grade Point Average)

Your GPA measures your academic performance, usually on a 4.0 scale. It reflects the average of your course grades and, depending on the college, can play a significant role in the admission process. At UB, your incoming GPA can lead you directly into one of three levels of our Honors College, automatically placing you at the head of your class and setting you up for college success!

Recommendation letters

These letters from teachers or mentors provide insights into your character, academic abilities, and potential. Strong recommendations can bolster your application. A thoughtful recommendation letter can take some time to draft, so be sure to ask someone to write a recommendation letter on your behalf early in the process.

Extracurricular activities

These are non-academic activities you participate in outside the classroom. Colleges value well-rounded students who engage in various extracurriculars. When thinking about your extracurricular activities, include everything that paints the complete picture of who you are, such as school clubs and athletics. Remember to include all your hobbies, too, like knitting dog toys, drawing comic books, or playing sports on the weekends. You can also include your volunteer activities, jobs, and trips you’ve taken with your family. Do you have a passion for landscape photography or writing movie scripts with friends? Those count!

Financial aid and FAFSA

Financial aid is everything that goes into helping you and your family cover the cost of college, including scholarships, grants (these don’t have to be paid back), loans (these do have to be repaid), and Federal Work-Study programs that provide paying jobs to students.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is an application you complete each academic year to access financial aid. The FAFSA application open date and deadline can vary by state and year, so make sure to do your research — the earlier you submit your FAFSA, the higher the likelihood you’ll receive a more generous financial aid package.


Scholarships are monetary awards given to students based on various criteria, such as academic achievement, talents, community involvement, or financial need. Scholarships are often available from the school and are also available through a variety of public and private organizations. Use this helpful tool to explore more than 24,000 scholarships that can help you pay for college. Depending on the scholarship, the funds may be sent directly to your college or directly to you to help cover the costs of textbooks and other college expenses.

Essay or personal statement

Many colleges require applicants to write and submit an essay or personal statement. This is your chance to showcase your personality, goals, and why you’re a great fit for the school. At UB, personal essays are strongly encouraged, and may be (but are not always) required depending on your program of study.


Need help writing your personal statement? Check out this article on how to write an outstanding personal statement!



Some colleges may request an interview as part of the application process. Not only is this an opportunity to discuss your qualifications and goals, but it’s your chance to ask questions you may have about the school and what life is like on campus. Think of it as a “first-date” for the future of your dreams!


Being placed on a college waitlist means you haven’t been accepted or rejected; you may be admitted later if spots become available. Many colleges with waitlists are very selective of who they accept off of the waitlist. It’s not impossible, but it isn’t easy to be accepted off of a waitlist.

Merit-based vs. Need-based aid

Merit-based aid is awarded based on your achievements, while need-based aid is awarded based on your demonstrated financial need. While grants and scholarships can be need- or merit-based, loans and Federal Work-Study are typically only offered based on need. Your financial need is determined by completing your FAFSA application each year.

Holistic admissions

Many colleges use “holistic admissions.” Holistic means that the admissions staff looks at more than your grades and GPA when considering your application. This includes everything that tells the story of who you are, such as your extracurricular activities, volunteer activities, what others say about you in recommendation letters, and your life experiences. Today, colleges are looking for young adults who will add value to the campus culture. It’s much more about who you are rather than how well you can test.
The college application process is a unique journey for every student. The more you know about the terminology involved in applying to college, the better equipped you’ll be to make informed decisions and create an application that truly represents you… the whole you.

To help make the process easier, check out our free downloadable College Application Checklist.

From the college search process to submitting your FAFSA , this checklist takes you step-by-step through the college application process, so you don’t miss a thing!

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