KNOWING THE LINGO CAN HELP… – Dictionary of terms and phrases

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by Sarah Fellows

Applying to university or college can be a daunting task. Knowing the lingo can help. Below is a glossary of terms that you may encounter as you get started in this exciting process:

The following words are used in more than one country:

Deferral: Holding an offer until the following year.

Grant: This is a sum of money offered by a business or school to assist with tuition. There is no obligation to repay a grant.

Liberal arts: A school or a course of study specialising in the humanities, including literature, the arts, natural sciences, social sciences etc. It is broad and ideal for students uncertain of future career objectives.

Major: A concentration of courses in a specialised field of study, making up approximately one-third of your total classes. Many students who are firm in their career objectives will choose a major.

Merit-based: Grants and scholarships awarded without consideration of financial need. Merit awards are made on the basis of academic achievement, musical talent, athletic prowess, etc.

Minor: Courses in your minor include a concentration of several courses, but less in number than required of a major. 

Need-based: This grant, scholarship and other financial aid monies are awarded on the basis of financial need. This is not to say, however, that merit is not involved in the decisions about need-based awards!

Postgraduate: A course of study for graduate students, which involves one or two years’ additional work after a degree and leads to a master’s degree.

Recommendation letter: This is a critical component of scholarship and college applications. Most colleges will ask for one or two letters of recommendation. When you decide who you would like to have write a letter of recommendation on your behalf, remember that person is doing you a favour and so be appreciative and act in a timely manner. 

Regular admission: Colleges choose a specific date (usually mid-March for Canadian universities and April for American universities) by which they will have reviewed all candidates for admission. They try to let all applicants know at the same time, except those students who have applied for Early Decision/Early Admission. An offer in regular admission is non-binding on the applicant.

Scholarship: This is ‘free’ money, which is awarded as recognition of some specific attribute, which may be academic, musical or athletic, among other things. Awards may be merit-based or need-based or a combination of the two. Scholarship money does not have to be repaid. 

Transcript: A list of all of the courses you have taken, the grade and credit you received in each course, the total number of required and elected courses and your class rank. Colleges require a transcript as part of the admissions package.

The following words are used mostly in the United States:

AA or AS: Associate of Arts or Science degrees are two-year transfer degrees earned at junior or community colleges.

Advanced Placement (AP): AP courses are college-level courses taught in high school. Many colleges will give credit for scores from 3-5 out of 5 on AP exams. See below for more on APs.

Conditional offer: An offer made by a university or college, whereby you must fulfill certain criteria before you can be accepted to the relevant course. 

Confirmation: When conditional offers that you have accepted become unconditional or are declined. Confirmation is dependent on your exam results.

College Board: This non-profit educational organization consists of member institutions representing high schools, community and junior colleges, colleges and universities and school systems. The College Board sponsors the SAT I, SAT II, AP, CLEP and TOEFL and many other exam programmes. 

Deferred Admission: Some colleges will allow you to postpone your attendance for one year, once you have been accepted. Some students use this year to work or to travel.

Early action (EA): Students apply early and receive a decision well in advance of the institution’s regular response date. An offer is non-binding on the applicant.

Early decision (ED): Students make a commitment to a first-choice institution, where, if admitted, they definitely will enrol. The application deadline and decision deadline occur early. An offer is binding on the applicant.

NCAA: The National Collegiate Athletic Association governs college sports programs, divided into Divisions based on the level of competitiveness of teams. The NCAA considers SAT I scores and IGCSE results when determining qualifications. Application forms are available at .

Restrictive early action (REA): Students apply to an institution of preference and receive a decision early. They may be restricted from applying ED or EA or REA to other institutions. 

Retention Rate: This is the rate at which those who enter a college actually receive a degree. Sometimes it can actually refer to the number of students who enter as freshmen and return a second year as sophomores. Checking out the retention rate of your college choices may give you valuable insight into the accuracy of admissions choices and how hard colleges work to keep you happy. IF the retention rate is low, something is amiss with the school.

Rolling admissions: Colleges that have a rolling admissions policy make admissions decisions and admit students as applications are received throughout the year, until all spaces are full. Offers are non-binding.

School Code: Each school has a six-digit school code, which is used to identify the school for admissions, exams, etc. 

The following words are used mostly in the United Kingdom:

Apply: The online application system for applying for higher education courses.

Clearing: A system used towards the end of the academic cycle. If you have not secured a place, it enables you to apply for course vacancies.

Entry profiles: Comprehensive information about individual courses and institutions, including statistics and entry requirements.

Extra: The opportunity to apply for another course if you’ve used all five choices and not yet secured a place.

Firm offer: The offer that you have accepted as your first choice.

Insurance offer: The offer that you have accepted as your second choice, in case you do not meet the requirements of your firm offer.

Ordinary or Unclassified degree: This may be awarded if a student has completed a full degree course but has not obtained the total required passes sufficient to merit a third-class Honours degree.

Personal ID: A 10-digit individual number assigned to you when you register to use “Apply”, the online application process.

Point of Entry: Your year of entry to the course.

Track: A system where you can track the progress of your application online, reply to any offers received, and make certain amendments, for example, change of address or email.

Unconditional offer: An offer given to you by a university or college, if you have satisfied the criteria and can attend the course.

Unistats: A website for students who want to research and compare subjects and universities before deciding where to apply. 

Withdrawal: Either you or a university/college cancels a choice before a decision has been made. If the withdrawal is issued by the institution, a reason will be stated.

This article was published in the 2019 edition of the Rg Scholarships

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