College Planning Glossary

college planning glossary


Below is a glossary of college planning acronyms & terms that you might hear but are unsure what they really mean.  Additional relevant college planning terms will be added over time so please stop back and visit if you are unsure about the meaning of acronyms or other college planning terms you hear.

Additional college resources such as educational videos can be found here.


529 Savings Plan

A tax-advantaged investment vehicle in the United States designed to encourage saving for the future higher education expenses of a designated beneficiary.



There are two widely accepted standardized tests that colleges accept as their entrance exams — the ACT and SAT. These tests assess a students’ general educational development and their predicted ability to complete college-level work in core classes such as math, english, reading and science.  The ACT is required by more four-year colleges and universities than any other admission exam.



Acronym for Advance Placement.


Award Amount

The amount of aid a school expects to pay to a prospective student.  The award amount is based on a number of factors including

  1. The student’s current grant and loan eligibility,
  2. Enrollment,
  3. Expected Family Contribution (EFC), and
  4. The school’s cost of attendance (COA).


Award Letter

A written offer from a college, university or career school that states the type and amount of financial aid the school is willing to provide to a student who accepts admission and registers to take classes at that school.


Award Year

School year for which financial aid is used to fund a student’s education. Generally, financial aid is awarded for a 12 month period that begins on July 1 of one year and ends on June 30 of the following year.



Acronym for College Level Examination Program



COA or Cost of Attendance, is the total amount it will cost you to go to school—usually expressed annually.

COA for full-time students include: tuition and fees; room and board (or a housing and food allowance); and allowances for books, supplies, transportation, loan fees, and dependent care. It also includes miscellaneous and personal expenses, including an allowance for the rental or purchase of a personal computer; costs related to a disability; and reasonable costs for eligible study-abroad programs.

COA For students attending less than half-time, the COA includes tuition and fees and an allowance for books, supplies, transportation, and dependent care expenses, and can also include room and board for up to three semesters or the equivalent at the institution. But no more than two of those semesters, or the equivalent, may be consecutive.


College Scholarship Service Profile

An alternative to the FAFSA used by some schools to determine qualification for financial aid.   See CSS Profile below


Cost Of Attendance

The total amount it will cost you to attend a college or university.  See COA above


CSS Profile stands for College Scholarship Service Profile, is an application distributed by the College Board in the United States allowing college students to apply for financial aid. It is designed primarily to give private member institutions of the College Board a closer look into the finances of a student and family. It is much more detailed application than the more widely used FAFSA.



Acronym for College Work Study


Direct PLUS Loan

A loan made by the U.S. Department of Education to graduate or professional students and parents of dependent undergraduate students for which the borrower is fully responsible for paying the interest regardless of the loan status.



EFC or Expected Family Contribution, is an important acronym in the world of college planning.  It represents the calculation that is used to determine your eligibility for Federal student financial aid. EFC is also the basis for most school’s financial aid departments when considering need based aid. This number results from the financial information you provide in your FAFSA, and is reported to you on your Student Aid Report (SAR).



Electronic Student Aid Report.  See SAR below


Expected Family Contribution

see EFC above


Acronym for Financial Aid Administrator



Acronym for Financial Aid Office


FAFSA is short for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is a form that must be prepared annually by current and prospective college students (both undergraduate and graduate) in the United States to determine their eligibility for student financial aid (including all federal Grants, Loans and Work-Study). The FAFSA is a lengthly form of roughly 130 Questions.



The FAFSA PIN is your personal ID # that can be used each year to electronically apply for Federal student aid and to access your Federal Student Aid records online.


Federal Direct Loan

Sometimes known as FDSLP (Federal Direct Student Loan Program).  It is A Federal student loan, made through the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program, for which eligible students and parents borrow directly from the U.S. Department of Education at participating schools. Direct Subsidized Loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans, Direct PLUS Loans and Direct Consolidation Loans are types of Direct Loans.



Acronym for Federal Family Educational Loan Program


Federal Pell Grant

A Federal grant for undergraduate students with financial need.


Federal Perkins Loan

A Federal student loan, made by the recipient’s school, for undergraduate and graduate students who demonstrate financial need.


Federal Work-Study (FWS)

A Federal student aid program that provides part-time employment to students while they are enrolled in school to help pay their education expenses.


Federal Student Aid Programs

The Federal programs authorized under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 that provide grants, loans and work-study funds from the Federal government to eligible students enrolled in college or career school.


Federal Student Loans

A loan funded by the federal government to help pay for a student’s education. A federal student loan is borrowed money that must be repaid with interest.


Financial Need

The difference between the cost of attendance (COA) at a school and a student’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC). While COA varies from school to school, a student’s EFC does not change based on the school they attend but is recalculated each year


Financial Aid Offer

The total amount of financial aid (federal and nonfederal) a student is offered by a college or career school. The school’s financial aid staff combines various forms of aid into a “package” to help meet a student’s education costs.


Financial Aid Package

The total amount of financial aid (federal and nonfederal) a student is offered by a college, university or career school. The school’s financial aid staff combines various forms of aid into a “package” to help meet a student’s education costs.


For Profit University

A college or university which is operated by a private for-profit seeking business.  Historically most colleges and universities have been operated as non-profit institutions.  Within the last 20 years for-profit colleges have grown in numbers significantly and they have received a great deal of scrutiny and negative attention since 2010.  Some examples of for profit colleges include University of Phoenix, Strayer University, and ITT Technical Institute.


Free Application For Federal Student Aid

See FAFSA Above


Acronym for Federal Work Study (see above)



Acronym for Grade Point Average.  GPA is a measure of your success in coursework at either high school, college, or post graduate level.



Financial aid, often based on financial need, that does not need to be repaid (unless, for example, you withdraw from school and owe a refund).  Student loans need to be repaid, while grants do not.



Acronym for Guaranteed Student Loan


Merit-based Aid

Financial aid based on a student’s skill or ability. Example: A merit-based scholarship might be awarded based on a student’s high grades or test test scores


Need-based Aid

Financial aid based on a student’s financial need. Example: A need-based grant might be awarded based on the household income and other financial indicators of the student or students family.



Acronym for Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students.  See Direct PLUS Loans above


Private Loan

A non-Federal loan made by a private company, lender, or insitution such as a bank, credit union, state agency, or school.



Acronym for Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test.  Essentially a practice test for the SAT admissions test, which is utilized by many schools


Room and Board

An allowance for the cost of housing and food while attending college, university or career school.



SAR stands for Student Aid Report.  It is a summary of the information you submitted on your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You receive this report (often called the SAR) electronically a few days after your FAFSA has been processed or by mail within 7-10 days if you did not provide an e-mail address. If there are no corrections or additional information you must provide, the SAR will contain your EFC, which is the number that’s used to determine your eligibility for Federal student aid.



Acronym, and more common name, for the Scholastic Assessment Test.  Used by many colleges and universities as part of admissions criteria for acceptance.



Money awarded to students based on academic, athletic or other achievements to help pay for education expenses. Scholarships generally do not have to be repaid.



Acronym for Supplemental Loan For Students



Acronym for State Student Incentive Grants


Student Aid Report

A summary of the info you submitted in your FAFSA. See SAR above


Subsidized Loan

A loan based on financial need for which the Federal government pays the interest that accrues while the borrower is in an in-school, grace, or deferment status. For Direct Subsidized Loans first disbursed between July 1, 2012, and July 1, 2014, the borrower will be responsible for paying any interest that accrues during the grace period. If the interest is not paid during the grace period, the interest will be added to the loan’s principal balance.


Tuition & Fees

The charge related to instruction (ex. classes) at a college or university.


Unsubsidized Loan

A loan for which the borrower is fully responsible for paying the interest regardless of the loan status. Interest on unsubsidized loans accrues from the date of disbursement and continues throughout the life of the loan.



In the context of college planning generally an acronym for United States Department of Education