It's Decision Season -- I Got an Offer of Admission, Well Kind Of, What Do I Do with It?

Ah decision season.  This blog posting is the fourth in a series that tackles students' most frequently asked questions during this phase of the college admissions process.

You see the first sentence of the email (or letter) and you are stoked!  It reads, "Congratulations, you have been admitted to....!"  You are so excited that you really don't process the next sentence immediately.  It says, "Unfortunately, we are unable to offer you direct admission to...."  What?  You take a deep breath and you start reading again line by line.  Now you are totally confused.  Are you in or not?  As it turns out, you're kind of in.  What are you supposed to do with that?

I feel for all the students who get these "conditional" or "alternative" offers of admission.  They are really confusing and they do make the decision-making process far more complicated.  But, they are also real opportunities that need to be evaluated and considered as you make your choice amongst colleges.  Essentially, in order to do that, you need to take some time to research the program to which you've been admitted.  Once you've done that, you can compare these offers to the other offers you have and make your decision.  

What do you need to know about your offer?

First, you need to know the "conditions" placed on the offer.  

What else, if anything, must you do to be admitted?  e.g. graduate with a 3.0 or complete a summer program or respond that you are interested.  

Second, you must learn about the program to which you've been admitted.  

Here are some basic questions you should ask:  

  • Academic:  What are the academic components of the program?  Is the major you want available through this program?  Are there additional course requirements of this program?  If the program precedes entry into another program, do you have to get certain grades in order to move on to the next program?
  • Financial:  What is the cost of this program?  Are you eligible for financial aid?  What is the financial aid package you are being offered?  Does this program extend your course of study longer than 4 years?  If so, by how much?
  • Campus & Residential Life: Where is the campus for this program?  Is housing available?  What extracurricular activities can you participate in?  (Be sure and check NCAA rules if you are an athlete and check rush rules if you are eager to go "Greek.")  What programs does the school offer to integrate students from this program into the life of the college?
  • Outcomes:  What happens to students admitted to this program?  Are they happy?  Do they stay or end up transferring?  Do they graduate on time and at the same rate as other students?  What kinds of jobs or graduate/professional educational opportunities do they have?
  • Personal Criteria:  Ask anything that relates to the criteria you've established for college, e.g. does the dining plan offer a vegetarian option?

Who should you ask to get answers to your questions?  


Four sources.  

  • The Admissions Office.  It goes without saying that you should talk to the people that made the offer.  Just be aware that they are in marketing mode, so listen with your critical and analytic ear.
  • Your College Counselor (School or Independent or Both).  Your counselor may know a lot or a little about the program.  But he/she can check with other college counselors and get the scoop.  You want the inside scoop that only your counselor will know or have access to.  
  • A Few Current Students at the College Who Were Admitted Through this Program.  The admissions office should be willing to connect you and current students are usually pretty honest (even the ones that are hand picked by admissions).
  • Crowd Sourcing via the Web.  Start a thread on College Confidential and see what you find out.  Now I presume you are savvy enough to know that you have to take what the crowd says with a grain of salt because they may post and really not know what they are talking about, but you can also turn up some good info and you can often find others in your situation with whom you can exchange tidbits of info that helps. 

Now that you have a clear understanding of this offer of admission, all you have to do is compare it to your other offers and make your decision!  (Want to know how to do that?  Read the blog posting that is last in this series!)


Comments or Questions?  


We're happy to be part of your crowd sourcing!  Share your own confusing offer of admission and see what you can learn from us and our readers.

Alison Cooper Chisolm heads the college admissions consulting practice at Ivey Consulting. She came to private consulting after working in admissions for more than 10 years at three selective universities (most recently at Dartmouth College). Follow Alison on Twitter (@IveyCollege)