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Knowing the Lingo: College Admissions & Applications Acronyms

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Over the course of you or your child’s high school career, you’re bound to hear a bunch of acronyms that you may or may not be familiar with: SAT, ACT, AP, GPA, etc. These all stand for some program, exam, or system that you will have to encounter in high school in order to successfully fill out your college applications.


In addition to those listed above, the college admissions process brings a whole host of new acronyms that you will probably never have heard before. Trying to navigate all the different applications, forms, and requirements based on these acronyms can feel like you’re drowning in alphabet soup with no life boat in sight.


In this post, we’re going to help you try to decipher what those college admission and financial aid officers are trying to say by explaining some of the most common acronyms you might hear while you’re applying to college. Consider this your handy guide to college acronyms and abbreviations.


Admissions Acronyms

These are acronyms that have to deal specifically with one’s actual college application. Here are some of the most common abbreviations you are likely to encounter:


EA = Early Action: This is a type of early admissions process for US colleges. Early Action applicants usually have to send in their college application by November 1st, and they get a decision from the college by end of their fall semester. The decision they receive is non-binding, so they can still decline an offer of acceptance from the college.


ED = Early Decision: This is another type of early admissions process. It has the same deadlines and decision timeline as EA applications, but the decision made on ED applications is binding. If you get an offer of acceptance, you must accept and enroll in that college.


SSR = Secondary School Report: This is another word for a counselor’s recommendation. It is a form that your high school counselor will fill out and attach to your college application, probably electronically. This report is just another way for college admissions officers to assess your skills and abilities and compare you to other applicants.


URM = Under-Represented Minorities: These are ethnic groups that have historically comprised a minority of the U.S. Population, especially in terms of college attendance. These include African Americans, American Indians/Alaskan Natives, and Latinos.


DOA = Director of Admissions: This is a very important person in the college admissions process. This is the member of a university staff who is overall in charge of admissions to the university. They usually manage a team of admissions officers who evaluate your college application and make the final admissions decision.


DOI = Demonstration of Interest: These are the things you can do to show a college that you are very interested in attending and are actively doing everything you can to get accepted. This includes visiting the campus, taking a tour, meeting with an admissions officer, etc.


LOR = Letter of Recommendation: These are the all-important letters you ask your teachers and adult community members to write in order to vouch for you and supplement your college application. It is usually a teacher who writes these, though sometimes a community member, coach, employer, or other adult that is not family can be acceptable. For more information on recommendation letters, see How To Get a Standout Recommendation Letter.


QOL = Quality of Life: This is a broad term that refers to everything about a college that defines how students get along socially, mentally, physically, and intellectually. Some examples of factors that can affect a campus’ QOL are the quality of housing, how healthy the food is, the ease at which the average student can make friends, etc.


WL = Waitlist: This is the admissions decision that is neither a yes nor a no. If you get waitlisted at a college, it means that they have accepted other applicants and filled all of their spots, but if an accepted applicant rejects their offer, they may admit you. Want to know more about waitlists and how to handle it if you get put on one? See I Was Waitlisted–What Do I Do Now?


RIC = Rank in Class: Sometimes called Class Rank, this refers to your GPA ranking compared to the GPA’s of every other student in your class. The higher your class rank, the better. If you have the highest GPA, you get the #1 class rank and get to be valedictorian. Colleges look at your class rank to see how you compared to others at your school.

OOS = Out of State: Out of state students are those who are attending a college that is not located in their state of permanent residence. For these students, college is logistically and financially more complicated than it is for in-state students, but there can be several perks, especially if the college if more prestigious than the in-state college they would have attended.


TOEFL = Test of English as a Foreign Language: This is a test of English proficiency that is usually required for international students trying to apply for and attend college in the United States. Our Introduction to the Test of English as a Foreign Language explains this exam in more detail.


CRDA = Candidates Reply Date Agreement: This is an agreement that most colleges in the US have that gives students until May 1st to submit their final decision to colleges. This allows a student ample time to receive all of their decisions from the various colleges they applied to and to think about and research all the different factors in choosing a college so that they can make an informed decision.


SCEA = Single Choice Early Action: This is a combination of EA and ED and is often used by some of the more prestigious colleges in the United States like Harvard and Yale. With this, the deadlines and timeline for decision release are the same as EA/ED timelines, you cannot apply to more than one school under this process, but you have until May 1st to make a decision on whether you are going to attend the college or not if you are accepted. This implies that the decision on a SCEA application is non-binding.


RD = Regular Decision: This is the application process that most students use for the majority of their college applications. Under this process, the deadline to apply is usually around January 1st, the student will not hear back until around mid-March, no decision is binding, and they have until May 1st to make a final decision.


GC = Guidance Counselor: This is someone at your school whose job it is to help you navigate high school and plan for college and financial aid applications. These are also the people who are going to be writing your counselor recommendation letters, so it’s best to get to know them sooner rather than later.


ADCOM = Admissions Committee: These are the officers of undergraduate admissions at a college that will be reviewing your application and assessing whether they want to accept, reject, or waitlist you for that university. These are very important people in the college admissions process, and it’s imperative that you try to impress them.


NMF = National Merit Finalist: This is someone who, based on their PSAT score, is one of the highest-scoring individuals in the nation on the PSAT. These students have access to various scholarships and other opportunities, and the title looks fantastic on their college application. It’s a sign of an intellectually gifted individual.


Financial Aid Acronyms

Working on your financial aid applications? Confused by all of the acronyms you’re seeing? Let us help you out with some definitions of the most common abbreviations you’ll see when filling out your college applications.


FAFSA = Free Application for Federal Student Aid: This is one of the largest financial aid sources from the US Government. Based on the information that you and your family fill out on the FAFSA form, your student can be eligible for loans or scholarships of a certain amount from the US Government. Check out the FAFSA website or our post explaining what you need to know about FAFSA to see how it can help you.  


EFC = Effective/Estimated Family Contribution: This is the amount of a student’s college expenses that the family/the parents are realistically willing and able to provide. This amount is often smaller than the information that is put on scholarship and loan forms, which is the salary of each parent.


FAO = Financial Aid Officer: This is the person in the university you go to when you need help obtaining scholarships and loans, sometimes from the university and sometimes elsewhere. This person can help guide you through the process so that you can more easily fund your college education.


COA = Cost of Attendance: This is the full cost of a student attending a college. This does not just include tuition but also room and board fees, textbooks, transportation, everyday living, etc. Most families only focus on the tuition and don’t realize how high those other costs can get, so it’s important to pay attention to your COA well in advanced.


SAR = Student Aid Report: This is either an electronic or paper document that outlines the basic information about the answers that you gave on the FAFSA form along with your eligibility for federal student aid of any kind.


Colleges Acronyms

Some colleges or state college systems have come up with their own acronyms to shorten their school name. Here are the acronyms for colleges you are most likely to see:


LAC = Liberal Arts College: A liberal arts college is a college with an emphasis on undergraduate study in the liberal arts and sciences. This includes majors like theatre and performance studies, journalism, TV and Film, etc.


UC = University of California: The UC Schools are a large subset of universities located all over California that all operate and are funded by the UC system. You can apply to any of these colleges using one application, the UC application. Some prestigious UC colleges include UC Berkeley and UCLA.


CSU = California State University: This is another system of California state schools located throughout the state of California. The CSU system is the largest four-year public university system in the United States, with 23 campuses and 8 off-campus centers.


UPENN/PSU: These two acronyms stand for University of Pennsylvania and Penn State University, respectively. UPenn is a private ivy league university and Penn State University is a well-ranked state college.


The IVY (IVIES): These are the 8 colleges in the US that are part of the Ivy League. The Ivy League officially refers to the first universities in the United States, but the term has become synonymous with elite, competitive, and outstanding schools. The 8 IVIES are Harvard, Yale, UPenn, Brown, Dartmouth, Cornell, Princeton, and Columbia.


For More Information

Still feel like you’re lost in the college application process? Here’s some previous CollegeVine blog posts to help you out:


5 Ways to Get Started on Your College Applications Now

Ten Skills to Highlight on Your College Applications

Don’t Make These Mistakes on College Applications

Five Resources to Simplify Your College Planning Process


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Sadhvi Mathur
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Sadhvi is a recent graduate from the University of California, Berkeley, where she double majored in Economics and Media Studies. Having applied to over 8 universities, each with different application platforms and requirements, she is eager to share her knowledge now that her application process is over. Other than writing, Sadhvi's interests include dancing, playing the piano, and trying not to burn her apartment down when she cooks!