College Applications From A to Z

The college admissions process can be intimidating. One way to help lessen your stress is to make sure you're familiar with all the terms you need to know. These key words related to the college application process can be a good place to start.

By Douglas J. Fehlen

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Admissions Office

The admissions office decides who gets into a school. Staffers review applications to determine which applicants are most deserving based on grade point average, SAT or ACT scores, activities, application essays and other factors. Check in with the admissions office at a school if you have questions about its application process.

Candidates Reply Date Agreement (CRDA)

This term refers to the date - typically May 1st - by which students must decide on a school. Many colleges honor this date so that, most of the time, students have the opportunity to wait on making a decision until they hear back from all of the colleges to which they've applied.

Common Application

The Common Application is a standard form that can be use to apply to hundreds of schools across the country. Some institutions require you to complete unique forms instead of or in addition to the Common Application, so make sure to check in with admissions officials before submitting this application.

Early Action

Applying to colleges early often gives you the best chance to get in. This is especially true for schools featuring early action programs. To be eligible, you must get your application in by November 1st. Schools typically inform students of admissions decisions in December. Most often you can apply to multiple institutions through early action programs, not having to make your choice until late spring.

Early Decision

Early decision programs also feature an application date of November 1st, but they differ from early action programs. Early decision programs typically allow students to apply to only one school early; individuals who are accepted and receive adequate financial aid are then obligated to enroll in that institution. These programs are best for students with one clear favorite school - not those who want to keep their options open.

Legacy Admissions

Many schools - particularly elite institutions - have in place a system of legacy preferences. At these colleges and universities, admissions staff may give students who are related to alumni preferential treatment over those without a familial connection to the school.

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Need-Blind Admissions

Schools with this type of policy make admissions decisions independently of students' financial backgrounds. These institutions often - though not always - provide financial aid to students who are qualified academically but lack significant economic resources.

Open Admissions

Schools with an open admissions policy accept virtually anyone who has earned a high school diploma (or equivalency). Many community colleges and trade schools have policies of this kind.

Preferential Packaging

Schools that offer preferential packaging may provide increased financial assistance to those students who are academically the most qualified. Colleges and universities often offer more grant money to these applicants in the hope that they will attend the school.

Rolling Admissions

Colleges and universities with a wide application window are said to have a rolling admissions policy. This means you can apply over a long period of time. Schools with these policies often provide decisions within a few weeks of receiving applications.


Students who are right on the 'acceptance bubble' may be placed on a school's waitlist. These individuals won't be placed in a college or university until other more qualified students decide not to attend the school.

Zero hour

Applying to colleges can be stressful, but don't let anxiety cause you to wait until the last minute; it's unlikely you'll be able to present your best, most qualified self if you're feeling pressure from imminent deadlines. Instead, get an early jump on applications so that you have plenty of time to look them over before sending them off.

These terms only touch on the surface of college admissions. If you want to learn more about the process, check out this article for helpful insight on preparing applications.

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