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I thought it might be helpful to have a reference for common terms and questions about college admissions. Note that many of these terms apply to high school admissions as well. test-optional (TO): If a school is test-optional, that means that the school doesn't require you to submit standardized test scores, but will consider them if you do decide to submit them. Test-blind schools and colleges are very common in the US right now--more than 75%, according to Inside Higher Ed (retrieved 2021-11-06). Note that many schools or programs swear up and down that they can effectively evaluate you as a candidate even without admissions test scores, but frankly, that's just not true. A test score almost always adds an extra dimension to your applications and therefore, also adds a measure of confidence about making a decision whether to admit, reject, or waitlist. Tips: The general rule is to submit a score if it's higher than the average of that school. And yes, statistically, people who submit test scores have a higher chance of admission (but that's also partly because people who choose to submit scores tend to have higher scores). test-blind (TB): If a school is test-blind, that means they won't look at your test scores when they make their decision about whether to admit you. As of 2021-11-02, there are only 86 US colleges that are test blind (according to Fair Test; retrieved 2021-11-06), which is about 2% of all US colleges (there are about 4,000 colleges in the US). However, the University of California, one of the largest and most prestigious college systems in the US, notably went test-blind in 2020 because of COVID-19 and growing concerns over access to testing and test prep. And at least in San Francisco, California, the percentage of high schools that are test blind is higher. LoR: Letter of recommendation. Some programs require or request these. Tip: In the US, it's generally preferred to have an LoR from someone who knows you well, not necessarily someone famous. (Students sometimes say I can get a letter of recommendation from the mayor of Springfield/governor of ABC province, so I'm guaranteed to get in, right? No, you're not ever guaranteed, and a letter like that would look… let's say insincere to be polite.) early decision (ED): Many US colleges have an 'early decision' option to apply. This option gives you the chance to find out early whether you got in. How much earlier? Well, for Stanford, it's a full 3.5 months early--Dec 15 for ED vs April 1 (as of 2021-11-08) for RD. Note that a December result is considered pretty early, as it's before many deadlines. So if you don't get in ED, you could still have time to apply RD for other schools. So what's the kicker? Well, traditionally, you're supposed to apply to only one college early decision. The idea is that a specific college is your first choice, so you should apply to that college ED. Oh, one more important factor--if you get in, you're supposed to accept; you can't change your mind. This type of application is called binding. (See this document for more information on binding decisions.) Also, for a couple of good reasons (including so-called yield), people who apply ED have a slightly higher chance of gaining admission. In other words, the acceptance rate for ED applications is higher than that for RD applications. So what if you don't get in? Well, basically there are three types of notifications: one, you're admitted. Two, you're rejected. Three, they can't make a decision, so they defer you to the RD pool of applicants. Finally, ED is pretty popular, and a most students I've worked with or known apply to one college ED if it's offered. (The University of California, for example, does not have early decision.) early action (EA): single-choice early action (SCEA): restrictive early action (REA): binding: If you apply to a college with a binding decision, that means you are bound to attend that university if they accept you. And conversely, they are bound to admit you if you accept. Tautological, I know. But it's a two-way agreement, technically. So you're supposed to attend if you apply with a binding decision and they offer you admission. Note that you're supposed to attend before you find out their financial aid offer, so if that's a concern, you may not want to apply with a binding decision. And you may be wondering what happens if you back out of your agreement. Well, it's not 100% clear (people wonder whether one college will tell another), but the standard advice is that you should uphold your agreement unless something changes drastically, like your visa was revoked or you decide not to attend college for some reason. Repercussions if you back out of your agreement: It's hard to imagine college cops banging on your door, so in reality, not much would actually happen. However, it's possible that if you got into a really good university (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, etc.), then that college has talked to your counselor, and your counselor gave you a good recommendation. In this case, the counselor might get some blowback because she recommended you. Why does this matter? This could hurt the reputation of your recommender with those colleges. non-binding: This is the most common type of application to send in--you apply to a college, and if they admit you, you will think about whether or not you want to attend. In other words, you're not obligated to attend if you don't want to, for example, if you got a better offer of financial aid at a college you really like. regular-decision (RD): personal statement (PS): Also called admissions essay. This is just a very broad term that refers to the writing you do for your application to college or graduate school. It's also very common to talk about the essays using the name of the platform the college uses, for example, the Common App essay. statement of purpose (SoP): A statement of purpose is more common for graduate school, and it generally highlights your qualifications, what you plan to do in the program, future career goals, etc. gap year: A gap year is simply taking a year off between high school and college. Many students do this (I did this, in fact) because they want to do a special program before they start college, while others just need a break before they start college. University of California These are specific to the University of California. PIQ: The personal insight questions. These are basically the responses to the main questions. They're not really considered essays, so we try not to call them essays. There are eight PIQs that you look at. From those eight, if you're not a transfer student, you pick four to write. The others, you just ignore.