College acceptance offers: You’re in—under these conditions

Higher ed institutions tap into the trend of offering conditional admissions—opening up possibilities for less prepared students and maintaining enrollment

Waitlists for not-quite accepted students have long been used by colleges, but more institutions—both public and private—are dabbling in a different kind of delayed entry.

Conditional admissions, which may require academic or English language counseling, give less-prepared students a chance to succeed.

“A number of accountability mechanisms can discourage colleges from taking chances on students who are marginally academically qualified,” says David Hawkins, executive director for educational content and policy at the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

“College rankings [organizations], boards of trustees, alumni and state legislatures can often mete out harsh penalties for dips in acceptance rates, student profiles and student success measures.”

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By including provisions with acceptance offers, colleges have been able to admit more lower performing, but promising, first-generation and low-income students, plus athletes and students with particular interest in a school.

Beyond remediation: Partnerships for learning

Conditional admissions policies vary. Some require students to complete introductory-level or remedial coursework along with summer bridge and extended orientation programs. These may be accompanied by a reduced course load compared to most first-year students.

Though less common, some colleges ask students to take an initial assessment test, and then complete another after doing coursework to gain full admission, says Hawkins. A minimum GPA is often another admittance requirement.

The Kansas Board of Regents sanctioned its six state universities to admit up to 10 percent of each class under conditional admissions. At Kansas State University, these students are assigned to an academic coaching program during freshman year.

In bimonthly, goal-based coaching sessions, students self-identify academic and personal needs to focus on, says Stephanie Bannister, assistant vice president of student life. Academic coaching may cover reading, note taking, time management, test taking, study skills, motivation, belonging, communication skills and personal wellness.

“Students who participate in coaching are exposed to a GROW framework—goals, reality, options and will—to support them in the development of personalized goals,” says Bannister. “Coaches teach students how to assess their current situation and help them to get where they would like to be.”

Upon successful completion of the program and official acceptance into the university, students can choose to participate in another coached learning cycle. If not, participants are still encouraged to check in periodically with available coaches for academic maintenance.

Eliminating ESL hurdles for internationals

Marquette University uses conditional admissions to admit international students who meet all the institution’s academic requirements except for English fluency.

“Our relationship with students who have a genuine interest in studying at Marquette can begin while they continue to prepare their English,” says Ellen Blauw, associate director of the Wisconsin university’s office of international education.

“This has been particularly helpful for students who have foreign government scholarships for U.S. study and who want to establish their pathway for English preparation and an academic degree.”

In lieu of an intensive English program on campus, the university works with foreign ESL centers. Students study the language at the centers before matriculating at Marquette.

The university began offering conditional admissions to students from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait over 15 years ago; now Chinese students comprise the largest group requesting this consideration, says Blauw.

But could conditional admissions lower the prestige of hard-won university brands?

Institutions can address this concern by adapting the approach to their mission—by setting a higher GPA minimum for conditional admissions, for example, so students must demonstrate academic ability before full acceptance to a university.

As many colleges experience changes in recruitment and yield, conditionally accepted transfer students can fill holes left in non-freshman classes by transfers or dropouts.

“Institutions will need to explore new and different ways of both recruiting and retaining students,” says NACAC’s Hawkins. “Given that a conditional admission can also assist colleges in reaching out to underserved populations, there is an added mission-based impetus for considering this practice.”

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