College Glossary

College Terms You May Need to Know

​​​Applying and planning for college comes with a whole new vocabulary. Here are some of the most common terms you might encounter in the process and a definition of what they mean.

  • Grade Point Average (GPA) - This is ranked on a 4.0 scale and used to determine college admission requirements.  A weighted scale awards higher scores for harder Honors and AP classes in which an “A” earns a 5.0, rather than 4.0 as in an  average class. Unweighted means the school does not differentiate. (In the Tacoma School District, GPAs are unweighted.) Since colleges want students to take challenging classes, they typically compare students on an unweighted scale.
  • General Education Diploma (GED) - This is set of tests that when passed certify the test taker has met high school academic skills; used as an alternative route to the traditional high school transcript.

Terms You’ll Encounters When Applying

  • Common Application (Common App) - More than 800 member colleges and universities use a standardized application that students can fill out online.
  • Admission - The process by which colleges and universities select and admit applicants.
  • Regular Admission means students apply by the final deadline. Most applicants will receive admission decisions in March.
  • Rolling Admission means applications are reviewed and students receive decisions on a “rolling basis”, depending upon when the application is submitted. The earlier a student applies, the better.
  • Early Action means a student applies by an early deadline and will receive an admission decision by an early date. It is a "non-binding" application option, which means a student need not commit to the college if accepted. Early Action application deadlines are often in November. 
  • Early Decision means a student signs a legally-binding contract stating the student will attend that college if accepted. Moreover, admitted students must withdraw all other pending applications. A student can apply to only one college “Early Decision”, but can apply to additional colleges via Regular, Rolling, or Early Action Admission. Early Decision is also an earlier deadline, usually in November, and applications may receive special consideration in that smaller pool of applicants.
  • Priority Date is not a deadline but a suggested date for application to colleges and universities in order to receive consideration for scholarships and other special programs. Priority dates are typically in November or December.

Terms to Know During Testing

  • SAT - This is used as a benchmark for college admission. Tacoma Public School students may take the SAT at their high school for free in the spring of their junior year and the fall of their senior year. There are two main sections, Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, amd Math. Each has a maximum score of 800.
  • SAT Subject Test - These are one-hour tests in specific areas of study, including English, math, science, history, and foreign language.  Some colleges require one or more of these tests for admission.
  • ACT - This is another test accepted by colleges and universities as a benchmark test for college admission.  The test is on a 36-point scale and includes science reasoning as well as English, math and reading.
  • ACCUPLACER - This is an adaptive assessment of reading comprehension and math that some colleges use to determine placement for college-level courses.

Terms You’ll Need to Know About Paying for College

  • Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) - Students who want to apply for financial aid and are eligible to file the FAFSA will complete this form each year. The application opens October 1.
  • Washington Application for State Financial Aid (WASFA) - Students in Washington who are ineligible to file the FAFSA may be eligible to file the WASFA. Like the FAFSA, eligible students will complete the form each year. The application opens October 1.
  • Merit-Based Scholarship or Aid - This is money awarded for college without regard for financial need.  This type of college aid is usually awarded for academic achievement, such as high GPA and/or test scores, or talents and unique traits such as artistic, musical, service, or athletic skills.
  • Need-Based Scholarship or Aid - This is awarded based upon your family’s financial need.  Federal grant, work study, and loan eligibility depends on filing a FAFSA.
  • Act Six - This leadership and scholarship program connect students with local faith- and social-justice-based colleges to equip emerging urban and community leaders to engage the college campus and their communities at home.  This scholarship provides a four-year, full-tuition scholarship along with intensive training, strong campus support, and ongoing leadership and vocational development. The application period opens in summer and closes in late October or early November.
  • College Bound Scholarship Program - Income-eligible students who applied by eighth grade, graduate with a 2.0 GPA or higher, have no felony convictions, file a FAFSA or WASFA, and are admitted to college, earn a commitment of state financial aid to cover basic tuition (at public rates) at Washington institutions. The scholarship is pending the college's verification of the students' financial and academic eligibility.
  • College Scholarship Service Profile (CSS Profile) - An application distributed by the College Board to give some private colleges a closer look at the finances of a student and family, in addition to the FAFSA.  It includes a fee and is more detailed.
  • Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) -  Pre-paid tuition plan in Washington state that helps families invest money for college, locking tuition in at today’s prices, to be applied in the future.