Many factors motivating schools to offer conditional admission

College admissions consultants and experts are noticing an uptick in universities’ use of a little-known policy to offer admission to high school students who promise to attend a different college for their first year, then transfer in as a sophomore, according to The Hechinger Report. This arrangement goes by many names—conditional admission, deferred admission, alternative admission, conditional transfer and provisional admission—is often deployed quietly, and has been met with both praise and skepticism.

Creating opportunity for students on the cusp

Proponents say conditional admission helps give a chance to students who otherwise might not be accepted to their desired college, including some low-income and first-generation students who—having attended underserved primary and secondary schools—may lack certain study skills. International students whose English language skills need improvement and children of alumni also may benefit from this opportunity to prove they’re motivated and can succeed. According to The Hechinger Report, most conditional admission offers “require that the students meet minimum academic standards and earn a predetermined number of credits” during their first year.

Texas-based Southern Methodist University, for instance, has offered conditional admission for the last decade in hopes of maintaining a varied student body as admission to the school became increasingly competitive. “There are certain students who are important to the university who quite honestly have many advantages in their life, just as there are also students who are interested in the university who don’t have those advantages,” Wes Waggoner, SMU’s associate vice president for enrollment management, told The Hechinger Report.

Keeping an eye toward revenue, rankings

Other observers point out how colleges may use conditional admission to gain a competitive advantage. Schools benefit from having a pipeline of incoming sophomores ready to fill seats left vacant by freshman dropouts. Admitting more international students, who often pay full tuition, also may help colleges further bolster revenue.

Under pressure to enroll more low-income and first-generation students, some colleges also may see conditional admission as a way to pay for fewer years of financial aid or to safeguard the school’s metrics and ranking. Enrolling sophomores “prevents those students from being counted in statistics about average high school grade-point averages and admission test scores of entering freshmen,” a metric used by U.S. News rankings, among others, according to The Hechinger Report. Students admitted conditionally also are not included when calculating the proportion of applicants accepted, making a college look more selective.

With enrollment declining and some markets seeing fewer academically credentialled applicants, “conditional admission lets institutions hedge their bets,” Kim Reid, principal analyst for the National Research Council for College and University Admission, told The Hechinger Report. “There’s both a cynical and a non-cynical logic to having some of these programs,” she said.

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