There are a lot of acronyms and new terms flying around during college application season and after it’s over. Hughes is here to help you decipher a few that most frequently confuse both students and parents. BA: A Bachelor of Arts is an undergraduate degree. Common misconception: you can’t get a BA in the sciences! Often BAs are awarded from liberal arts universities, even if you’re a math major. Depending on the courses you pick and the majors you decide on, you might go for a BA or BS, but both are equal degrees.

BS: A Bachelor of Science is also an undergraduate degree. Depending on the university you choose to attend, you could have a choice of pursuing a BA or a BS. Most schools offer both types of degrees-- even CalTech!

The Common Application: Known as the Common App or CA, the Common Application is used to apply to nearly 700 colleges and universities. You fill in your application and essay only once, though supplements, which often require their own extensive essays, are frequently used in addition to the CA. Many state schools have their own unique applications, but the odds are you’ll use the Common App for at least one of your schools. Need help with that tricky Common App essay? Hughes is here to help.

CSS Profile: The College Scholarship Service Profile is a fee-based form that many private universities and colleges use in addition to the FAFSA to determine need-based aid for students. Because the institutional aid might come from a school with a sizable endowment, you might get more generous grants.

FAFSA: The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is a form that determines need-based financial aid sponsored by the government. The FAFSA opens January 1st and most schools have their own specific deadlines for receiving the FAFSA information. Submitting the FAFSA before the end of January will improve your odds of receiving aid. You must reapply every year! FAFSA is now enacting a policy, referred to as Prior-Prior Year (PPY), which enables families to file the FAFSA with tax information from two years ago. It will allow families to receive financial aid information prior to the college decision deadlines and lets families more easily transfer IRS tax return information to the FAFSA.

Full Ride: A term that literally means a merit-based scholarship award that pays for a student’s full attendance at a college or university, including room, board, tuition, and fees.  This term is one of the most frequently misused words in the college application process.  It is often used to describe an award that actually only covers the cost of tuition and, even more erroneously, it is used by many people to describe a financial aid package that contains both need and merit components.  Full Ride Scholarships are incredibly rare in college admissions today - 99% of the time, when you hear a person say they received a ‘full ride’ to school X, their package contained significant need-based aid in addition to merit scholarships.  

Liberal Arts: A cross-disciplinary education that provides an overview of the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, mathematics and arts! What does that really mean? You can take more classes in different areas, rather than focusing right away on one discipline or another. You might take a history course that informs your physics lab, or write an English paper that utilizes your knowledge of engineering.

Merit-based aid: Need-blind financial aid given to students based on academic achievements, arts or sports accomplishments, or the strength of their application. Very coveted! Very difficult to come by!

Need-based aid: Scholarships, grants, loans, or other financial aid that is based on a student’s financial need, often determined by the FAFSA or CSS Profile for a school. It may change from school to school, so be aware of financial aid calculators and other determining factors.

STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics as academic fields are often grouped together under the acronym STEM. There is a new move in education to add Arts into the STEM acronym. This is how STEAM was born! What does STEAM encompass? It aims to utilize hands-on projects in the STEM field to inspire students to think creatively and learn skills that might help them in the STEM field in the future--like design and collaboration.