Admissions Officer: The person assigned to your geographic area who is your point of contact with the college. You can find your Admissions officer on the college’s website under Admissions Office.

Academic Rigor: both the rigor of classes taken (College Prep, Honors, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, Capstone), and the rigor of the overall course load in relation to the number of AP, IB and Capstone classes the school offers.

Admission Cycle:

Early Decision (ED): The first deadline for most colleges. You may apply to only one college in the ED cycle. Applying Early Decision can improve your chances of being accepted. However, if accepted, you must enroll and you must withdraw any other applications that you have submitted. You must make your decision to commit to a college in the fall of your Senior year, irrespective of whether the financial aid package you are offered is generous enough that the family can afford the school’s tuition. ED deadlines are usually in November, for an admissions decision in December.

Some schools have Early Decision II, with dates usually beginning in January, and decisions issued in February.

Early Action (EA): An option that allows you to apply in the fall of your senior year, but does not require that you enroll in that school or withdraw other applications. Not all schools have EA.

Regular Decision RD: The date to apply with all other applicants. Decisions are usually sent Mid-March through early April.

Rolling Admissions: A window of time in which you may submit an application. Decisions are usually issued quickly in the early portion of this cycle, and your chances of admission are best if you submit your application in August or September. Generally, only public schools offer rolling Admissions.

ALDC (a/k/a “plus factor” a/k/a “hook): Athletes, legacies, ‘dean’s interest’ and children of faculty and staff

This is admissions shorthand for people who get special consideration. Legacy means that one parent went to that college. “Dean’s interest” means that there is some reason other than the contents of the application that may influence admissions, such as the potential for large donations in the future.

Brag Sheet(s): Documents generated by parents and students to be used by the guidance counselor for the school’s recommendation. It’s important to get them in early, ideally in the spring.

Common Application (a/k/a Common App): An free online service that most schools use to receive your application. It is required by most schools.

Coalition Application (a/k/a Coalition App): An alternative to the Common Application intended to increase access to college for low-income and underrepresented students. It can be used to apply only to schools that offer generous financial aid or low-cost tuition.

Common Data Set (CDS): A document generated by each school with answers to specific questions relating to the school. It includes application statistics and other important information.  It can be accessed through a school’s website or through

Demonstrated Interest: Anything applicants do to show that they genuinely want to go to a specific school, including visiting the website, looking the school up on Naviance, contacting the admissions office, taking a virtual or actual tour of the school. Schools track this engagement at a very granular level. For some schools, it is a factor in admission. It can be determined in the Common Data Set (CDS).

Expected Family Contribution (EFC): The college’s calculation of what parents can afford to pay for college. It is the basis for need-based financial aid. It is generally composed of one-third savings, one-third loans and one-third need-based institutional aid.

Financial Aid:

Need Based: The difference between the cost of attending and the institution’s determination of the family’s ability to pay. This usually includes Federal grants and loans, and Work Study.

Non-need Based: Merit scholarships, a/k/a merit money. This is an extra incentive that institutions offer to persuade the strongest applicants to accept the offer of admission.

Hook: This can refer ALDC (see above) or to the first line of the personal statement or other essay, intended to grab the reader’s attention.

Plus Factor: ALDC (see above)

Secondary School Report: Your guidance counselor’s recommendation form, which is based on your grades, the counselor’s personal knowledge about you, and your student and parent brag sheets.

School Report: Summary of relevant data about the applicant’s high school. It includes information such as class size, the GPA scale, how many AP/IB/Capstone classes the high school offers.

Standardized Tests: SAT, ACT, AP, SAT Subject Tests

Test Optional: The school considers test scores only if they are submitted.

Test Blind: The school won’t consider the SAT or ACT even if you submit scores. This doesn’t apply to AP/IB/Capstone scores.

Superscoring: The practice of re-calculating your SAT or ACT score by taking only the highest score from each section of the test.    


FAFSA: Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Virtually every school requires this, irrespective of whether you think you are eligible for need-based aid. The reasoning is that if you have a dramatic change of economic circumstances, the school will have a baseline.

CSS Profile (a/k/a CSS): College Scholarship Service Profile. A supplemental form required by many private schools. It is much more detailed than the FAFSA.

FERPA: Federal Educational Records Protection Act. The form is called a FERPA Waiver or FERPA release. This form must be completed before a high school will send your transcript to a college.  It is required for Naviance, and it will hold up your ability to use Naviance. There will also be a FERPA waiver on the Common App.