Glossary: College terms

AA (Associate of Arts) Degree

A two-year community college degree.  Also, offered by some four-year colleges.

Academic calendar

Breaks the school year into one of the following:  semesters (two terms of approximately 189 weeks); quarters (three terms of 11 weeks); trimesters (two terms of 15 weeks and an optional third term).


The recognition by an outside agency that a school maintains a high standard that enables students to qualify for admission to other accredited institutions.

ACT (American College Testing)

A college admissions exam measuring verbal, math, reading and science reasoning.

Admissions Requirements 

A minimum set of conditions established by each college for a student to be accepted.  It generally includes the number of courses taken and passed, standardized tests required, and more.

Advanced Standing

Admission status when a student has completed more than 12 college credits upon entering a school.

“A – G” Courses Required by the University of California system 

Refer to the list of subjects required for admission to the University of California:

  1. Social Science – 2 years
  2. English – 4 years
  3. Mathematics – 3 years
  4. Laboratory science – 2 years (one Physical and one Life science course)
  5. Foreign Language – 2 years
  6. Visual and Performing Arts – 1 year
  7. Elective – 1 year

AP (Advanced Placement)

A system by which college freshmen may bypass entry-level courses by proving that they have already taken the equivalent in high school.  Credit is awarded if a student earns a certain score on an AP exam taken in high school.  Students should check with individual colleges as to whether they give credit for AP exams and, if so, what is considered a passing score for their school – 3, 4, or 5.

BA (Bachelor of Arts) or BS (Bachelor of Science) Degree 

A four-year college degree.

Cal Grants 

Grant aid for students attending college in California.  Available to students with financial need as evidenced by financial aid applications.  The Cal Grant uses financial need and GPA to award grants at varying levels.  Forms and more information are available at the California Student Aid Commission.

College Catalog

A printed or online book published by a college which describes admissions criteria, degrees, services and course descriptions.


A way of referring to the number of credits which are earned in a course.  This is also known as semester hours, quarter hours or units.  Approximately 64 credit are needed for an AA degree, and 124 for a BA or BS degree for schools on a semester calendar.  For example, if a class meets three hours per week, it is usually a three credit course.  A full-time college student usually attends five classes and earns 15 units per semester or attends four classes and earns 12 units per quarter.

CSU (California State Universities)

The California State Universities encompass 23 public state campuses spread out across the state of California.  They focus on undergraduate education.


Degree is the title given to college graduates upon completion of a program.  A four-year degree is usually a BA or BS, a 5th or 6th year degree is often a MA (Master of Arts) or MS (Master of Science), with a Doctoral degree (Ph.D) requiring approximately five years of study beyond the BA or BS.

Early Action 

Under this plan, highly qualified students who apply early (usually by November 1) receive offers of admission by mid-December.  The Early Action plan does not allow an institution to request an applicant to make a prior commitment to matriculate, indicate college preferences, or make any response to an offer of admission until the traditional May 1 candidate’s reply date.  The commitment is non-binding.

Early Decision

Students apply early (usually by November 1).  They make a commitment to a first-choice institution where, if admitted they will definitely enroll.  The application deadline and decision deadline occur earlier.  The commitment is binding.

Early Evaluation Procedure

A plan under which applicants to some Ivy League institutions (Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Pennsylvania, Princeton and Yale) and M.I.T. receive between November 1 and February 15 an evaluation of their chances for acceptance.  Categories used are likely, possible, unlikely, and insufficient evidence for evaluation.  Final notification is made on a common date in April.

FAFSA (Free Application for Federal State Aid)

This is the form required to apply for financial aid by the University of California, California State University along with the California Student Aid Commission Grade Verification Form.  These forms are free and available in both paper and online forms.  The Federal Student Aid Program highly recommends all families to complete the FAFSA online.

Fee Waiver

A form available to students having a family income that meets the U.S. Department of Labor’s definition of low income.  The Fee Waiver form is submitted instead of money when applying for college admission or testing.

Financial Aid 

Money from a variety of sources (grants, loans, scholarships, work study) that helps pay for college costs.  The package of funds is determined by family financial need as evidenced on the FAFSA and the availability of funds from the federal and state government and individual colleges.  Families may begin the financial aid process in January of the student’s senior year.

Full-time Student 

A college student who generally takes a minimum of 12 units per quarter or 15 units per semester.

General Education Requirements 

Courses required for a college degree.  These course are generally selected from several divisions of course offerings.  They are completed during the first two years of college; the second two years involve course work  in major and/or minor areas.

GPA (Grade Point Average)

A student’s average grade, computed on a four-point scale.  An A counts as 4; a B is 3; a C is 2; a D is 1; and an F is 0.  Each student has several GPAs:  one for the semester, one cumulative GPA that includes previous semesters, and a state GPA.  Honors and AP courses earn one additional point when passed with a C or better.  Individual colleges and universities may recalculate a student’s GPA based on their own criteria.


Grants are money awarded to study by various organizations which do not need to be paid back.  Grants help offset college tuition.

Impacted Program 

A college degree program may have more more student interest or enrollment than it can handle; such a program is consider impacted.  Impacted programs may be temporarily closed to new students or may required supplementary screening of student records.  The admissions requirements for acceptance may be much higher for an impacted program.


Money which is offered to a student as part of their financial aid package.  Loans can come from a variety of sources.  Loans are required to be paid back upon the student’s graduation.  Depending on the type of loan, there may or may not be any interest incurred with the loan.

MA (Master of Arts) and MS (Master of Science) Degree 

A college degree usually requiring one or two years of work beyond the BA or BS.


The main area of study in college, usually requiring one year in a planned series of courses during the four-year program.


A minor is approximately 18 credits in an academic area outside of the major department.

Pell Grant 

Financial aid from the Federal Government available to students with financial aid to be used at many types of colleges and universities.  Students apply in January of their senior year in high school.

Ph.D (Doctor of Philosophy)

A degree earned by work completed beyond the Masters of Arts or Masters of Science degree.  A Ph.D allows the bearer to be called Doctor.


Courses, test scores, teacher approval and/or grade level that must be completed before taking specific courses.

Private college or university 

A school which is not supported by state taxes.

PSAT/NMSQT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) 

A shortened version of the SAT offered in October for high school sophomore and juniors.  The scores are helpful in predicting a student’s score on the actual SAT, in college admissions planning and/or qualifying for the National Merit and other scholarships.

Qualified Acceptance 

Occasionally an institution postpones action on an application and will suggest that the applicant pursue a particular course in its summer session.  Upon satisfactory completion of this course, the college agrees to accept the student for its regular degree programs at the beginning of the first or second semester.

Regular Decision 

Students submit an application by a specified date and receive a decision in a clearly stated period of time.  This commitment is non-binding.

Restrictive Early Action 

Students apply to an institution of preference and receive a decision early.  They may be restricted from apply Early Decision or Early Action or Restrictive Early Action to other institutions.  If offered enrollment, they have until May 1 to confirm.  This is a non-binding commitment.

Rolling Admissions

Institutions review applications as they are submitted and render decisions throughout the admissions cycle.  Usually it is wise to apply early to such colleges, since applications are normally not accepted after the admissions quota has been reached.

ROTC (Reserve Officer’s Training Corps)

Many colleges have units of the Reserve Officer’s Training Corps that offer two and four year programs of military training culminating in an officers commission.  In some colleges credit for courses can be applied toward a degree. ROTC scholarships are available which pay for full college costs.

SAT Reasoning Test 

A college admissions exam measuring verbal and mathematics reasoning.  Additionally, students may take a writing exam.

SAT Subject Tests 

One hour exams offered in 18 different subjects.


Gifts of money awarded to students for achievement, skill, talents and/or financial need.  Most scholarships are awarded to high school seniors in their spring semester and usually range from hundreds to several thousand dollars.  Scholarships do not have to be paid back upon graduation.

SIR (Statement of Intent to Register)

This is the form which must be returned to the college of your choice by a specified date (usually May 1).  It confirms your intent to register at the college and reserve a spot for you.

Subject A

A U.C. graduate requirement certifying proficiency in English.  May be satisfied by test scores or enrollment in all freshmen reading and writing courses.  The Subject A test, a diagnostic essay exam administered by the U.C., is one means of fulfilling the requirement.  This test is normally administered in May for freshmen who plan to enroll in the University of California in the fall at test centers throughout the state.

Summer Session 

College summer school.  Open enrollment allows students to take a class at almost any campus and then transfer the course and grade to the home college towards their degree.

Test Optional 

Colleges which are test optional do not require standardized test scores – SAT or ACT.  If students have taken these tests, they may submit the scores for consideration.  They will not, however, be penalized if scores are not submitted.


A copy of your official records of grades and courses from time of entrance to the end of the last semester.

Transfer Courses 

College courses giving credit which may be transferred to another college.

Transfer Students

College students who transfer from one college to another, usually at the end of the sophomore year.  Changing colleges during the junior or senior year may result in the need for a fifth or sixth year of college in order to meet the new college’s requirements.

U.C. (University of California)

The 10-campus system of higher education includes Berkeley, Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, Merced, Riverside, San Diego, Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz.  The tenth campus, San Francisco, is devoted to the health sciences and is for graduate study only.


College student who has not yet earned a bachelor’s degree.

Waiting list 

In addition to accepting and rejecting applicants, many colleges place students on a waiting list for admission.  As accepted applicants decide to attend other colleges, the school may offer their places to students on the waiting list.

Weighted GPA

High school honors and AP courses are given an extra point when computing their grade point average.An A counts as 5; a B as 4; a C as 3.  D and F grades in honors courses are not given extra points.  Only certain classes are given the honors point for the U.C. and CSU system.  U.C. and CSU grade point averages are calculated with the college counselor during 1st semester of the student’s senior year.

Work Study 

A federally funded program that makes part-time jobs available to students with financial aid.  A student generally works a part-time (10 – 15 hours a week) job on campus in exchange for pay.