Decoding Confusing College Admissions Words

One thing students find confusing when beginning the college admissions process is many of the terms used by colleges and counselors.

Between complex abbreviations, acronyms, and technical terminology, students may find it difficult to understand what is being asked of them, let alone get it all done, do it well, and do it on time.

Today, we’re going to decode some of the most common admissions terms so the process won’t seem quite so daunting.

ED/EA: Early Decision and Early Action

When you apply to a college Early Decision, that means that you apply only to one college and you pledge to attend if they accept you. It is a binding agreement.

Early Action means that you apply earlier than many applicants, which shows interest and you are in the running for financial aid earlier—both of which are good things. You can apply to more than one college Early Action because it is not binding.

FAFSA: Free Application for Federal Student Aid

This is the form you must fill out in order to get financial aid. Fill out this form in January of your senior year, as soon as possible after January 1.

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Do not delay or you will miss getting aid.

You also need to fill out this form every January for each year that you are in college. Be sure to use and no other site, as there are lots of posers out there, and only the real thing counts with your college.

Wait list

If you are not offered an admissions spot, the college may place you on a wait list and let you know in the summer if a spot opens up for you. Many spots open after everyone commits May 1, and spots continue to open in the summer as people’s plans change.

People who do make it in off the wait list do not usually get financial aid, so heads up.

Rolling Admissions

Rolling admissions means that when you apply, the college will let you know within a few weeks or a month or so.

Colleges that use rolling admissions will often accept kids all year-round, though at some schools you’ll want to apply early before the spots are gone. And as always, you’ll want to apply early to get any financial aid.

The cool thing about a rolling app is that you find out so soon and all of your stress about getting into a college is lifted!

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Test Score Optional

Test Score Optional schools do not require that you submit the ACT or the SAT, so if standardized testing is not your strong suit, be sure to check out these great schools. They are called the Fair Test schools, and they are listed at

Mailing List

Joining the mailing list (or rather, emailing list) helps you stay informed and lets the college know that you are serious about them. It is usually difficult to find the mailing list on college websites because they all call it different things, like: Stay Connected, Get in Touch, Join the Wolf Pack, etc. Not helpful.

Look for anything on the admissions page that says, “Get more info.” Then the college will email you updates and announcements—and you need to read these!

Estimated Family Contribution (EFC)

Your EFC is determined by the FAFSA, and this is what the government believes that your family can contribute to your college education each year.

Colleges will award you aid based on your EFC, so make sure you file the FAFSA accurately and in January.

Candidate Reply Date, May 1

May 1 is the date by which all seniors need to commit to their college of choice as well as tell their other colleges that they will not be attending.

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Be sure to let your chosen college know that you accept before May 1 or you will lose your spot! (DO NOT deposit at two schools because it is dishonest, unethical, and you are taking a spot from some other poor student who may be devastated.)


These are the types of degrees that you can get by going to college.

  • BA means bachelor of arts degree, and it takes four years.
  • BS means bachelor of science, and it takes four years.
  • MA means master’s degree, and it is a specialized degree you do after your BA or BS and the MA takes one to four years depending on the program.
  • PhD means a doctorate, which is a degree past an MA that takes four to six years.

Hope this helps you understand the exciting world of college admissions!