There are dozens of words, phrases, and acronyms out there in the world of college prep. Start with these nine and you’re off to a great start.

By Wendi Ostroff

Unweighted vs. Weighted grade point average (GPA) – an unweighted GPA is out of a 4.0. On a national level, this is what most schools use. A weighted GPA is out of 5.0 and this is when schools give “weight” to honors, advanced (AP) or IB (International Baccalaureate), or dual-enrollment (college courses taken at high school or at a 2-year community college).

Rigor – taking the most challenging courses in high school that a student can do well in. These show a school the level of difficulty a student can handle and if they will be prepared for college-level courses. Rigorous courses appear on a high school transcript as honors, AP, IB, or dual-enrollment.

ACT vs SAT – both of these standardized exams are recognized equally by all US colleges. While they have different score techniques, time, and style, neither test penalizes for incorrect answers. Both offer tests seven times per year.


Reading # of questions Writing & Language # of questions Math # of questions Essay-optional Science
SAT 65 min 52 35 min 44 80 min 58 50 min Embedded in other sections
ACT 35 min 40 45 min 75 60 min 60 40 min

35 min 40 questions

Demonstrated interest – taking an interest in a specific school is recognized by as much as half of all colleges and worth paying attention to. Ways to show a college of your interest: campus visits, college interview, college fairs, and requesting college information. Students who show a strong interest are likely to attend that college and it helps them anticipate the yield, or percentage of admitted applicants who enroll. This can be an overlooked piece of the admissions equation tipping in the favor of the interested student, or have no meaning at all for some schools.

Early action (EA) vs early decision (ED) – these are 2 types of application submissions, but one big difference: early decision (ED) is a binding commitment and EA isn’t. The advantage of early action is students receive an early response without having to commit until May 1, which is pretty much the standard date to commit for most schools. The disadvantage is not having the application ready by mid-October or early November.

Rolling admission – there are some colleges that consider students year round as they submit their applications. They must have their high school records and test scores sent in with applications. Colleges with a rolling admission generally let applicants know admissions decisions quickly.

Selectivity – this is how colleges assess potential candidates. In other words, it’s a measurement for how difficult it is for students to get admitted to their school. The more selective a school, the lower the percentage, or acceptance rate.

FAFSA – (free application for federal student aid) used to determine a family’s eligibility for federal student aid programs and, in some cases, institutional, state and other private aid sources. A FAFSA must be completed and filed each year a student attends college. Go to their website: https://fafsa.ed.gov/

3 types of aid: grant- grant money usually doesn’t have to be repaid. Most US Dept of Education grants are based on the student’s financial need. Work- study-this money is earned by a student through a job on or near campus while attending school and does not have to be repaid. Loan-this money must be repaid.

Always be careful to read the fine print, and when looking for aid money or scholarship money, do not pay a company for this. There are many scams out there.

Net price calculator – provides an early approximation of what a student can expect to pay for college in a single year. It shows an estimated breakdown of costs of tuition, room and board, expenses, less grants, scholarships, or other financial aid. Very practical way to get a decent estimate of the total cost of an academic college year.