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Student Life

Starting College Mid-Year

Suzanne Shaffer

Most first-year college students move to campus in the fall, but that’s not always the case. Some students decide to wait a semester, attend community college, or work and save money. Other students are offered spring admission from the college itself.

For the 2020–21 academic year, with COVID-19 impacting the fall campus experience, more first-year students may have opted to delay the start of college until winter 2021 and second semester.

You are sure to have a few questions and concerns if your student will enter college mid-year!

What is Spring Admission?

In recent years, more and more colleges and universities have sent out a different kind of acceptance letter. This letter invites the applicant to wait until the new year before going to college.

Some schools allow students to request second-semester admission while others make the decision for the student. For example, Northeastern University in Boston enrolls these students right away but directs them to spend their fall semester at a designated program abroad. Each year at Middlebury College, about 100 applicants (“Febs”) are offered spring admission.

Why do colleges do this? It’s simple arithmetic. Between junior study abroad (in a normal, non-pandemic year), December graduation and freshman attrition, campus populations drop off after fall semester. These departures leave vacancies in housing and in the classrooms. Mid-year admissions help fill these vacancies.

Spring admission can be confusing for students and their families. To address the concern, schools often set up special mid-year open houses or have former mid-year students call and talk to the new student about how it works. Then in January, the colleges generally offer mid-year orientation programs just as they do for fall semester arrivals.

How Will Entering College Mid-Year Affect My Student?

The idea of beginning college after almost everyone else has already been there for a semester is unsettling to many students. By anticipating the challenges, your student will be better prepared to meet them.

It’s especially important for students who start mid-year to take advantage of academic advising for the following reasons:

  • They may face difficulties registering for classes since students who entered in the fall already registered in November for spring classes. There might not be as many class options available, especially for entry-level courses.
  • Entering mid-year may mean your student is behind in their credits. If they want to graduate with the class that began in the fall, it may require taking classes in the summer or during winter break to catch up.

Are There Advantages to Entering Mid-Year?

You bet. Your student gets to avoid the turmoil and confusion that goes along with fall freshman move-in. Because fewer students start college mid-year, student services and administration should have more time and energy to offer support to your student.

Second semester means a fresh start for all students. They begin new classes, and may also change roommates or move to new residence halls. Although your student is arriving halfway through the academic year, they won’t be alone facing new experiences.

Your student has had time to grow and mature before entering college. However they spent the fall months, it added life experience which will help them adjust to college responsibilities.

How Can My Student Ensure a Smooth Transition?

It’s becoming more common for students to enter college mid-year but it will still take extra effort on your student's part to assimilate into the already established student population. Encourage them to:

  1. Explore opportunities to get involved in campus groups and activities (even if club meetings are virtual in Spring 2021 because of the ongoing pandemic).
  2. Make an effort to get to know people in the residence hall (if they live on campus) and in the classroom (resisting the temptation to stay isolated). They can start with their roommate, who might also be a mid-year student — or if the roommate has been there for a semester, they'll be able to introduce your student to people.
  3. Participate actively in class and go to professors’ office hours (again, virtually if classes are online).

Starting college mid-year doesn't have to be a disadvantage. It may not appeal to all students but it’s an increasingly popular option for many. By helping your student anticipate the challenges and take advantage of the benefits, they should be able to transition into college smoothly.

Suzanne Shaffer counsels students and families through her blog, Parenting for College. Her advice has been featured in print and online on Huffington Post, Yahoo Finance, U.S. News College, TeenLife, Smart College Visit, Road2College and more.
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