Applying to the US means learning a separate language of terminology, this page hopes to provide a basic guide to the different terms that you might come across.
ACT – The American College Test, one of the two testing organisations whose standardised tests are expected for most US universities. The ACT is the most common test taken by US students
Class – A yeargroup of students, hence the use of ‘Class of 2019’ to describe the group of students who will graduate from a particular university in a given year. Admissions officers are keen to stress that they are recruiting a class that will work together rather than a group of individuals
College Day – Fulbright’s annual fair for US admissions officers to meet prospective applicants held in London on the last Friday and Saturday of September each year. Registration is required and the event is usually packed but it is a vital way to become more informed and to potentially speak directly to the people that will read your application. Details of College Day 2016 are available here.
Common App – The online application website for 500 US universities found at https://www.commonapp.org
Continued Interest – a letter, email or call to a university to express a candidates continuing interest if they have been deferred or waitlisted. This is greatly valued by the university particularly with regards to a waitlisted applicant as it lets the admissions office know who is likely to accept a place if one becomes available.
Counselor – The individual at a school responsible for providing guidance. This can be both pastoral and academic but for the application process the counselor is essential in providing the link to the Admissions Officers and writing the counselor reference for the student.
Deferral – the term used when an early applicant is not offered a place but is instead given a second chance in the regular applicant pool.
Demonstrated interest – Some US universities log each interaction between the student and the university as a way of keeping track of the students ‘demonstrated interest’. This can then be a factor in decision making at admissions time when a student who has visited campus, emailed several times to ask questions, met with alumni, attended a presentation by an admission team member etc. can have an advantage. It is worth checking which universities track demonstrated interest and there is more on this here.
Denied – the admissions decision that ends the application process for the candidate.
Early Action – A non-binding version of Early Decision, students get an early answer but are not obliged to attend the college making the offer
Early Decision – Often described as being like a proposal of marriage Early decision is binding promise. An ED application means students apply early (usually by November 1 or November 15, depending on the college), and receive their admissions decisions early–usually by December 15. In return the student, parents, and school counselor sign a pledge that, if accepted, the student will attend that college. The student agrees to withdraw all other applications both to the US and overseas.
Fit – The term used by admissions officers to describe the suitability of a student to an institution and an institution to a student.
Fraternity – One of several male only social organisations at many US Universities. Part of the ‘Greek System’ (see above) membership in a fraternity is obtained while an undergraduate student but continues for life.
Freshmen – A first year student at a US university
Fulbright Commission – Non-profit organisation that aims to increase inter-cultural exchange between the UK and the US by encouraging students to apply for university overseas. Fulbright organises an annual College Day for UK students which is a ‘must attend’ event.
GPA – The Grade Point Average (GPA) is an average of a student’s grades during their time at a US High School. Usually it is weighted by the number of credits given for the enrolled courses taken. The maximum grade point average is 4.0, which is equivalent to receiving an A in every course but different teachers have different methods for assessing grades and so the GPA is very difficult to compare across schools and is essentially meaningless for overseas students. There is no requirement for a counselor to enter a GPA if the student is from overseas.
Greek System – the system of fraternities and sororities at US universities characterised by their identification by two or three Greek letters(eg. Chi Omega or Delta Kappa Epsilon). These organisations often have affiliates at other universities.
Hazing – the practice of a ritual introduction to a sorority or fraternity which can, at extreme levels, involve harassment, abuse or humiliation.
Holistic – a term used by admissions officers to describe their recruitment decisions. Holistic admissions stresses that all aspects of a student are considered in the decision making process and hence academic flaws can be offset by fantastic extra-curricular achievements or exceptional personal qualities.
Institutional Priorities – When recruiting a new class admissions staff will usually have certain priorities that they are looking for aside from mere academic ability, these can included, but are not limited to, positions on sports teams and in choirs and orchestras, potential majors in under-subscribed disciplines, competent year-book editors, legacy admissions, geographic spread of applicants both within the US and outside, ethnic diversity, religious diversity, gender diversity and many other factors.
Interviews – For top universities the application process will be rounded out by an interview. These can be conducted with an admissions officer if you happen to be going to the campus but are typically carried out by an eager alumnus in your home country. Interviews carry minimal weight in the application process and interviewers do not have sight of your application in advance, rather these are opportunities to explore the institution in more detail for you and for the alumnus to report back on anything exceptional or interesting that the rest of the admissions process has not picked up.
Ivy League – A college athletic league comprising sports teams from eight private institutions of higher education in the Northeastern United States (Brown, U Penn, Harvard, Columbia, Dartmouth, Cornell, Princeton and Yale)
Junior – A third year student at a US University
Kaplan – The giant test prep company founded by Stanley Kaplan in 1938 which began the process of student’s preparing for what were meant to be pure intelligence tests.
Khan Academy – A youtube Channel that provides test support for the SAT for free.
Law School – A postgraduate institution which requires an undergraduate degree before applying. Hence it is impossible to study Law at the undergraduate level in the US.
Letters of Recommendation – references written by academic teachers testifying to your ability and engagement with your academic subjects. Typically two of these will be required by each institution.
Major – In the US and in Canada, an academic major is the academic discipline which an undergraduate student commits most time to. A student who successfully completes the courses prescribed in an academic major qualifies for an undergraduate degree and is said to have ‘majored in x’.
Med School – A postgraduate institution which requires an undergraduate degree before applying. Hence it is impossible to study Medicine at the undergraduate level in the US.
Mid-Year Report – In the US the Mid-Year Report is update with the latest grades achieved by a student that a counselor submits at the end of the first semester (or first trimester), typically around the end of January. For overseas students where a Mid Year report is not a typical part of the High School reporting schedule an updated transcript highlighting changes is perfectly acceptable for universities. Mid Year Reports are typically submitted through the Common App.
Minor – A minor is an undergraduate student’s declared secondary academic discipline. As with an academic major (see above), the university will have a set number of required classes or class types a student must complete to earn the minor.
NCAA – The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is a non-profit association which regulates the athletes and participating sportsmen and women of its 1,281 member institutions. Without NCAA approval a student cannot reprepsent their university in sporting events. For NCAA approval to be granted their are strict rules.
OACAC – The Overseas Association for College Admission Counseling is the organisation that endeavours to ensure high standards amongst school counselors and admissions personnel in the Admissions process. You should expect your school counselor and any independent counselors you speak to or engage the services of to be a member.
Princeton Review – Respected test preparation company with countless publications on testing and the US university system.
Regular decision – This is the normal process by which students apply, as opposed to Early Decision (see above), Students are promised an admissions decision no later than April 1st.
Restricted Early Action – An early Action application that precludes the student from applying Early Action to any other institution, sometimes called Single Choice Early Action and used by Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and Yale.
Rolling admission – Colleges and universities that operate this system evaluate applications as they arrive and their places are filled on a first-come, first-served basis.
SAT – The Scholastic Aptitude Test. One of the two different tests expected by most universities for admission to the US system.
Senior – A final year student at a US University
Seven Sisters – The name given to seven historically women’s colleges seen in the past as a parallel to the men’s ivy league. They are Barnard, Smith, Mount Holyoke, Vassar, Bryn Mawr, Wellesley, and Radcliffe.
Single Choice Early Action – See Restricted Early Action (above).
Sophomore – A second year student at a US university
Sorority – One of several female only social organisations at many US Universities. Part of the ‘Greek System’ (see above) membership in a sorority is obtained while an undergraduate student but continues for life.
State University – A large university that is funded by the state and federal government and provides cheaper tuition for students from that state. Larger, more populous states such as California and Texas will have several state universities
Supplements – The additional questions asked by individual universities as part of their application process which can range from 25-650 words. Examples include Yale’s perennial ‘Why Yale?’ but range to U Chicago’s ‘Where’s Waldo really?’ (Where’s Waldo is the original US version of ‘Where’s Wally? in the UK)
Sutton Trust – A non-profit institution that helps UK State School students apply to the US, last year 61 students from UK state schools successfully took up places in the US including three at Harvard, three at Yale and five at Princeton. Find out more here.
Test-optional – The term used for universities that do not require the SAT or ACT, a full list is here.
Transcript – The listing of a students grades and predicted grades in public exams produced by the student’s school and submitted to universities via the common app.
UCs – The University of California Universities made up of ten separate but linked institutions including UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, UC Davis, UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara, UC Merced, UC Santa Cruz, UC Riverside and UC San Francisco.
Varsity – The first team of a university or school, largely used in reference to
Waitlist – A term used to describe a situation in which a university has not formally accepted a particular student, but may offer admission in the next few weeks/months depending on the take-up of those offered admission. Typically the more competitive the university the less need they have to go to the waitlist to fill their places.
Xi Omicron Iota – a relatively new sorority, founded in 2002 at Missouri State University and in this glossary purely so we have an entry under X.
Yield – The percentage of students who, having been offered places go on to take up those places. As a rule the stronger the university the higher the yield. This figure can be useful when calculating the likelihood of coming off the waitlist (see above). More on yield can be found here.
Zeta Delta Xi – a co-educational fraternity at Brown University founded in 1852 and in this list purely to have something under Z.