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Glossary: College Access and Admissions

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Back to College Access & Admissions

This guide from the National Association for College Admission Counseling shares dozens of definitions of complicated college admissions terms.

First-generation college student: Sometimes shortened to “first-gen.” Determining exactly who “counts” as a first-generation college student is tricky. The federal government defines the term as students who come from families where neither biological parent completed a four-year degree. Other researchers define first-generation students as those whose parents either have no degree after high school or, in some cases, no education after high school. A University of Georgia professor analyzed the various definitions of first-generation and found that the percentage of college students who could be called first-generation under the differing definitions ranged from 22 to 77 percent.

Legacy: An applicant and/or student with family members who are alumni of the college. These students often have an advantage in college applications because of their connections. Policies on admitting legacy students date back to the 1920s, when colleges saw an increase in Jewish and Catholic applicants and wanted to maintain the Protestant majority.

Match and fit: “Match” refers to how well a student’s academic abilities line up with the academic selectiveness of the school where they are enrolled. “Fit” refers to the other aspects of postsecondary life, such as student support services, financial aid, distance from home, and campus atmosphere. “Undermatching” — when a high-achieving student doesn’t attend a selective university — is common among minority students. “Overmatching” refers to students’ attending colleges that are too academically challenging for them. A good explainer of the “overmatch” claims can be found here.

Summer melt: An instance in which a student commits in May to enroll in a school but doesn’t show up for the fall semester.