College Admissions Glossary: P-S

on June 16, 2016

If you're struggling to comprehend all the unfamiliar words you come across in the college application process, you're not alone. Our admissions glossary covers the major terms so you know exactly what everything means. 

College Admissions Glossary: A-C
College Admissions Glossary: D-F
College Admissions Glossary: G-I
College Admissions Glossary: J-O
College Admissions Glossary: T-Z

PSAT/NMSQT: The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. The PSAT is taken in October of the student’s 10th grade as a practice version of the SAT. The PSAT is also used to prequalify students for the National Merit Scholarship program.

Part-Time: A part-time student enrolls for fewer credits than the college or university requires for full-time enrollment.

Pass-Fail: Pass-fail is a grading system in which a student can only pass or fail. No letter grades are given. Some colleges use a pass-fail system for freshmen, to help them adapt to the rigors of a college’s academic program.

Pass-No Credit: See Pass-Fail.

Plagiarism: Plagiarism involves copying another's work, writing, ideas or expression without giving appropriate credit to the author and attempting to present them as one's own. To avoid plagiarizing someone else’s work, set off the text with quotation marks and attribute the quote to the source.

Postsecondary Education: Postsecondary education, also referred to as a higher education, is education that goes beyond high school. Postsecondary education includes trade schools, junior colleges and four-year colleges and universities.

Preferential Packaging: Preferential packaging occurs when a college or university gives a more favorable financial aid package to students they are recruiting. A more favorable financial aid package can include a greater amount of financial aid as compared with financial need. A more favorable financial aid package can also include a more desirable mix of the various types of financial aid, such as more grants than loans.

Prerequisite: A prerequisite is a class that must be taken before a student takes a more advanced class. For example, calculus is a prerequisite for differential equations.

Priority Deadline: A priority deadline is the date by which students should apply for admission to a college or university for first consideration. Colleges use priority deadlines to encourage students to apply for admission earlier.

Private College: A private college is a college that is privately funded and not controlled by the government. Also known as independent colleges. There are two types of private colleges, non-profit and for-profit.

Probation: Probation occurs when a student fails to meet the academic performance requirements set by his or her college.

Public College: A public college is a college that is mainly funded and controlled by the state government.

Quarters: Quarters are an academic term where the academic year is split into four parts, rather than two semesters or three trimesters.

Reach School: A reach school is a college that is less likely to admit the student, based on the student’s academic background. Typically, the student’s admissions test scores will fall below the bottom 25th percentile of students enrolled at the college.

Regular Decision: Regular decision is the typical admissions process, in which students apply by the standard deadline.

Rejected: A student whose application for admission is rejected is not admitted by the college or university.

Resident Assistant (RA): A resident assistant (RA) is student leader in a dormitory. RAs are there to help younger students and ensure dorm rules are followed.

Retention Rate: The retention rate is the percentage of full-time, first-time students who return to the college for their sophomore year.


Rising Senior: A rising senior is between the junior and senior years. 

Rolling Admission: Rolling admission is an application process where applications for admission are accepted throughout the year and evaluated as they are received, with admissions decisions rendered within a month or two of receipt of the application.

Room and Board: Room and board refers to student housing and meal plans.

SAT: The SAT, previously known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test and Scholastic Assessment Test, is a college admissions test that evaluates how well students are prepared for college-level academic work. The SAT is developed by the College Board and administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS).

SAT Subject Test: A SAT Subject Test is a standardized test of academic performance in a specific subject area.

STEM: STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

Safety School: A safety school is a college where the student is likely to be admitted, based on the student’s academic background. Typically, the student’s admissions test scores will fall above the top 75th percentile of students enrolled at the college.

Salutatorian: The salutatorian is the student who ranks second highest in his or her graduating class.

Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP): Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) refers to the academic requirements a student must meet to qualify for financial aid. Typically, SAP involves a minimum GPA (e.g., at least a 2.0 on a 4.0 scale) and progress in taking and passing classes that is consistent with the requirements to graduate within a particular time-frame.

Scholarship: A scholarship is a form of gift aid, money for college that does not need to be earned or repaid.

Secondary School: See High School.

Selective Admissions: Selective admissions is a set of rigorous academic standards that must be met to gain admission to a college or university.

Selectivity: Selectivity is the percentage of applicants a college or university admits.

Semester: A semester is an academic term where the academic year is split into two parts, rather than three trimesters or four quarters.

Seminar: A seminar is a college-level course that includes extensive in-class discussion, typically involving a professor with a small group of students.

Sorority: A sorority is a social organization comprised of female students.

Sticker Price: A college’s sticker price is the college’s published cost of attendance, which is not reduced by financial aid.

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