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School Life Vocabulary: Applying to School

If you’re getting ready to take the TOEFL, you’re probably taking the exam so you can apply to a university. Applying to a university (or several universities) is a hard but rewarding activity. You’ll need to contact the universities you’re thinking of going to, and carefully read their application info. So you’ll have a lot of chances to practice English— over the phone, by email, and through your own research.

Certain English words are frequently used by university officials who give out advice and information about applying to school. Below, we’re going to look at 5 common words you may read, hear, or use as you choose schools and apply to them.



In university admissions, “assume” means “to believe something is true, without any evidence.” There are certain things you should do before you contact an admissions office and actually talk to people there. You should check the website to see what information is already publicly available. You should also do even more basic things, like  finish high school (or be very close to finishing it) before you apply.

College admissions workers know that most students have already read the university website, finished high school, and so on. However, they also know that a few students don’t know what they should do before contacting admissions. To see if you’ve done what you should do, a college admissions officer may say “I assume you’ll be done with high school by the time you want to start with us.” or “I assume you read our international admissions policies on the website.”

Statements like these are a polite way of saying “Did you really do what you need to do?” So you can answer these statements as if they are questions: “Yes, I already have my high school diploma,” “No, I looked on your website, but couldn’t find the info. Can you help?” And so on….


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Come up with

“Come up with” is a phrasal verb, and a dreaded three-word phrasal verb at that. But don’t let it scare you. The meaning is actually quite simple. To “come up with” something means to produce something, especially something that is needed or requested.

As you apply to a school, you may be asked to come up with the money for an application fee, come up with some letters of recommendation, come up with ideas for an admissions essay, and so on.



“Competitive” refers to a thing that many people are trying to get or achieve. Something that is competitive will only be received by a small amount of the people who try for it.

A university or academic program is competitive if lots of people apply to get in, but only a few are accepted. It’s a good idea to ask university officials how competitive their university is. Competitiveness is both good and bad. Degrees from highly competitive universities can really help your career. But of course, less competitive universities are easier to get into.



A “process” is a series of events, stages, or methods that lead to a specific goal or outcome. To give a really simple example, the process of making a sandwich requires you to get two pieces of bread, and then put sandwich fillings between the pieces of bread. The outcome is the creation of a sandwich.

The college application process— the series of things you need to do to apply to a school— is of course more complicated than making a sandwich. And every school can have a different process. “Application process” is a good search term when you look this up on your own. To make sure you get all the details right, you should also contact universities directly and ask them about their process.



You probably already know that “requirement” refers to a thing that people need or ask for. In college applications, “requirements” usually refers to formal rules— things you absolutely must do if you want your application to be accepted.

Usually there’s an official list of application requirements. Make sure you’re able to find it for each school you apply to. And make sure you can tell whether or not something you’re asked for is a requirement, or just a preference. If something you are asked for is only preferred by the university, giving it to them increases your chances of acceptance. But if you’re not able to give an admissions office what they prefer, you can still apply.


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