Preparing for College

College Admissions Stutter Step

If you're a high school senior or parent, you no doubt have seen the elation and disappointment of this year's college admission decisions season. There are three answers to the question "Did you get in?" Two are of the black or white category. White: "Yes!" Black: "No." The third is of the gray variety: "Waitlist." Now, though, a fourth option is emerging: "Yes, but . . ."

In order to counter the inevitable enrollment dips brought on by students who drop out or transfer to other colleges, some schools have initiated a policy of "conditionally" accepting students. These contingent acceptances require that the student attend a different school for a predetermined length of time and maintain a certain GPA. That's the "Yes, but . . ." option.


The New York Times and Consumerist.com have noted this option and readers of their coverage have some interesting comments. The Times mentions that . . .

"This little-noticed practice — an unusual mix of early admission and delayed gratification — has allowed colleges to tap their growing pools of eager candidates to help counter the enrollment slump that most institutions suffer later on, as the accepted students drop out, transfer, study abroad or take internships off campus..."

"Fairleigh Dickinson, in Teaneck and Madison, N.J., promises eventual admission to a few hundred applicants each year if they perform well at one of 16 community colleges in the state."

Of course, this puts the "conditional" college on the short end of the stick since they will be losing those students who are in residence there merely to satisfy the conditions of acceptance at the more favored school. The image is one of a pond's food chain, where a succession of ever-larger fish keep eating smaller ones. As long as schools admit applicants under these conditional circumstances, the "lesser" schools will always be paying the price of enrollment turnover.

Some of the Consumerist comments are interesting:

- Penn State does something like this; they ask you to go to a branch campus. But I don't know if they literally guarantee acceptance to the main campus after a year or two.

- Good for students also.. think of all the money they can save by going to a community college and then they can transfer over and get the big name diploma.

- I think that's a great idea for students. If the credits transfer why not take your general education at a community level and save the money?

This may be more an effort to stop the drop out rate from climbing. I know that funding for some schools has a lot to do with their retention rates/graduation rates and recently those numbers have taken a hit and dipped somewhere in the 30% range.

- Its good for Cornell, or other Ivy League schools where the desire to go to that specific school may be higher. For most average universities, I don't think its a bad idea, but if you get accepted to one, but not the other, would anybody really want to do this?

Times readers comment, too:

- Honestly people, if it's really worth it to you to go to such a school, well maybe your not college material after all. Some of these schools and their Alumni need to get over themselves. I am happy to graduate from an accredited state school.

This is like a corporation saying, well Jimmy your good but why don't you go work for our competitors for a year then come back and we will see if your good enough for us.

- Actually, what many colleges are doing is merely hedging their bets, hoping to fill in the void, come spring. All colleges lose a certain percentage of incoming freshmen over the first semester for various reasons; mind changers, homesickness, flunkouts, partiers, you name it. Having a healthy reserve to draw from fills in these gaps nicely. (students they put "on hold" are usually biding their waiting time at a local community college)

- If four-year colleges are miffed that they might be abandoned by their incoming freshman a year down the road, they might consider lowering the salaries of the fat cat administrators in order to lower tuition to something approaching a reasonable amount. Some of us can't even consider having our kids attend an insanely expensive college like NYU as a freshman, and plan on our kids spending at least 2 years at community college or state U before considering a more expensive university from which to graduate.

What do you think of conditional acceptance?  Let us know below.

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Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.