Common College Search Terms

The college application process is filled with special terms, forms, deadlines, requirements, standardized tests, college “searches” and visits—and more. It can be daunting to sort through all of this information. On these pages, we offer a list of terms and definitions that students, parents, and community mentors will encounter along the way.


ACT Assessment: An admission test used widely by college and university admission offices. The ACT tests students’ ability in four distinct areas of study: English, mathematics, reading, and science reasoning, plus an optional writing test required by some selective universities. (The ACT writing test is not required for Carnegie Mellon.)


AP (Advanced Placement) Tests: Standardized tests designed for students who have completed a college level course in high school. The AP exams are graded from a 1 (lowest) to a 5 (highest) and are used to determine if a student may gain advanced standing in college and/or college credit.


Campus Interview: This is a personal, face-to-face interaction between an admission applicant and an institutional representative (admission officer, alumnus, faculty, etc.). Interviews are rarely required. Carnegie Mellon does not offer interviews.


Campus Visit/Tour: Information sessions and campus tours offered by the college admission office for prospective students, allowing them to visit various campus buildings, meet faculty and staff, and get a firsthand look at campus life.


College Essay: A brief writing on a single subject required by many colleges as part of the application process for admission.


College Fair: An event that allows students and parents to speak with representatives from different colleges and universities.


College Rep Visit: A visit to a high school or community site by a college admission representative used to recruit students for admission.


Common Application: The Common Application (also known as the Common App) makes it possible for students to use a single admission application to apply to any of its member colleges and universities.


Demonstrated Fit: A measure of a student’s desire to attend a particular college shown through campus visits, contact with admission officers, and other actions that attract the attention of college admissions personnel. Carnegie Mellon does not consider demonstrated fit in our admissions decisions.


Early Action: An early admission program is when a prospective student applies for admission by an early deadline (before the regular admission deadline) and receives notification earlier than the standard admission decision date. It is non-binding. Thus, the applicant is not required to accept the offer of admission. (Carnegie Mellon does not participate in an early action program.)


Early Admission: Through this program, qualifying high school juniors with outstanding academic records may forego their senior year in high school and enroll in college early.


Early Decision: An admission program designed for students who know a particular school is their number one choice. Applicants applying Early Decision commit to enroll because colleges require you to attend if admitted (a process called binding). 


Extracurricular Activities: A school activity, such as athletics, drama or music, with which a student complements his or her classroom experiences. Part-time jobs are of interest to colleges and can substitute for some extracurricular activities. Many community and family activities are also "extracurricular."


First Generation College Student: While defined differently by many colleges, first-generation students are defined by Carnegie Mellon as students whose parents did not complete a Bachelor’s (4-year college) degree or higher. You’re still considered the first in your family to go to college if your parents received an Associate’s degree, attended a 4-year college but did not graduate, or if your siblings attended and graduated from college.


Matriculation: The payment of deposits, tuition, fees, and other charges to enroll in a program of studies at an educational institution. 


National Candidate Reply Date: The date by which applicants who are accepted for admission are expected to notify the institutions of their intent to enroll and make enrollment deposits. That date is often on or around May 1st.


Need-Blind Admission: Consideration of an applicant regardless of their need for financial need.


Open House: Programs on college campuses in which (usually) every department, such as campus activities, financial aid, and housing, is represented and showcases relevant programs and opportunities.


Prospective Student: Any student who is a potential applicant for admission.


Regular Decision: Regular Decision is how most students choose to apply to college. Unlike Early Decision, it is non-binding. You apply (usually around the first of the year), you’re notified of your admission decision a few months later (usually around spring break), then you have until May 1, the National Deposit Deadline (the only date colleges and universities share in common), to let the particular school know if you plan to attend.


Rolling Admission: An admission program in which colleges review applications ‘first-come, first-served’ rather than waiting until after a deadline. (Carnegie Mellon does not have rolling admission.)


SAT/ACT: The SAT and ACT are college entrance exams. Most colleges require their submission to be admitted. Colleges usually don’t require both, nor do they prefer one over the other. (Carnegie Mellon requires submission of either the SAT or ACT.)


SAT Subject Test: SAT Subject Tests (also known as SAT II tests) are offered in many areas of study including English, mathematics, sciences, history, and foreign languages. Some colleges, including Carnegie Mellon, recommend students to take one or more SAT subject tests when they apply for admission.


School Profile: An overview of your high school’s grading system, course offerings, and other features that your school submits to admission offices along with your transcript. It’s used to put an applicant’s academic credentials in perspective against the academic reputation of the school she or he attends.


Waitlist: A list of students whose academic qualifications are strong, but to whom an admission committee decides to offer admission only if there is space available after admitted students have responded to their offers to enroll.

Financial Aid

Award Letter: A statement from a college that outlines the type and amount of financial aid the school is able to provide.

CSS Profile: A web-based financial aid form required by some colleges, including Carnegie Mellon, in addition to the FAFSA.

Cost of Attendance: The total cost of going to a college for one year, including tuition, housing, books, transportation, fees, and personal expenses.

Custodial Parent: If a student's parents are divorced or separated, the custodial parent is the one with whom the student lived with the most during the past 12 months.

Demonstrated Need: The difference between the cost of attending a college and your expected family contribution.

Dependent Student: The status of most first-year college students; used for financial aid calculation. Dependent students must report their parents' income and assets on their financial aid applications.

Expected Family Contribution (EFC): The amount of money a family could be expected to pay for one year of college costs, based on the data gathered from the FAFSA and CSS PROFILE. This figure often differs from the actual amount you will be required to pay.
Scholarship: A form of financial aid that is usually based on merit, sometimes in combination with need, which does not need to be repaid.

FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid): Free Application for Federal Student Aid used to determine how much financial aid the federal and/or state government is able to provide. A federal form required from all students who wish to apply for need-based financial aid, including grants, loans and work-study awards.

Federal Pell Grant: A federal grant awarded to students with substantial financial need, as determined by the FAFSA.

Financial Aid Package: The total amount of financial aid a student receives, including one or more grants, loans, or work-study in a "package" to help meet the student's need.

Full-Time Student: An undergraduate student who takes a minimum of 12 credits (the equivalent of 36 units at Carnegie Mellon) per semester.

Grants (also known as gift aid): A form of financial aid based on need that does not have to be repaid. A grant may be provided by federal or state governments, an institution, or a foundation.

Independent Student: To be considered an independent, a student must meet any one of the following criteria as defined by the federal government: 24 years of age; married; have status of a graduate or professional student; have legal dependents other than a spouse; be an orphan or ward of the court (or have been a ward of the court until age 18); is an emancipated minor, is homeless or a veteran. Independent students report only their own income and assets (and those of a spouse) when applying for financial aid. 

Loan: A type of financial aid that is available to students and to the parents of students that must be repaid when either the student finishes school or ceases to be enrolled at least half-time.

Pell Grant: A form of financial aid provided by the Federal government to students whose FAFSA indicates a high level of financial need.

PLUS Loan: Low-interest loans available to parents of dependent students to cover any costs not already covered by the student's aid package.

Scholarship: A form of financial aid that is usually based on merit, sometimes in combination with need, which does not need to be repaid.

Subsidized Loan: A type of loan for which a student does not pay the interest while enrolled at least half-time. 

Unmet Need (also known as "gapping"): The difference between the cost of attendance and a student's (and family's) ability to pay.

Unsubsidized Loan: A type of loan that is not need-based and for which the student is responsible for the interest accrued while in college.

Work Study: A form of financial aid that allows a student to work on-campus or with approved off-campus employers in order to earn money to pay for expenses related to the cost of attendance.