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What Does It All Mean?

What Does It All Mean?

Higher Education Terms and Definitions


A college entrance examination generally taken during the junior and/or senior year that assesses a student’s general educational development and his/her ability to complete college-level work. The ACT is comprised of four subject tests — English, mathematics, reading, and science and an optional writing test (essay).

AP (Advanced Placement)

Courses and exams that enable high school students to earn college credit or advanced standing at most American colleges and universities. To learn more about AP courses and subject area exams go to http://www.collegeboard. org/student/testing/ap/about.html.

Associate Degree

The associate degree is awarded to students who complete a minimum of 60 college credits with a 2.0 GPA.


Colleges and universities belong to leagues that have their own rules, regulations, and eligibility requirements. SUNY participates in NCAA Divisions I and III and NJCAA Divisions I, II, and III, NAIA, and USCAA.

NCAA - National Collegiate Athletic Association

Division I and II schools offer athletic scholarships and students are required to meet NCAA’s academic requirements. Division III schools do not offer athletic scholarships and students are not required to meet NCAA academic requirements.

A future student athlete should meet with his/her counselor as early as possible to review the NCAA requirements to ensure he/she is taking the right high school courses.

NJCAA - National Junior College Athletic Association

NJCAA Division I and II schools offer scholarships, while Division III schools do not. There are no academic eligibility requirements for student athletes entering junior or community colleges.

NAIA - National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics

NAIA schools have an option of awarding full or partial scholarships. In order to play a sport or receive an athletic scholarship, a student must meet eligibility requirements.

USCAA - United States Collegiate Athletic Association

USCAA schools have an option of awarding full or partial scholarships. In order to play a sport or receive an athletic scholarship, a student must meet USCAA eligibility requirements.

Bachelor’s Degree
Also called Baccalaureate Degree

The bachelor’s degree is awarded to students who complete a minimum of 120 college credits. Bachelor’s degrees are found at four-year colleges and universities.

Certificate Programs

Certificate programs provide specific job skills, require a minimum of 30 college credits and are generally offered at community colleges.

Class Rank

Many high schools use class rank to show where a student stands academically in relation to other members in his/her graduating class. The student who has the highest GPA is number one in the class. The student with the second highest GPA is number two, etc. Therefore, it is necessary to have a high GPA in order to have an impressive class rank.

Community/Junior College

A community/junior college is also known as a two-year school. Courses offered include transfer curricula with credits transferable toward a bachelor’s degree at a four year college and occupational or technical curricula with courses of study designed to prepare students for employment in two years.


College courses are measured in credit hours and typical college classes are 3 credit hours. A full-time student will generally take 15 college credits, or 4 to 5 classes, per semester.

Early Action

An admission program under which students apply early to one or more colleges and receive a decision, prior to regular notification dates, without an obligation to attend. Admission is non-binding. Students typically have until May 1 to declare their intent to enroll and may apply under Early Action to as many schools as they wish.

Early Decision

An admission program under which students apply early and receive a decision prior to regular notification dates. Admission is binding. If they are offered admission, they must commit to attending the college. As a result, students may not apply under Early Decision to more than one college.


The Free Application for Federal Student Aid at www. fafsa.ed.gov is required for students wishing to apply for financial aid - including federal, state, and campus-based aid. The FAFSA should be completed as soon after January 1 of the senior year in high school as possible, even if the family tax returns have not been filed.

GPA (Grade Point Average)

Grade point average reflects the average of a student’s semester (or end of term) grades, starting with the freshman year. Although GPA scales differ among schools, they are usually reported as letters or numbers.

Numeric grades can be converted to letter grades as illustrated below in the following table.

Number Grade Conversion
Numeric GradeLetter GradeGrade Point Average
90-100 A 4.0
80-89 B 3.0
70-79 C 2.0
60-69 D 1.0
Less than 60 F 0.0

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Educational Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, The 2005 High School Transcript Study.

Some schools have “weighted grades” for honors and/or AP courses. If a high school has weighted grades, then a grade in a weighted course is worth more than it is in a nonweighted course. For example, an A in an honors course might be worth 5 points instead of the usual 4, a B worth 4 points instead of 3, etc.

A variety of methods are used to determine GPA. Regardless of the method used, the higher the grades, the higher the GPA, and the higher the GPA, the greater the college and scholarship opportunities.

IB (International Baccalaureate)

IB programs promote the education of the whole person, emphasizing intellectual, personal, emotional, and social growth. Diploma students take six subjects, write a 4,000 word extended essay, complete a course in theory of knowledge, as well as complete a number of creativity, action, and service projects. IB diplomas are recognized by the world’s leading universities and may result in awarding of college credit and/or scholarships.


The primary field of study in which an individual wishes to receive a degree.


A second field of study requiring fewer credit hours than a major.


A “pre-ACT” test that also assists students with their career and college planning. Typically PLAN is administered in the fall of the sophomore year.

Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test

A practice test for the SAT that is also used to determine National Merit finalists. The PSAT/NMSQT is given in October, primarily to juniors, and measures critical reading, math problem-solving and writing skills.


Most colleges request two or three letters of recommendation when submitting an application for admission. These are generally written by people who know you inside and outside of the classroom (usually an academic teacher and a college advisor/school counselor).

SAT Reasoning Test

A college entrance examination generally taken during the junior and/or senior year that measures the critical thinking skills needed for academic success in college. The SAT includes critical reading, mathematics and writing sections.

SAT II: Subject Tests

One-hour tests that measure a student’s knowledge in specific subject areas that should be taken as the high school subjects are completed. These tests are required by some of the more competitive colleges.


A document that details a student’s academic achievement in high school. Although the appearance of the transcript varies from school to school, all high school transcripts generally contain the following information: Courses, grades, and credits for each grade completed, beginning with grade nine; current cumulative GPA and class rank; and anticipated graduation date. An unofficial transcript is exactly the same as an official transcript except that there is no signature, stamp, or seal.

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