Navigating through the maze of college admissions requires learning a whole new vocabulary. Here are a few college admissions terms your homeschooler should understand:
Common Application: This single form is used by hundreds of colleges. Applicants fill out the Common Application online one time and then may submit this application to as many participating colleges as they wish. This can save the student time in filling out fewer forms. The Common Application features a main essay which will be sent to all colleges a student applies to. Each college has separate fees for applications though and many colleges require additional supplemental essays. Homeschool parents will also file transcripts and other homeschool documents through the Common Application. While the many colleges use the Common Application, not all do. Some private colleges such as MIT use their own online application system. Also some states, such as California and Texas, have their own online systems for applying to their state universities.
Rolling Admissions: There is no single deadline for admissions. Instead colleges admit students on an ongoing basis, but student do not need to choose the college until the May 1 national deadline. Rolling admissions are most often found at state universities. Best admissions odds will go to students who apply early. Some universities that offer rolling decision will fill up their classes quickly. If your student is concerned won’t get into college anywhere, having an acceptance from a rolling decision school can greatly lower stress through the rest of the admissions season.
Early Action: Early action plans allow students to put in a non-binding application early in the fall of senior year. The results will come back earlier than regular decision applications. Many colleges will reveal early action results before the Christmas holidays. Early action plans are non-binding which means that applicants are not committed to attending the college they apply to under this plan. Some colleges have a single-choice early action plan. Under single-choice early action applicants are allowed to apply to other schools under regular decision but they may put in only one early action or early decision application to a private university.
Early Decision: Students who are 100% sure of their top choice school and are ready to commit in the early fall, can apply under Early Decision. The application will be due earlier in the fall semester (between October and January typically). Applying early decision is signing a contract. Students who are admitted under early action agree with withdraw other applications and enroll in the Early Decision college. While there are some stipulations allowing students to withdraw if the Early Decision school cannot meet financial need, it is generally best not to apply early action unless you are full-pay or really have a strong understanding of the financial aid offered by the school you are applying to.
Deferred: Colleges will sometimes simply “defer” students from an early application plan to a regular decision plan. In this case the college doesn’t offer a decision, they defer the decision to a later date.
Waitlist: Some colleges place students on a “waitlist” which means the students are accepted only on the condition that sufficient room is left in the class after accepted students make their decisions. Students should realize that some colleges place hundreds of students on the waitlist and may admit only 1% or fewer.
Test Optional: Some colleges do not require the ACT or SAT for admittance. Read the policies carefully though because most test-optional colleges require tests from homeschoolers.
Hook: A hook is a something special or unique about a candidate that will give their application noticed and give them an advantage in competitive admissions. A hook could be a highly unusual talent in academics such as a top winner at a national science or math competition. Recruited athletes have a hook. At some schools an alumni connection or legacy status as the child of an alum will get your application another look. Geographic diversity can also be a hook at some schools.
Dual Enrollment: Dual enrollment allows high schools students to take courses for college credit. Dual enrollment is a great way for homeschoolers to validate their transcripts and demonstrate classroom competence. College policies vary widely so your credits may or may not be accepted when you enroll in college.
Demonstrated Interest: Some colleges consider “demonstrated interest” as one factor in the decision process. They gauge student interest by tracking inquiries, emails, visits, etc. Colleges consider demonstrated interest because they would like a large percentage of the students they admit to enroll in the college. The percent of students that enroll is referred to as yield and it is one factor used in college rankings such as USNews.
Full-Pay: Students who can afford to pay the full cost of attendance and will not apply for financial aid. At many schools full-pay students may have advantages in admissions.
Merit Scholarships: Merit scholarships are grants based solely on acheivement. Achievement may include academics, test scores, extracurricular activities, volunteer service, and skill in the arts. Merit scholarships are awarded without consideration of financial need. For some students generous merit scholarships may make a higher sticker price college as affordable as a state school.
Gapping: In this practice the college leaves a gap between the student’s demonstrated financial need and the amount of aid offered in the financial aid package. While a small fraction of colleges meet full financial need, the practice of gapping is very widespread.
First Generation College Student: Definitions vary but this typically refers to students who do have a parent who is a four year college graduate. First generation college students may be eligible for special scholarships.
Selectivity: Some colleges are very hard to get into but many accept most students who apply. Highly selective schools are very competitive. They reject many candidates and the average admitted student is likely to have very high test scores and grades. Open admissions colleges admit all students who meet the basic criteria for admissions.