When applying for a scholarship, college loan or application, a lot of vocabulary does not always make sense or mean what it appears to mean.  In the list below are common college, academic, and financial aid vocab terms and their definitions to help you better understand the scholarship/application process.


Academic year—A period of time schools use to measure a quantity of study. An academic year typically consists of two semesters, three quarters, or a defined number of hours of study.

Advanced Placement (AP)—A college-equivalent course taken in high school that allows the student, upon passing a test, to earn college credit.

Assets—Items of value such as stocks, bonds, savings, and real estate. You are required to report the value of some types of assets when completing the FAFSA.

Associate degree—A degree granted by a college a er the satisfactory completion of a two-year, full-time program of study or its part-time equivalent.

Bachelor’s or baccalaureate degree—A degree granted by a college a er the satisfactory completion of a four- or five-year, full-time program of study, or its part-time equivalent.

Books/supplies—One of the typical components of Cost
of Attendance (COA). Each college includes an average estimated cost you may incur for purchasing textbooks and other academic supplies.

Budget—The total “sticker price” of attending college; also known as Cost of Attendance (COA).

Capitalization—For unsubsidized loans, the amount of interest that accrues while you are in school, a grace period, or in deferment or forbearance that is added to the principal balance of your loan.

Consolidation loan—A loan that combines several student loans into one new loan from a single lender.

Cost of Attendance (COA)—The calculated cost of attending the college, for a period of enrollment (such as an academic year), which includes transportation, room and board, tuition and fees, and the estimated cost of books, supplies, and other expenses. COA is used to determine eligibility for financial aid.

CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE®—A form some colleges may require you to complete in addition to the FAFSA to qualify for financial aid.

Default—Occurs when the borrower fails to make scheduled loan payments for a period of 270 days or longer.

Deferment—A period during which a borrower is entitled to have payments of principal and interest on a federal education loan postponed if he or she meets the eligibility criteria for the deferment. For subsidized federal loans, interest that accrues during periods of deferment is paid by the federal government.

Dependent student—For federal student aid purposes, any student who is not an independent student is considered to be dependent. See the definition of “independent student” for a list of qualifying conditions.

Early action—A college admissions process that is similar to early decision, but is not a binding commitment to attend the college.

Early decision—Students who apply under early decision commit to enroll at the college if admitted and offered a satisfactory financial aid package. Application deadlines usually are in November or December with a mid- to late- December notification date.

Expected Family Contribution (EFC)—The index number used by the college’s financial aid office to determine how much financial aid you would receive to attend their school. The information reported on the FAFSA is used to calculate your EFC.

Federal Need Analysis Methodology—A formula used to calculate your family’s expected financial contribution for college. This formula, established by Congress, is used nationwide for all students. The most important factors in the formula are: parent income, assets, and net worth; student income and assets; and family size.

Federal School Code—An identifier that the U.S. Department of Education assigns to each college or career school that participates in the federal student aid programs. In order to send your FAFSA information to a school, you must list the school’s Federal School Code on your application. A list of Federal School Codes is available at fafsa.gov.

Financial aid package—The total amount of financial aid a student is eligible to receive. It might include grants, work- study, and loans and is assembled by the college’s financial aid office.

Financial need—The amount by which your family contribution falls short of covering the cost of attendance.

Forbearance—The temporary postponement or reduction of loan payments that is typically granted at the discretion of the lender/servicer. The borrower is responsible for paying all interest that accrues during periods of forbearance.

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)—A free application that must be completed by all students and parents who apply for federal student aid.
FSA ID—A username and password used to login to certain Federal Student Aid websites, such as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the National Student Loan Data System, among others.

Full-time student—An undergraduate student who is enrolled for at least 12 credit hours per semester or equivalent. For
a graduate student, the enrollment requirements can vary among colleges. Does not include audited courses.

Graduate student—A student who is enrolled in a master’s or doctoral program at a college.

Grant—A type of financial aid usually based on financial need, which the student does not have to repay.

Independent student—A student is considered independent for federal student aid if the student meets one of the following criteria:

  • Is working toward a master’s or doctoral degree
  • Is married
  • Has legal dependents other than a spouse
  • Is an orphan or ward of the court or in foster care at any time after age 13
  • Is on active duty or is a veteran of the U.S. Armed forces · Is an emancipated minor or in legal guardianship
  • Is an unaccompanied homeless youth
  • Is an unaccompanied self-supporting youth at risk of homelessness

Interest—The cost of borrowing money. Interest charges are repaid in addition to the principal of the loan.

Loan—A type of financial aid that must be repaid, with interest.

Master Promissory Note (MPN)—To borrow under the federal loan programs, a student or parent must sign this common form. The MPN allows borrowers to receive loans for a single academic year, or for multiple academic years (up to 10 years) without having to sign a new note.

Merit-based aid—Financial aid awarded on the basis of grades, test scores, athletic ability or other talent rather than financial need.

Need-based aid—Financial aid awarded based on the family’s ability to pay for college. The FAFSA is typically used to determine a family’s eligibility for need-based aid.

Net price calculator (NPC)—Each college that participates in the federal financial aid programs is required to have a “net price calculator” on its website. A net price calculator can give you an estimate of how much it may cost you to attend each specific college, taking into account grant and scholarship aid you may receive from both the college and federal financial aid.

Part-time student—An undergraduate student who is enrolled for fewer than 12 credit hours per semester or equivalent. A graduate student who is enrolled for fewer hours than the college’s standard to be considered a full-time student. Does not include audited courses.

Personal expenses—One of the typical components of Cost of Attendance (COA). Each college includes an average estimated cost you may incur for purchasing personal items such as laundry detergent, toothpaste, etc.

Principal—The loan amount borrowed on which interest is calculated.

Priority ling date—The date established by the college by which students are encouraged to submit their FAFSA and have the results forwarded to the college to increase their chances of being awarded certain campus-based financial aid. Financial aid funds are limited for students who fail to meet their college’s priority filing date.

Private grant aid—Non-college grant aid, such as scholarships from community groups and organizations, which does not require repayment.

Private loans—Education loan programs provided by private lenders to supplement the student and parent education loan programs available from the federal government.

Promissory note—The legal document signed by the borrower prior to receiving a loan. States a promise to repay the loan, and lists the conditions of the loan and terms for repayment. The Master Promissory Note (MPN) is one type of promissory note.

Room/board—One of the typical components of Cost of Attendance (COA). Each college includes the actual cost it charges if you live on campus, or an estimated cost you may incur for living o campus.

Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP)—The academic standard you must meet in college to continue to receive federalfi nancial aid. Each college establishes its own SAP policy to comply with federal requirements.

State grant aid—State financial aid, such as grants and scholarships, which does not have to be repaid.

Student Aid Report (SAR)—The SAR summarizes the information you included on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The SAR provides the Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which is used to determine whether a student is eligible for a Federal Pell Grant and other federal aid.

Transportation—One of the typical components of Cost
of Attendance (COA). Each college includes an average estimated cost you may incur for transportation to and from school. This can vary depending upon whether your permanent residence is in another city/state or if you are a commuting student.

Tuition/fees—One of the typical components of Cost of Attendance (COA). This is the actual cost the college charges students for providing instructional and other services. Tuition may be charged per term, per course, or per credit hour.

Undergraduate student—A student who is enrolled in an undergraduate course of study that usually does not exceed four years and that typically leads to a degree or certificate.

Unmet need—The amount of need remaining a er Expected Family Contribution (EFC), grant aid, and self-help are subtracted from Cost of Attendance (COA).

Verifcation—The process colleges use to ensure the accuracy of the information reported on the FAFSA. You may be required to provide the college with a copy of your tax return or other additional documentation.

*All information provided by ECMC Oregon