Applying to college can be a confusing experience. Have you ever sat down to read application instructions and just thought “what are they talking about?”

You have to juggle paperwork, essays, several deadlines, test results, financial information, and more. Now, multiply that by the number of schools you’re applying to.

On top of that, there are a huge amount of new words and terms you have to know if you want your college application to be successful.

Don’t get overwhelmed! One of the best things you can do is familiarize yourself with the language of the college admissions process. Don’t worry, it’s not as hard as it sounds!

Make it easy by breaking it down. Really, there are only three big categories you need to know about: Tests, Admissions, and Higher Education.


Knowing key test terms will help you make sure you’re taking the right tests for the schools you want to apply to. Many test names are abbreviated, so looking at the list can look a bit like reading a bowl of alphabet soup.

But don’t worry, most students only need to take a few tests to get into college. Either way, you’ll want to know the difference between terms like PSAT, SAT, CLEP, and TOEFL.

Download the complete list of college terms with FULL definitions.


If you haven’t noticed already, college admissions has its own language.

These are some of the most important terms to know, because a mistake could cost you a spot at college, or obligate you to pay thousands of dollars (even if you decide not go to college at all!)

Words you absolutely need to know include Early Action, Early Decision, Regular Decision, and Rolling Admission. Look for big difference between when their deadlines and if the decisions are binding.

Get all definitions of vital Admissions terms.

Higher Education

Turns out it’s not as simple as just “applying to college,” after all!

Do you mean college, or university? What about community college? What kind of degree are you trying to earn, and from what type of college?

When you’re picking out the colleges you plan to apply to, it’s important to know the definition of these common higher education terms.

Download the complete college lingo list of definitions.

Think we missed a term? Let us know in the comments!

Authored by Jared Meyer

Jared specializes in communication in higher education. He writes about getting into college and succeeding once you're there. He's the editor of the American Honors Blog.