College Vocabulary

Is your head spinning from three-letter acronyms and new terminology? Check out this handy vocabulary reference guide.



Academic Elective

Academic classes you can choose to add to your course schedule. Often these are core courses students take beyond what is required for high school graduation.


You must apply to get into college. The process colleges use to decide who gets in is called admission. Colleges review each application and decide which students to accept. Students receive a letter of acceptance or rejection telling them whether they have been admitted.

Advanced Placement (AP®)

AP® courses offer college-level coursework in high schools. If students want college credit, they can take an end-of-the-year exam which covers all of the course material.


An apprenticeship program combines on-the-job training in a skilled craft or trade with classroom study. The student, also called an apprentice, is trained and prepared for advanced training or employment in a higher-than-entry-level position.

Associate’s Degree

To earn an associate’s degree, you must complete a program that is at least two but less than four years of college work, usually at a community or technical college. These programs are often designed to transfer to a four-year college.

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Bachelor’s Degree

The undergraduate degree offered by four-year colleges and universities.

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Career Pathway

Groups of jobs that require similar skills and interests.


An institution of higher education that awards degrees and certificates.


An official government document that gives college graduates the rank of officer in the military. See a military recruiter for more information on commissioning programs.

Community and Technical College

A two-year institution of higher education. Courses and credits can generally transfer to a four-year college. These colleges also offer work-related and technical programs to prepare students for the world of work.

Core Course

Core courses include math, science, English, and social studies or history.

Cost of attendance

The total cost for one year of college. It includes tuition, fees, books, food, housing, and transportation.

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Degrees are what you earn when you complete a program of study. The most commonly earned degrees are: associate’s, bachelor’s, and graduate.

Doctoral Degree

The highest degree offered by colleges and universities. This degree can take five or more years after a bachelor’s degree to complete.

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Classes you can choose to add to your school schedule; they are not required.


To join the military after graduating from high school.

Expected Family Contribution (EFC)

The amount you and your family are expected to contribute toward college costs. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) determines your EFC.

Extra-Curricular Activities

Non-classroom or after-school activities, including sports, clubs, student government, community service, religious groups, and social organizations or events.

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See Free Application For Federal Student Aid


College costs not included in tuition. Fees may be charged to cover the cost of materials and equipment needed in certain courses. They may be charged for student events, programs, and publications, like a yearbook.

Financial Aid

Financial aid includes grants, scholarships, loans, and part-time employment from federal, state, institutional and private sources. These types of aid are combined to create an “award package.” The type and amount of aid you receive is determined by financial need, available funds, student classification, academic performance, and sometimes the timeliness of your application.

Financial Need

The difference between what your family is expected to contribute and the total cost of attendance for one year of college. Financial Need equals Cost of Attendance minus Expected Family Contribution.

Four-year colleges and universities

These schools offer certificates, bachelor’s (sometimes called four-year degrees), master’s, professional, and doctoral degrees in broad subject areas like business administration, history, or biology.

Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

This free application must be filed every year to receive most forms of financial aid, including loans, grants, and work study.

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Grade Point Averages (GPA)/Letter Grades

Most colleges consider letter grades and GPAs in admissions.

Guidance Counselor/Academic Advisor

This person will help you choose high school courses, review the requirements for your chosen career, and help with any problems.

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Higher Education

Any program of study or degree program for high school graduates or people with General Education Development (GED) certificates.

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Interest Inventories

Short quizzes that help you learn which jobs or career clusters might be right for you.
International Baccalaureate (IB) - IB concentrates on multisubject study. Students enrolled in IB can earn a special diploma and college credits by taking IB courses and passing comprehensive examinations.

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Journey-level Worker/Trade Professional

A master of a specific skilled trade, like carpentry, masonry, plumbing, etc.; one who has studied and worked in a skilled trade for many years.

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Lifelong Learning

The idea that a person can and should learn throughout his/her whole life.

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Master’s Degrees

This is a graduate degree added onto a bachelor’s degree. It usually takes two years to complete.

Merit-based Financial Aid

Financial aid based on high academic, athletic, artistic, or community service achievement.

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Need-based Financial Aid

Financial aid given to students with a demonstrated financial need.

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Occupational Education

Work-related classes or programs of study such as bookkeeping, keyboarding, and business technology.


Someone who joins the military after college or receives a commission to become a military leader/supervisor.

Officer Candidate Schools (OCS) or Officer Training Schools (OTS)

These 10-week to 17-week schools train college graduates to become entry-level supervisors in the military.

Open Admissions Policy

Open admissions institutions are usually public two-year community and technical colleges. The term “open admission” refers to an admission policy that says almost anyone with a high school diploma or General Education Development certificate (GED) can be admitted to that college.

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Private vocational colleges

These colleges are sometimes called trade schools or voc-tech programs. They offer apprentice and journeyman programs for skilled tradesmen like plumbers, machinists, electricians, or carpenters. The length of each program varies, but many can take three or more years to complete.

Proprietary or for-profit schools

These schools can offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees, but most offer associate’s degrees or certificates in office management, medical assistance, cosmetology, dental hygiene, computer systems engineering, and more.


The Preliminary SAT®/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test is designed for juniors and is co-sponsored by the College Board and the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. The PSAT®/NMSQT measures the critical reading, math problem solving, and writing skills that you’ve been developing throughout you life. It does not measure things like creativity and motivation, and it doesn’t recognize the special talents that may be important to colleges.

Public/Private Colleges

Public colleges are run by the state or other government agency and are managed by public boards. Governments do not run private colleges.

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Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC)

This program can help college students pay for their education. In return for scholarship money, students agree to serve in the military. Junior ROTC students are not required to serve.

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SAT I® and SAT II®

The SAT I® and the ACT Assessment® are both widely used admissions tests. Many colleges accept either one, but some require one or the other. The SAT I® measures your verbal reasoning, critical reading, and math problem solving skills. It tells you how well you use the skills and knowledge you’ve learned so far, both in and out of school. SAT II Subject Tests® show colleges your mastery of specific subjects, like English, history and social studies, math, science, and language.

State Need Grant (SNG)

This grant is available to eligible students who demonstrate financial need. Students must be Washington residents and admitted and enrolled at least half-time at a participating institution.

State Work Study (SWS)

The State Work Study program allows students to earn money and work experience while in college. Jobs are usually part-time, allowing you to attend classes and to study. Jobs are related to your career interests, whenever possible.