16 College Admissions Terms Every Family Should Know

The college admissions process can be a bit confusing. With all of the various applications, interviews, and admissions rounds, it’s no wonder that students and their families can find the process anxiety-inducing. And that anxiety is often exacerbated when colleges and counselors start throwing around odd college admissions terms without context. 

It often feels like colleges expect students and their families to know everything about the admissions process before it begins. For most of us, however, it takes some research to make sense of it all. Our team at HelloCollege has set out to explain 16 common college admissions terms that you and your family should know as you navigate the admissions process. 

16 College Admissions Terms Every Family Should Know

Rolling admissions

The term rolling admissions refers to colleges’ practice of evaluating applications as they are received. Schools with rolling admissions will continue to evaluate applications until they’ve filled all the slots for their incoming class. That’s in contrast to regular admissions (also known as regular decision), which refers to colleges’ practice of waiting until after a hard deadline to evaluate applications. 


When a college describes itself as need-blind, this means its admissions process does not consider students’ financial status or ability to pay when making admissions decisions. This protects lower-income students from being denied admissions based on their financial status. 


Need-aware colleges follow practices opposite to those of need-blind colleges. Need-aware admissions teams take into consideration applicants’ financial status. While this may seem unfair to lower-income applicants, colleges adopt need-aware admissions practices to avoid offering admission to students who might not be able to afford attending without taking on too much debt. 


Need-sensitive admissions sit somewhere between need-blind and need-aware admissions. This means the school will take into consideration students’ financial need—but only if choosing between two equally qualified students. Need-sensitive admissions do not necessarily mean a school will choose the student with less financial need. It simply means the financial status will be a factor. In these cases, admission boils down to how much financial aid the school can offer and how many scholarships the student in financial need might qualify for. 

Early Action

Early action refers to schools’ practice of allowing students to apply early,  before the college’s main deadline. Students applying for early action typically receive an admissions decision well before students applying at the regular admissions deadline. Admissions decisions for early action applicants are non-binding, meaning that admitted students are not forced to accept the school’s offer. Because it is non-binding, students applying early action have a lower chance of being accepted than those applying for early decision, but early action applicants can apply early to as many colleges as they like (something early decision applicants can’t do).  

Early Decision

Early decision is similar to early action, with some slight caveats. In early decision, you are obligated to attend the university you have applied o  if they accept you. As such, students can only apply early decision to one college at a time. Significantly, applying early decision increases students’ odds of acceptance, because colleges know that applicants will attend their institution, which improves that school’s yield rates

Restrictive Early Action 

Restrictive early action admissions are a hybrid of early action and early decision admissions. Restrictive early action is a non-binding early action program that allows students to enroll and be accepted into school early. However, unlike normal early action, restrictive early action only allows the student to apply to a single school. So, while a student isn’t bound to accept the offer, they can only apply early to that specific university. 


FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It is a government-sponsored application program that allows students to apply for financial aid to attend university. Everyone—regardless of financial status—should fill out a FAFSA form when applying for university. 

CSS Profile

A College Scholarship Service Profile, also known as a CSS Profile, is a form students fill out when applying for non-federal financial aid packages. The CSS profile allows students to apply for scholarships and grants funded by individuals and organizations other than the federal government. The CSS Profile and the FAFSA  are the most important means by which students apply for financial aid. 

Common Application

The Common Application (often shortened to Common App) is a way for students to use a single application form to apply to multiple universities. Over 900+ colleges and universities currently accept the Common Application. The Common Application is a time-saving device designed to allow students to apply to many schools with (relatively) minimal hassle—provided, that the colleges to which they are applying are among those 900 Common Application schools. 


Students applying to schools with test-optional admissions can choose whether or not they want to submit their SAT/ACT scores. These schools will typically judge an application based on other factors, such as transcript grades, college essays, recommendation letters, and extracurriculars. However, if you do choose to submit your test scores, the school’s admissions office will factor those in as well. 


Test-blind admissions simply means the school will not look at students’ test scores, even if students attempt to submit them. Test-blind schools prefer (or, in some cases, are required by law) to examine other factors of an application that they deem more indicative of a student’s aptitude and fit for the college. 


Test-flexible‘ colleges allow applicants to submit scores from a variety of standardized tests to support their application. Individual colleges have their own list of acceptable test scores. Scores from International Baccalaureate (IB) or Advanced Placement (AP) exams may be accepted. Students wishing to know which test scores to submit to test-flexible schools should contact the school directly.


Co-curricular activities are similar to extracurricular activities—with a slight variation. Co-curricular activities take place outside students’ normal coursework but they are closely linked to that coursework. For example, for theater majors, performing in a show or play would be co-curricular. This is in contrast to, for example, athletics, which are generally not directly associated with students’ majors. 

Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity and inclusion are two important principles that guide how colleges operate. These values are intended to improve racial, religious, and ethnic inclusion in the educational space. Diversity refers to colleges’ policy of increasing the range of perspectives on campus, while inclusion encourages schools to make learning spaces safe for everyone, no matter their capabilities, potential disabilities, sexual orientation, or socio-economic background. Together, these principles create a rich and varied student body in which everyone feels welcome. 

Yield Rate

Yield rate refers to the percentage of students who are accepted by a particular school who agree to attend that school. Publications that rank colleges and universities (most notably U.S. News and World Report) use high yield rates to as an indicator of a school’s desirability.

Final Thoughts. 

At HelloCollege, we aim to educate you and your family on the college admissions process. We want to prepare you for all the surprises involved in applying for college—including surprising vocabulary. To learn more about the college admissions process, please take a look at our other blogs and services. In no time, you and your family will be ready to start your journey to higher education!

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Rasha Myers

Rasha Myers

Rasha, an educator, and administrator with over a decade of experience, believes education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world. Passionate about developing future generations, she has devoted her life to seeing an increase in both the availability and quality of education. As they embark upon the college admissions process, Rasha strives to ensure that every student has access to the tools and resources they need to make the best financial and educational decisions. Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. She earned a Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction and a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology from Tuskegee University.