I got accepted off the waitlist at my top choice, but the school admitted me for next spring (so I would start in January of 2020 instead of fall 2019). I got accepted into my second choice for the regular fall semester. I really want to go to my first choice but I feel like I would miss out on a lot if I start in the spring. Would starting in the spring put me behind in some way? I think my first choice would set me up for a better career but I also want a full college experience. What is your advice?
Being a first-semester freshman in the second semester can be challenging. You may feel as if everyone around you has already found their favorite courses, clubs and friends, while you're still looking for the laundry ... or the library! So you are indeed facing a tough choice. Unfortunately, too, it's one that “The Dean" can't make for you, but I can provide some questions that you can ask before you decide.
Colleges today offer spring-semester starts far more frequently than in the past. Some, in fact, do this so much that they also offer travel opportunities or other special programs specifically for students accepted for the second term. These programs can be great ways to take a breather after high school, to bond with others in your shoes and, often, to live in a foreign country.
So if your first-choice college offers this option, it's definitely a good one to consider. However, before accepting it, ask the admission office what happens when you show up on campus in January. Will you be living with other second-semester freshmen or could you end up in a dorm where you are the only newbie? At a small school, this might not matter, but at a larger one, newcomers may get stuck in whatever space is available all over an expansive campus. Since you will probably prefer to live with other recent arrivals, you should know ahead of time what to expect.
For example, Northeastern University in Boston has a large and popular study-abroad program for its many freshmen admitted for January. But I know one young woman who had a great time in Greece in the fall but was then assigned to a single room in a dorm for upperclassmen. So, once on campus, she felt lonely and isolated from the friends she'd made abroad. I don't know if that was an unusual situation or the norm, but it certainly suggests that it's important for you to inquire now about your living situation in January, if you do head to your number-one college.
But if this college does not offer organized programs for January freshmen, ask the admission office how these students typically spend the fall months. Do college officials recommend any particular gap-semester activities or are you totally on your own to map out a plan? Also ask what happens when you finally get to campus. In addition to the aforementioned housing concerns, is there an orientation program that is specifically geared to you and the other January frosh? Are there other protocols in place (e.g., assigning a “big brother" or “big sister") to ease your mid-year transition? Are there any pitfalls you should anticipate, such as being last on the list to sign up for classes or for housing for the following year?
Once you've grilled the admission office about potential gap programs, housing and transitional support or concerns, you can also ask two more questions:
1. What are the chances that you can snag a room for September if you stay on a waitlist for it until then? Because all colleges experience “Summer Melt" (enrolled freshmen who change plans by August), some spots are sure to open up, so you may want to make it clear that you want one, even on short notice. This, however, might be complicated if you've already committed to a study-abroad or other gap semester program, but less tricky if you've signed on to scoop ice cream or flip burgers near home.
2. What if you take a gap year and not a gap semester? Some seniors in your situation prefer to take an entire year off if it means they can start in September the following year. So if this appeals to you, ask for a promise (in writing) that you can begin the fall of 2020 rather than in January 2020.
It would be helpful for “The Dean" to know specifically why you feel that your first-choice college will better prepare you for your career than college number two would do. Perhaps then I could address your dilemma more effectively. So feel free to write back with details, if you want. But meanwhile, do ask the admission folks the questions included here and, above all, ask yourself how good you are about requesting assistance when you need it or simply being the new kid on the block.
Regardless of how much (or how little) support your first-choice school offers to January freshmen, if you are willing and able to be your most outgoing self when you get there, you can still have a “full college experience" regardless of when you begin.
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