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Glossary of Terms and Definitions

This glossary is intended to help you learn common terms and definitions related to the different resource hubs found on our Resource Center. For a full list of financial aid terms, visit the Federal Student Aid website. For a more extensive list of LGBTQ+ related terms, visit We Are Family’s A-Z Glossary.


501 (c) (3) Nonprofit

501 (c) (3) nonprofit is a particular nonprofit organization that has been approved by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as a tax-exempt, charitable organization. “Charitable” is broadly defined as being established for purposes that are religious, educational, charitable, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering of national or international amateur sports, or prevention of cruelty to animals and children.

504 Plan

504 plan is a plan developed to ensure that a child who has a disability identified under the law and is attending an elementary or secondary educational institution receives accommodations that will ensure their academic success and access to the learning environment. 


Accommodation is an adjustment to teaching techniques, materials, and environments to ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to be successful.


Apprenticeships are programs in which an apprentice receives on-the-job learning from a master-level supervisor while also receiving job-related education from an institution such as community colleges or trade organizations. 

Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian Serving Institutions (ANNHSI)

Alaska Native-serving institutions are postsecondary schools with student bodies composed of at least 20 percent Alaska Natives. Native Hawaiian-serving institutions have at least 10 percent Native Hawaiian students. 

Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs) 

AANAPISIs are defined under the Higher Education Act (HEA) as colleges or universities with an undergraduate enrollment that is at least 10 percent Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander.  

Associate Degree

Associate degree is a degree awarded after completing a 2-year program that prepares students for a career or to transfer to a 4-year university. There are many types of associate degrees, make sure you are taking the correct one and that your credits will transfer over if transferring into a 4-year university/college.  

Bachelor’s Degree 

Bachelor’s degree is a degree awarded after completing a 4-year course of study for a specialized major(s) at a college or university. There are two types of bachelor’s degrees: 1) the Bachelor of Arts or B.A. focuses on the humanities and the arts and 2) the Bachelor of Science or B.S., is more specialized and focuses on the sciences and math.  

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

DACA is an executive order introduced in 2012 by President Obama after Congress failed to pass the DREAM Act. The purpose of DACA is to protect eligible immigrant youth who came to the United States when they were children from deportation. DACA gives young undocumented immigrants: 1) protection from deportation, and 2) a work permit. The program expires after two years, subject to renewal.  

Direct Plus Loans

Direct Plus Loans are federal loans that graduate or professional students and parents of dependent undergraduate students use to help pay for education expenses. 


DREAMers typically refers to young people impacted by DACA and the DREAM Act. 


FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This is a free application completed by current and future college students in the United States to determine their eligibility for student financial aid such as federal grants, work study and loans.  

Federal Pell Grant

The Pell Grant is the largest federal grant program offered to undergraduates. It is designed to assist students from low-income households. To qualify for a Pell Grant, a student must demonstrate financial need by completing and submitting the FAFSA® form.   

Federal Student Aid

Federal Student Aid is aid from the government in the form of grants, loans, and/or work-study to assist students with college or career school. Students must complete the FAFSA® form to apply for this aid. 

First Generation College Student

First generation college student means that neither of your parents earned a bachelor’s or 4-year degree from a U.S. college or university. Younger siblings with older siblings who have graduated or are in college but whose parents have not received a bachelor’s degree from a U.S. college or university are still considered first generation.  

Foster Care

Foster care is a temporary living arrangement for children who have been abused or neglected and need a safe place to live.  

Gender Expression

Gender expression refers to how an individual expresses their socially constructed gender. This may refer to how an individual dresses, their general appearance, the way they speak, and/or the way they carry themselves. Gender expression is not always correlated to an individuals’ gender identity or gender role.  

Gender Identity

Since gender is a social construct, an individual may have a self-perception of their gender that is different or the same as their biological sex. Gender identity is an internalized realization of one’s gender and may not be manifested in their outward appearance (gender expression) or their place in society (gender role). It is important to note that an individual’s gender identity is completely separate from their sexual orientation or sexual preference.  

Gender Neutral

Gender Neutral is used to describe facilities that any individual can use regardless of their gender (e.g., gender neutral bathrooms). This term can also be used to describe an individual who does not subscribe to any socially constructed gender (sometimes referred to as “Gender Queer”).  

Gender Non-Conforming

Gender non-conforming is a person who is or is perceived to have gender characteristics that do not conform to traditional or societal expectations. 


Grants are monetary gifts from the federal/state government or the college/university for people pursuing higher education. It is often based on financial need and does not need to be repaid (unless, for example, you withdraw from school and owe a refund). 


Guardianship is a legal relationship in which a person(s) or agency (the guardian) is appointed by the court to make decisions and act on behalf of a person who does not have adequate capacity to make such decisions involving the management of personal affairs, property, or both. 

Higher Education

Higher Education also called post-secondary education is the third level education and is an optional final stage of formal learning that occurs after completion of secondary education (high school). This includes community colleges, four-year colleges/universities, and vocational or trade schools.  


Hispanic refers to a person from a Spanish-speaking country.   

Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs)

HSIs are defined in Title V of the Higher Education Act (HEA) as not-for-profit institutions of higher learning with a full-time equivalent (FTE) undergraduate student enrollment that is at least 25 percent Hispanic.   

Historically Black College or University (HBCU)

HBCUs are institutions of higher education in the United States that were established before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with the intention of primarily educating and serving the African American community. 


An individual is considered homeless if he or she lacks fixed, regular, and adequate housing. You may be homeless if you are living in a shelter, park, motel or car, or temporarily living with other people because you have nowhere else to go. Also, if you are living in any of these situations and fleeing an abusive parent you may be considered homeless when completing your FAFSA form even if your parent would provide support and a place to live. 

Individualized Education Program (IEP)

IEP is a plan or program developed to ensure that a child who has a disability identified under the law and is attending an elementary or secondary educational institution receives specialized instruction and related services. 

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

IDEA is the federal law that guarantees the right to Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) and the right to be educated in the least restrictive environment. 

Latinx or Latine 

Latinx or Latine are gender neutral terms that seek to be more inclusive than Latina/o. These terms refer to individuals born in or with ancestors from Latin America. The -x also seeks to replace the standard a/o ending of words in Spanish and is intended to be more gender inclusive. 

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

Students with disabilities must be educated in LREs that can meet their needs. This means that students with disabilities must be educated with their non-disabled peers to the maximum extent that is appropriate for their needs and abilities. 


LGBTQQIA+ is an acronym used to refer to all sexual minorities: “Lesbian, Gay/Gender Neutral/Gender Queer, Bisexual/Bigender, Transgender/Transvestite/Transsexual, Questioning/Queer, Intersex, and Allies/Androgynous/Asexual.” 


Loan is money borrowed from the federal government or a private source like a bank or financial institution and must be paid back with interest. 

McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act

McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act is federal legislation that establishes the educational rights of children and youth experiencing homelessness in U.S. public schools. This includes those who are: sharing the housing of others due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason; staying in motels, trailer parks, or campgrounds due to the lack of an adequate alternative; staying in shelters or transitional housing; or sleeping in cars, parks, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, or similar settings. 

Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs)

MSIs came about through historic inequities in educating minority populations. MSIs include AANAPISIs, ANNHSIs, HBCUs, HSIs, NASNTIs, PBIs and TCUs. 

National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC)

The NPHC is a collaborative umbrella organization composed of historically African American Greek-lettered fraternities and sororities. The nine NPHC organizations are sometimes collectively referred to as the “Divine Nine.”  

Native American Indian Serving, Non-Tribal Institutions (NASNTIs)

NASNTIs must have at least 10 percent of enrolled undergraduate students identifying as Native American. 

Nonprofit Organization

Nonprofit organization is an organization that qualifies for tax-exempt status by the IRS because its mission and purpose are to further a social cause and provide a public benefit. Nonprofit organizations include hospitals, universities, national charities and foundations. An individual or business that donates to a nonprofit is allowed to deduct their donation from their tax return. The nonprofit, likewise, pays no taxes on any money received through fundraising.


Non-partisan means to not be biased or partisan, especially toward any political group. Free from party affiliation, bias, or designation.

Not-For-Profit organization (NFPO)

An NFPO is an organization that does not earn profit for its owners. All money earned through pursuing business activities or through donations goes right back into running the organization. However, not-for-profits are not required to operate for the benefit of the public good. A not-for-profit can simply serve the goals of its members. A good example is a sports club; the purpose of the club is to exist for its members’ enjoyment. These organizations must apply for tax-exempt status from the IRS. Money donated by an individual to an NFPO cannot be deducted on that person’s tax return.

Predominantly Black Institution (PBI) 

PBI Colleges and universities that have at least 1,000 undergraduate students and over 40 percent African American students can qualify as a PBI. They also must have at least 50 percent low-income or first-generation college students. PBI is a newer designation than HBCU. They have only been recognized by Congress since 2007. Also, unlike HBCUs, most of the 156 PBIs are two-year colleges.  

Predominantly White Institution (PWI) 

PWI is the term used to describe institutions of higher learning in which Whites account for 50% or greater of the student enrollment. 


Pronouns is a word that is used instead of a noun or noun phrase. Pronouns refer to either a noun that has already been mentioned or to a noun that does not need to be named specifically. Examples of pronouns include, but are not limited to: she/her, he/him, they/them, zi/hir. 


Refugee refers to someone who has been forced to leave their home country and is unable to return due to fear of serious harm. 

Residency Determination Service (RDS)

Residency Determination Service is an application a student must complete to receive in-state tuition and state financial aid and scholarships in North Carolina. 

The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act

The first version of the DREAM Act was introduced in 2001. Since then, several versions have been created. The DREAM Act sought to provide a pathway to U.S. citizenship to certain undocumented youth who go to college and/or serve in the military while maintaining a good record. 

Trade/Technical School 

Trade or technical school is a postsecondary institution designed to train students for a specific job in a skilled trade career. Trade schools offer hands-on training to prepare students for actual work in their chosen field.   

Tribal College or University (TCU)

Most TCUs are located on reservations and therefore focus heavily on maintaining tribal languages and culture. These institutions differ from NASNTIs in that they are chartered by their respective tribes. 

Unaccompanied Children/Youth 

Unaccompanied children/youth are children who enter the country without their parent or legal guardian and children who for other reasons have been separated from their parent or legal guardian. 

Undocumented Immigrants 

Undocumented immigrants refers to anyone residing in any given country without legal documentation. This includes people who entered the U.S. without inspection and proper permission from the government, and those who entered with a legal visa that is no longer valid. 

Vocational School

Vocational school is another way of saying trade or technical school. 

Work Study

Work study is a part-time job for undergraduate and graduate students with financial need. This allows students to earn money to help pay for their education.