By Deb Coco
In the ever changing world of college admissions, there is a new “kid on the block.” For years there have been 4 types of acceptances: Accepted, Deferred, Waitlisted or Denied. Enter “Spring Freshman” and things just became a bit more confusing for students, parents, and those advising them.
We noticed a few years ago that Northeastern University, (an extremely desirable school with a huge applicant pool) began admitting some students with an acceptance AND a caveat; if they wanted to enroll they would have to agree to be a “Spring Freshman” through the “NU In” program. Northeastern sends their spring admits abroad, so for the student who might have been considering junior year in another country; this could be considered a win/win. But, it does mean they won’t be entering with the freshman class they expected. For some students this is exciting, for others it is frustrating, but for parents it poses many questions. Here are some points to consider.
In the 2017 admission cycle, we have already had a few students receive acceptance under spring programs. Their parents were confused and questioned the parameters of the program. As Dr. Dean explains: “It’s a way to over-enroll so that when the school loses students in the fall, it will be able to fill those spaces, much in the same way airlines over sell their planes knowing that some passengers won’t show up. It’s actually a great way for the University to maximize its revenue.” Maximize its revenue you ask? That sounds like something a business would do. But this is an institution of higher learning! And here is a common misconception about the inner workings of academic institutions. They are first and foremost businesses. Their business is education, but the competition is bountiful and there is a lot of money at stake. So this is where the numbers game begins.
The number of college applications has skyrocketed in the last decade. While there is little cumulative data to support this point, one interesting statistic shows the unbelievable volume of applicants to UCLA. The flagship of the University of California public university system received 113,000 applications this year. That is a jump of 11% over last year (102,000). But amazingly, UCLA received only 55,369 applications in 2008, indicating that in the past decade the number of applicants to UCLA has more than doubled! So even beyond the highly selective Ivy League, large public universities are feeling the effects of more applications than they are equipped to accept. However, there are students within that pool who they do not want to turn away altogether. So, they must overcompensate for the normal drop-out rate after fall semester. According to US News and World Report, as many as 1 in 3 students do not return for their sophomore year; that is a staggering number. And thus, Spring Admission was conceived. Each year more schools come onto the scene with their own spring programs – some well known names include Tulane University, University of Maryland, Binghamton University, USC, Cornell University, and Hamilton College. And, given the plot graph for applicants vs. admission spots, we are likely to see this list increase each year. Schools are able to offer admission to more than they can accommodate during fall semester, and students who hoped to attend “X” school are given the chance.
So what is a student to do when the college of their dreams tells them its spring or nothing? Get the facts. Every program is different – Each has a different name and different structure. As I mentioned, Northeastern’s “N.U In” is spent studying abroad. Not bad, right? The fine print here is very important because if you are a financial aid or merit recipient, you need to make sure that this does not affect your qualifications.
The University of Maryland’s “Freshman Connection” program allows students to live on campus, but they are forced to take classes only on Monday-Thursday after 3 pm, and on Fridays. Why? This is yet another business decision: Most college classes take place between 8 am and 3 pm, and very few college professors teach classes on Friday. In addition, students in the program are only allowed to register for classes after traditional freshmen. These are significant concessions for some students, so it’s important to fully understand the specifics before you commit.
Other schools suggest that students offered spring admission look outside the school towards community colleges to fill credit hours. This may not sit well with some students, and it is EXTREMELY important to research whether the classes you take will transfer once spring arrives; often they DO NOT. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had students who want to transfer from one school to another discover the classes they took at one college will not be accepted by their transfer school.
The take away here is to read the fine print. Not all spring programs are created equal; some will seem enticing and others not. Ultimately, it is up to each student and family to decide for themselves if the school of their dreams is worth waiting just a bit longer to attend.