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Getting Ready for College Glossary

For some students -- and their parents -- the mere thought of preparing for college is terrifying. Among other challenges, there is an alphabet soup of acronyms and new terminology. From ACT to PhD, and concentrations to waitlists, there are many new names and concepts to master.

Consider that higher education has a culture of its own and, like any culture, it comes with its own language. Here are some acronyms and phrases you're likely to encounter when preparing for college:

AA Degree: Associate of Arts degree. (See Associate's Degree, below)

AAS Degree: Associate of Applied Science degree. (See Associate's Degree, below)

AS Degree: Associate of Science degree. (See Associate's Degree, below)

ACT: This is the college entrance exam required by more four-year colleges than any other exam. It measures high school students' educational development and ability to do college-level work. The multiple test section includes English, math, reading and science. There is also an optional writing test. It is usually taken during the junior year of high school, but many students opt to re-take the test as seniors. Highest possible score: 36.

AP: Advanced Placement. A qualifying high school student can take college-level courses in a high school environment. To qualify, the student must do well on AP exams.

Associate's Degree: Associate's degrees are typically two-year degrees, often from community or junior colleges.

BA Degree: Bachelor of Arts degree. (See Bachelor's Degree, below)

BComm Degree: Bachelor of Commerce degree. (See Bachelor's Degree, below)

BEng Degree: Bachelor of Engineering degree. (See Bachelor's Degree, below)

BFA Degree: Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. (See Bachelor's Degree, below)

BS Degree (also B.Sc.): Bachelor of Science degree. (See Bachelor's Degree, below)

BSGS Degree: Bachelor of Science in General Studies degree. (See Bachelor's Degree, below.)

Baccalaureate Degree: Alternate term for bachelor's degree (see below).

Bachelor's Degree: Bachelor's degrees are typically four-year degrees, but can be earned in as few as three years. Some students may take five or six years to complete their bachelor's degree. These degrees are sometimes referred to as baccalaureate or undergraduate degrees.

Community College: Sometimes called junior college or two-year college. Students can take classes, and then transfer to a four-year school, or they can earn certificates, diplomas or associate's degrees.

Concentration: A concentration is the area of study a student is focusing on. This term is sometimes used in place of "major;" however, a major can include various concentrations. For example, an English major may concentrate in literature or writing.

Co-op: A co-op program combines classroom learning with paid, hands-on work experience. Often, students alternate between attending classes and working at a real job in their field of study.

Credit (also, Credit Hour): Credits are units of value given to classes. Some classes may be worth two or three credits, while others are worth four credits. Credits vary by class and by school. Passing the class will earn the student however many credits that class is worth. Specific numbers of credits in certain areas of study are required for graduation.

Curriculum: Courses and classes offered by a school comprise the curriculum.

Deferred Admission Option: Deferred admission allows students to take extra time between being accepted and beginning classes. Students choosing this option typically wait one school term or one calendar year before starting classes.

Department of Education: This is the government agency in charge of administering several student financial aid programs.

Early Admission: Early admission allows students to enroll in college before completing high school, generally after their junior year.

Early Action Plan: An early action plan allows students to find out if they have been accepted before other students. A student accepted under an early action plan is not obligated to attend that school -- they can accept the offer under the procedures for regular admissions.

Early Decision Plan: Under an early decision plan, a student can apply for admission and receive the school's decision earlier than students applying for regular admission. If a student applies under early decision, they must agree to accept an offer of admission and withdraw any applications to other schools once they've been accepted.

E-LOR: Electronic Letter of Recommendation. Some colleges and universities allow letters of recommendation to be sent via e-mail or fax. (See LOR, below)

Financial Aid: Aid comprises various forms of college funds, including scholarships, grants and loans. Many schools also offer work-study programs to offset tuition costs. (See our Financial Aid Glossary for more information.)

GED: General Educational Development exam. Composed of five tests, the GED equivalency exam can be taken by people who, for whatever reason, were unable to graduate high school.

GPA: Grade Point Average. The GPA is calculated based on the grades obtained in individual classes, usually on a four-point scale. A equals four points, B equals three points, C equals two points, D equals one point, and F equals zero points. High school GPA is indicated on the student's school transcript, and is part of the evaluation for college admission. Post-secondary GPA is used to evaluate students transferring from one college to another.

HBCU: Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

HiSET: High School Equivalency Exam. In some states, this exam can be taken by people who did not graduate from high school.

Independent Study: In this approach, a student designs his or her own course of study, with assistance from an advisor or fadculty member.

Internship: An internship provides supervised work experience in an area relevant to a student's career goals. Internships can be paid or unpaid.

Legacy: A legacy is when a student applies to, or attends, a school that a parent graduated from. Some schools give preferential admission (see Preferential Admission, below) to applicants whose parents or grandparents attended the same institution.

LOR: Letter of Recommendation. Nearly all colleges and universities require that potential students include one or more LORs with their applications. Good sources for LORs include guidance counselors, teachers, coaches, military officers, public officials, top executives of major corporations, and officials from charitable organizations that the student has volunteered with.

LSAT: Law School Admission Test: The LSAT is required for admission to most law schools.

MA: Master's degree. This degree follows a bachelor's degree. It generally takes two years to complete a master's degree, but some people are able to complete it in one year, while others take longer than two years.

Major: A major is the field of study a student focuses on for a degree. Some students choose a major before starting college, while others wait until the end of their second year.

MCAT: Medical College Admission Test. The MCAT is required for admission to most medical schools.

Minor: A minor is a program of study requiring fewer courses than a major.

National Merit Scholarship Program: Students who do well on the PSAT/NMSQT (see PSAT/NMSQT, below) may qualify for scholarships. A few students receive full scholarships.

NCAA: National Collegiate Athletic Association. The NCAA regulates and governs college and university athletics programs. It verifies that student athletes maintain their GPA to be eligible to play on an NCAA team.

NMSQT: National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. It is used to determine the recipients of merit scholarships. It is also a practice test for freshmen, sophomores and juniors for the SAT I, like the PSAT. Only juniors may qualify for NMSQT.

Non-resident: Non-residents are students who do not live in the state where the school they are applying to, or attending, is located. It also includes students who haven't lived in the state long enough to be considered residents.

Open Admissions: A school with an open admissions policy admits almost all high school graduates without taking grades or test scores into account. They also admit most students who have earned their GED (see GED, above).

PhD: A PhD is a graduate degree, often following a master's degree. Sometimes referred to as a "terminal degree" when it's the highest degree possible in a given field. PhDs typically take three years to complete.

PSAT: Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test. The PSAT is usually taken in 10th or 11th grade, and is part of a student's preparation for the SAT. It is also a requirement for the National Merit Scholarship Program.

PSAT/NMSQT: The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. Students hoping to receive a National Merit Scholarship must take and pass this standardized test.

Preferential Admission: Preferential admission gives preference to students from certain groups, such as state residents, members of supporting churches, or students whose parents went to the same school.

Prerequisite: A prerequisite is a course that must be successfully completed before registering in another class. For instance, first-year math might be a prerequisite for second-year math.

Resident: Residents are students who reside in the same state as the college or university that they are applying to or attending.

ROTC: Reserve Officers Training Corps. This is a program in which the military pays a student's tuition or other expenses. The student takes part in summer training while in college and commits to military service after college.

SAT: Scholastic Assessment Test. The SAT measures mathematical, critical reading and writing skills. Students take this test during their junior or senior year. Many colleges require SAT scores as part of their application process.

Syllabus: A syllabus is the program and requirements for a certain class.

TASC: Test Assessing Secondary Completion. In some states, this exam can be taken by people who did not graduate from high school.

TOEFL: Test of English as a Foreign Language. Many schools require students whose main language is not English to take this three-part test. The test covers all aspects of English-language ability, including spoken English and grammar.

Transcript: A transcript is a record of the classes a student has taken, along with the student's grades in those classes. Students may need to include a copy of their high school transcripts with college applications. Copies of college transcripts may be needed when transferring to different colleges or universities.

University Transfer Program: Here, students complete the first two years of a four-year degree program at a two-year college, and then transfer to a four-year college for the last two years of the degree program.

Vocational School: A vocational school offers programs that prepare students for specific careers, trades or vocations.

Waitlist: After students have been offered admission to a college, the remaining qualified applicants go on a waitlist to take the place of accepted students who decide not to attend.

Work-Study Programs: These programs provide students with part-time jobs during the school year as part of their financial aid package. The jobs are often located at the school.