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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 02/19/2010

Colleges admit freshmen for winter term

By Valerie Strauss

A friend told me that her son was admitted to the University of Maryland at College Park as a freshman--but not for this fall. Instead, he was offered admission for winter term, which starts next January. She had not known this was a possibility, and wondered if Maryland was the only school that did it.

The answer: No, far from it. A lot of schools, both public and private, accept students as freshmen but ask them to skip the first term and start later.

Why?

All colleges and universities would love to welcome a freshman class and have all members stay until they graduate. That’s not what happens.

In the 2007-8 academic year, for example, only 66 percent of first-year college students returned to the same institution for their second year, according to a survey conducted by ACT, Inc., the non-profit testing and research group.

That means 34 percent did not--and that was the lowest percentage since 1989. That’s a lot of empty beds that could be filled with eager students.

Maryland, for example, admitted 848 new freshmen in spring 2009 (along with 896 new transfers.) Each fall it admits about 4,000 new freshmen.

Furthermore, there are growing numbers of students who spend semesters or entire years studying abroad, which also leaves space on campus. And there are students who are accepted for fall and then seek a year’s deferment, something many admissions deans actually encourage.

All of this helps explain why enrollment management is not so simple.

Another virtue for schools that grant January admission is that they can accept applicants with lower grades or test scores than the population of kids admitted for the fall. It is the fall freshman statistics that are used for the U.S. News & World Report and other college rankings; the stats for students accepted later in the year don’t matter.

I’ve heard from admissions folks that some private colleges have in recent years essentially gamed the system by waiting until second term to admit students they would like to accept but don’t want counted in their formal stats.

For some kids, the later admission option is a good one. They can take a break from school but know they have a place to go. The system works best when the school has a separate program to help orient new freshmen, just as it does in the fall.

Do any of you have experience with this late admissions arrangement? How did it work?

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By Valerie Strauss  | February 19, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  College Admissions, Higher Education, University of Maryland  | Tags:  college admissions  
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Comments

I know a kid accepted last spring into an elite school, who was asked to wait until winter term to enroll, after doing "something interesting" during the fall term. She willingly complied.

She had excellent credentials, by the way - great scores on SATs and AP courses.

Posted by: efavorite | February 19, 2010 10:09 AM | Report abuse

I was a January freshman in 1978. The fall, when all my friends were away at college, wasn't much fun, but I was able to work and save money, and I took classes at the local community college. In January, my school did have an orientation for J-frosh, and we formed a tight bond that lasted for the rest of college and beyond. In fact, I nearly everyone I still keep up with was a J-freshman. So it had the effect of making a big place immediately comfortable.

Posted by: kc0896 | February 19, 2010 10:13 AM | Report abuse

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