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College Admission Side Entrance
John W. Tomac

More than half of all colleges offer at least one kind of alternative admissions option for students who don't quite make the cut for regular fall admissions.

But each of the three main kinds of alternatives has both advantages and drawbacks, such as potentially higher costs, as you'll see below.

(If you're interested in trying to get into a reach college, make sure you also explore these five questions about side-door admissions.)


1. Conditional Admission

How it works: Students attend special summer or fall classes. If they meet GPA requirements in the prescribed courses, they're in.

Best for: Students who show promise but lack some academic or language qualification needed for standard admission.

Some major schools that offer: Marist College, New Mexico State, Penn State, Texas A&M, University of Idaho, Winthrop University.

Potential downsides: The special courses often cost extra. Plus, you might have to pay for summer housing.


2. Guaranteed Transfer

How it works: The college promises second- or third-year admission if students perform well at a community college or another school.

Best for: Students with the discipline to excel at another college and who are willing to move on after one or two years.

Some major schools that offer: Cornell University, University of Notre Dame, SUNY at Binghamton, University of California–Irvine, University of Virginia.

Potential downsides: Starting at a cheaper school saves money, but transferring can be disruptive socially.

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3. Second-Semester Admission

How it works: Freshmen don't start on campus until the second semester, sometimes after a semester of study abroad.

Best for: Qualified students whose record isn't strong enough to make them a shoo-in for regular fall admission.

Some major schools that offer: Elon University, Hamilton College, Lehigh University, Middlebury College, University of Southern California.

Potential downsides: The fall semester-abroad option, if offered, can cost extra.