A Crash Course in Admissions and Financial Aid

As you fill out financial aid forms and compare financial aid packages, you’ll probably see some unfamiliar terminology. While most terminology is universal across US colleges, some terms are unique to specific colleges. Don’t be afraid to ask your high school or admissions counselor about acronyms or processes. They want you to be as informed as possible throughout the process.

Financial Aid Terminology

Cost of Attendance (COA)

COA is more than just your tuition. It’s a combination of tuition and an estimate of the extras, including room and board, books, laptop, transportation, and other personal costs.

CSS Profile

CSS Profile is a form some schools require you to fill out to be considered for scholarships.

Entrance Loan Counseling (ELC)

ELC is an online training module that goes over the terms of the loan, origination fees, interest rates, repayment options, and more. ELC is mandatory when you take out both student and PLUS loans.

Expected Family Contribution (EFC)

The EFC is the total out-of-pocket amount your family could reasonably contribute towards your college expenses. It is determined by your family size, the number of family members already enrolled in college (if any), and both taxable and non-taxable family income and assets. The EFC is calculated using the information you fill out on your FAFSA.

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

You must fill out the FAFSA every year you attend college to be considered for need-based aid and if you want to take out federal student loans to fund your education. The FAFSA typically opens on October 1st for the following school year. If you are unmarried and under the age of 24, have your tax info and your parents’ tax info from two years ago handy. You can read more about the FAFSA here.

Gift Aid

Gift aid is the best kind of aid because you don’t have to pay it back. Gift aid is usually in the form of grants and scholarships. Ideally, you want all your aid to fall into the gift aid category.

Master Promissory Note (MPN)

This is your loan contract that states that you agree to pay back all of the money you have borrowed, including interest.


Need is the difference between the cost of attendance and how much your family can afford to pay based on your FAFSA application.

Need-Based Aid

Need-based aid is determined based on the needs of your family. Your grades, community involvement, and athletic prowess do not come into play. The amount of need-based aid is generated by subtracting your Expected Family Contribution from the Cost of Attendance.


When a university is need-blind, it does not consider your financial need/status when making admissions decisions. Need-blind schools never deny you because of your inability to pay full tuition. Fortunately, many schools are need-blind.


Need-aware is the opposite of need-blind. Need-aware colleges take your ability to pay tuition into consideration when they are making admissions decisions.

Origination Fee

An origination fee is paid to the bank to compensate them for administering a loan. The fees are usually 3% of the amount disbursed. A portion of the money is paid to the federal government to help offset its administrative costs.

Pell Grants

These are federally funded need-based grants awarded based on your FAFSA application. You do not pay these back.

Parent Loans for Undergraduate Study (PLUS Loans)

Parents can apply for a PLUS loan up to the Cost of Attendance minus any other aid. Qualification for this loan is based on a positive credit history. Parents must begin repayment on the PLUS loan once the loan is disbursed. However, they can request a deferment while the student is enrolled at least half-time in school. PLUS loans begin accruing interest as soon as they disburse.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)

Public Service Loan Forgiveness is a program where your remaining direct federal student loan debt can be forgiven after 120 payments under a qualifying repayment plan and while employed by a qualifying governmental agency or non-profit organization.

Renewable Scholarship

A renewable scholarship is awarded for more than one aid year. Renewable scholarships typically require a recipient to maintain specific academic standards. Some require students to reapply every year.

Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP)

To continue to receive aid, you must meet specific benchmarks, such as credit completion or a certain GPA. Make sure you understand the specific requirements for your aid.

Student Aid Report (SAR)

You’ll receive this report via email after submitting the FAFSA. The SAR is your opportunity to review submitted information to ensure everything is accurate.

Subsidized Loans

Subsidized loans do not accrue interest while you are still enrolled at least half-time status and for the following grace period. Repayment begins six months after either graduation or dropping below half-time status.

Unsubsidized Loans

Unsubsidized student loans from the government begin accruing interest immediately upon disbursement. Repayment begins six months after either graduation or dropping below half-time status. If you can, consider making interest-only payments while in school so the interest doesn’t capitalize.


If your FAFSA was selected for verification, don’t panic. About one-third of applications get selected, some at random, and some because they found mismatching information on the application that requires further explanation. Each institution lets you know what paperwork is required to complete this process. Complete the paperwork immediately because your financial aid package can’t be finalized until it’s completed.


Work-study is a program that allows you to earn money by applying for on-campus jobs. You typically have to apply for these positions just like any other job. The salary helps offset a portion of your Cost of Attendance. Most work-study jobs are generally no more than 20 hours per week.

Academic Terminology

Bursar’s Office

The office where you pay your tuition bill.

Class Standing

Freshman (0-30 credit hours earned), Sophomore (31-59 credit hours earned), Junior (60-89 credits earned), Senior (90+ credit hours earned).


CLEP stands for College Level Exam Program. CLEP tests can be taken in many subjects to demonstrate college-level proficiency and award you college credit for a specific course. If you are interested in taking a CLEP test, check with your college regarding CLEP acceptance policies, scores needed, etc.

Credit Hours

Most college courses will be three credit hours. In a typical 16-week semester, you will spend three hours in the classroom per week learning academic material. Your work for that class doesn’t end after those three hours, so set aside additional time to complete your homework. You typically complete 120 credit hours to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Degree Audit

This is a report showing your progress toward your college degree completion. If you took any dual credit courses, AP courses, or CLEP tests, including the necessary documentation to your college to ensure these courses are reflected on your degree audit.


Electives are courses outside of your degree plan. Some degrees have room for electives, and you can take any college course to meet your total credit hour requirement. Other times, you can choose electives within a specific subject area.


FERPA stands for Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. FERPA is designed to protect the privacy of your educational records and allows you the right to review your records. Once you turn 18 or attend a postsecondary institution, you’re the only person who sees the information unless you sign a release form authorizing others. This means your parents will not be given your academic transcript, disciplinary records, or GPA without your permission.

Transient Enrollment

This is enrollment at an institution other than your own college that you attend. For example, it’s considered transient enrollment if you go home for the summer and take a course at a college or university in your hometown.

7 Tips for Choosing a Major During High School

Choosing a major while you’re still in high school can feel like a huge decision, especially if you aren’t sure what you want to study or what career you want to explore. While you don’t need everything figured out, choosing 2-3 majors you like will help you pick colleges that fit your academic interests. Here are some tips to help you choose a major:

Think about your interests and strengths.

Think about what you like doing in your free time and what subjects you enjoy. Look for majors that use those strengths.

Read about different majors.

Check out My Majors in Encourage to learn about majors and the colleges that offer them. See which classes you could take within each major and which majors match specific careers. Use this information to build a list of majors perfect for you. 

Consider your career goals.

What careers interests you? Use My Careers in Encourage to explore thousands of careers based on your interests. Learn about the training paths and education requirements for each career.

Talk to people who work in jobs that interest you.

Reach out to people who work in careers that interest you. Ask them about their experience and the education you need for that specific field.

Take a variety of classes.

Take classes in different subjects to learn what you enjoy and where you do your best work. You may discover some new classes you love!

Get to know your high school counselor.

Your high school counselor can help you understand your college and career options. They can provide guidance and information about majors, careers, colleges, and academic requirements.

Visit college campuses.

Visit your favorite college campuses during school breaks. Take informational tours, talk to current students about their experiences, and ask academic advisors about the school’s majors and programs.

Choosing a major is exciting and personal to you! Choose a major that matches your interests, career goals, and values. You’ve got this! Encourage is here to help. 

What’s Next After High School?

The value of a college degree is a hotly debated topic. Whether you’re swiping through TikTok or talking to your school counselor, everyone has an opinion. 

While some research shows that adults with degrees are more likely to earn more and achieve high levels of career satisfaction, no path has a guaranteed outcome. It’s important to explore your options, learn what works best for you, and do what brings you the most joy. Below are some common paths students take after high school graduation.

Start Working

Some high school graduates want (or need) to start working right away. Full-time employment could include apprenticeships or simply working 35+ hours a week. 

Top Tip: If a job interests you and you don’t meet 100% of the qualifications, apply anyway! You never know who is in the applicant pool and doesn’t hurt to put yourself in the running. 

Work/Attend College 

Many employers have created programs to help keep solid employees. Employers like UPS, Starbucks, and Target offer tuition support for eligible employees at partner colleges. 

Top Tip: Make sure your schedule is balanced. It’s hard to work more than 20 hours a week and attend college full-time (4-5 classes). Pace yourself and take time for self-care. 

Go to College

If you graduate from college, you’ll have a wide variety of career options. Remember, not all colleges are created equal. From price tags and degrees offered to the social scene, each college has its own vibe. Whether you pursue a certificate, associate, or bachelor’s degree, pick a program and college that fits your academic, social, and financial expectations. 

Top Tip: Make a list of 3-5 top “must haves” for your college experience. Choose a college that fits your expectations. 

Military/Military + College

When you enlist in the military, you commit to four years of active duty and four years of inactive duty. Some military options combine military service with education, including the National Guard, military academies, and ROTC. If you’re interested in a military career and want to pursue life as an officer, you can earn your degree while enlisted. 

Military Top Tip: There are many jobs within the military, and many aren’t combat. You will take an aptitude test when you enlist in the military to determine your placement. To increase your placement options, take some practice tests and brush up on your English, math, and science skills.

Military + College Top Tip: Start early. ROTC programs and scholarship spots are limited. Choose a college that offers ROTC, and speak to a recruiter before your senior year about how to pursue the opportunity. 

Take a Gap Year

Some students take a gap year after high school to travel or volunteer. Gap years can be formal, planned overseas experiences, while others are less structured or self/student-directed experiences. The best way to structure a gap year is to have a goal in mind and a set end date. 

Top Tip: Apply to college first and then defer your admission for a year. You’ll have to file FAFSA again, but you’ll have the support of your high school team/counselor before you leave to pursue your year of experiential learning. 

10 Study Hacks

Ready to step up your study game? We’ve got 10 study hacks that will help you study smarter, not harder! 

1. Use voice-to-text to take notes.

Use the voice-to-text feature on your phone as a study tool! Instead of typing notes as you read, summarize your thoughts in your own words, and let your phone do all the typing. This feature is a huge time saver when you have tons of reading to do.

2. Try Kahoot and Quizlet.

Kahoot and Quizlet are two apps that can help you quiz yourself and your friends in a productive and fun way! If you don’t love these apps, there are many other quizzing apps to try!

3. Grammarly and Hemingway Editor.

These websites help you keep your writing clear and concise. The Hemingway Editor focuses on limiting adverb use, passive voice, and unnecessary words. Grammarly corrects grammar, suggests synonyms, and strengthens your language skills.

4. Take a walk before your exam.

According to this study, students who exercise before their exams perform better than those who don’t exercise. Test this study hack by planning a workout before your next exam or presentation!

5. Change your study conditions.

Try switching up your study location, what you’re studying, and who you’re studying with. Your sense of smell is a powerful tool for triggering memory. Try spraying an unfamiliar scent the next time you study a specific subject. When you’re ready to take the test, spray that scent again to help you remember the material you studied.

6. Draw.

If you use lots of colors and visualize your study materials, you’ll have an easier time recalling information. Drawing also gives you an excuse to take out the crayons and doodle!

7. Switch your fonts

If you need to read material fast, switch the font on your study guides. Your brain processes serif fonts faster than Times New Roman, Palatino, Georgia, Courier, and Garamond fonts.

8. Use apps to block distracting sites.

If you’re a self-proclaimed procrastinator, limit your distractions to get work done. If you can’t block the entire internet, consider blocking your favorite social media and gaming sites.

9. Watch a documentary on the topic.

If you’re a visual learner or want to see information in a different form, consider watching documentaries and videos on the subject. Watching relevant videos is another way to help prepare you for tests.

10. Listen to study music.

Music affects your mood and maximizes concentration. Soothing instrumental music may even reduce stress while studying. Have you made your study playlist yet?

These small tips can make a huge difference in your study game. Give them a try! You may find studying can be productive and fun!

What are the Different Types of Colleges?

Not all colleges are the same! If you’re wondering which college is best for you, here are the most common types of colleges and universities.

Private College/University

Private colleges/universities are four-year schools that don’t receive government funding and rely mainly on tuition, fees, and private funding sources. Private donations allow some private schools to provide generous financial aid packages, which helps offset tuition costs and makes the price comparable to public schools. If you like seeing familiar faces around campus, you may enjoy this type of college because they tend to be smaller and more intimate. 

Public Colleges/Universities

Public colleges/universities are four-year schools that receive funding from the government. This funding allows them to offer lower tuition and fees. Public schools classify students as either “in-state” or “out-of-state.” In-state residents pay lower tuition since their tax dollars are supporting that institution. Public colleges and universities tend to be larger in size and student body and offer many majors and on-campus clubs.

Junior/Community College

Junior/community colleges are two-year schools that offer courses parallel to the first two years of a four-year school. Admission is open access, so the school will admit you if you apply and meet all of the basic requirements. Although the school may be open access, some programs may implement selective admissions and enrollment limits. The price tag for these colleges is lower than private or public four-year institutions because they don’t offer everything you’d get at a four-year school. If you’d like to take basic courses at a lower cost and transfer to a four-year school later, or you want to pursue a career that only requires a two-year degree, you should consider this type of college.

Liberal Arts Colleges

Liberal arts colleges are typically small, four-year schools with an intimate campus setting and a diverse, well-rounded curriculum. As a student at a liberal arts college, you can expect to take courses in literature, history, languages, math, and science to complement the classes within your major.

Vocational or Technical School

Vocational and technical schools offer certification or training within a highly specialized field like welding, culinary arts, or dental hygiene. Most programs lead directly to a career in a short period of time.

If you already know what career you’d like to pursue, find out what education and training you need to land a job in that field. If you don’t know what you want to pursue, that’s ok too! Pick a school that offers a variety of programs and classes so you can explore all your career possibilities!

5 Tips to Help You Make Your Final College Decision 

Congratulations, you got into college! If you got letters of admission from more than one college, you’ll need to choose one. It’s hard to know whether to go with your head or your heart. Here are a few tips to help you sift through the information overload and choose a school that’s perfect for you.

Focus on fit.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by opinions, college rankings, and information from each school. But remember, you’ve got this! Just break down fit into a few key elements:

  • Financial fit (Does the tuition/cost feel manageable?)
  • Social fit (Does the school offer the campus culture you’re looking for?) 
  • Academic fit (Can you study what you hope to/want to study?) 

Double-check your list.

As you were touring colleges or applying, there may have been some programs, experiences, or “must haves” that stuck with you. List them out. Maybe you loved the city location, access to Greek life, athletic programs, study abroad opportunities, or the support for your identity through LGBTQI or Black student union centers. Make sure the college you choose has everything on your “must have” list. 

Pulse-check the code of conduct.

No one wants to be surprised by housing rules, curfews, dress codes, or limits to guests or transportation in their first week of college. Do a little digging on each college’s website to make sure their student code of conduct aligns with your expectations. 

Weigh your financial investment.

Consider all outside and school-based scholarships, grants, and loans. What will your financial investment be yearly and after you graduate? Compare your financial aid award letters using one of the net price calculators available online. You can even find tools to calculate your monthly repayment if loans are on the table. 

Create your own rankings.

If you’re still struggling, pick three to five elements of college that are the most important to you. Then, rank each offer on a 1-10 scale according to how well that college meets your needs. Sit with your numbers and highest-ranking college to see how it feels. 

Remember, deadlines are essential. Colleges will want to know whether or not you’ve accepted their offer (many by May 1). Once you decide, inform your top college by following the directions in their admission letter. It’s a good idea to decline your other offers. It will also help you declutter your inbox!

How to Embrace the Future with Confidence

Uncertainty about the future is one of the biggest stressors students face. It’s completely normal to feel anxious about the future, especially if you aren’t sure what you want to do. We all want to find that unique, tangible purpose for our lives. While it’s impossible to eliminate uncertainty in our lives, there are ways to embrace the unknown in all its complicated glory.

Change your Perspective

Instead of seeking a life purpose (a specific direction or career), focus on discovering the things that make you feel the most alive, thankful, inspired, and joyful. What connects you to the present moment? When do you feel the most alive? Your sense of purpose is unique. While some people enjoy learning new things, others may find peace in serving others. When you face challenges, your unique purpose reminds you of what’s truly important.

Make a Plan

While you can do everything possible to plan your future, you won’t have complete control over the outcome. We often measure our future with expectations. Negative expectations may close us off from opportunity, and positive expectations may lead to unrealistic standards. It’s healthier to find the middle ground and prepare yourself for all possibilities. When you create a plan that includes different situations, you’ll be able to adapt when plans shift. Instead of worrying about how your life will turn out, appreciate the actions you can take now.

Bring Awareness to your Feelings

When you start to feel anxious, take a deep breath. Try to think about the reasons you’re nervous or scared. Talk through your thoughts with a parent or counselor. A lot of our worries are about things that may never happen. Let go of those worries. Live your life and do what you love. Make short-term goals that include your passions, hobbies, and talents.

When you experience uncertainty about the future, acknowledge the unknown, then look for ways to embrace the uncertainty with wonder and awe. Life would be boring if you knew everything about your future. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Use each unexpected event as a stepping stone to the best version of yourself. 

The Best Way to Build Your High School Resume

It’s never too early to start building your resume. A resume can be used for college applications, internships, and volunteer work. Creating a resume may sound intimidating, but it only takes a few simple steps. Start with the basics, and add to the resume as you gain more school and job experience. Here are some tips to help you get started. 

Find a resume template.

Websites like Canva.com or even the template gallery on Google Docs have lots of free resume templates and ideas. 

Add the basics.

Start with your name, contact information, and education.

Create an “About Me” section.

Write a few sentences that highlight your goals and why you’re applying. 

Add work experience.

If you’ve already had a formal job, add your job title, dates of employment, and a short description of what you did. Add informal jobs too! Jobs like babysitting, yard work, cleaning, or painting show you’re committed, responsible, and a hard worker.   

List your extracurricular activities.

Make a list of your activities and community involvement. Also include any clubs you joined, especially if you are in a leadership position. Highlight experiences where you show discipline, time management, and commitment. 

Customize each resume.

Start by creating a generic resume. Depending on where you’re applying, review the job/internship posting. Customize your resume by first making a list of keywords from the posting. Include those words within each section of your resume.

Keep the resume to one page.

Resumes should be simple, clear, and concise. Since this is your first resume, it shouldn’t exceed one page. If you have extra space, consider adding references to the bottom. Include the person’s name, phone number, or email, and a short sentence about how they know you. References should be adults who know you well and can talk about your strengths and character. A reference shouldn’t be related to you.  

Resumes will grow and evolve over time. As you gain more experience, add it to your resume. It won’t be long before you have a solid list of experiences and accomplishments! Good luck!