Understand Conditional Admission at U.S. Schools in 2018

Baimei Tang took the TOEFL test seven times but couldn’t get the score she needed for full admission to a graduate art program at Miami University—Oxford in Ohio.

But the U.S. school offered Tang, a Chinese national, another option. She could participate in an intensive English program on campus and then, if her language skills improved enough, enroll in the graduate school. She received what’s called conditional admission.

If prospective international students are conditionally admitted to a college or university, it means they meet some but not all of the standards for admission, says Susan Schaurer, assistant vice president for enrollment management and director of admission for Miami University.

“The institution wants them to still be a part of the university community,” she says, but applicants must first work to meet certain requirements before they’ll be fully accepted into a degree program.

[Learn more about what conditional admission means at a U.S. graduate school.]

These requirements may be related to academics. For example, prospective graduate students who are missing a few prerequisite courses may be admitted to a program on the condition that they take those classes, says Terra Good, associate director of international and graduate admissions for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida.

At Southern Methodist University in Texas, undergraduate applicants may receive a type of conditional admission that allows them to eventually enroll as transfer students, says Jeremy Brown, director of international admission. If these students earn a certain number of college credits at another institution while maintaining a specified GPA, they are guaranteed a full admission offer to SMU, Brown says.

As Tang experienced, schools may also conditionally admit prospective international students whose English skills need improvement, as determined by their TOEFL or other language test scores.

[Discover how U.S. colleges gauge international students’ English skills.]

In addition to Miami University—Oxford, other U.S. colleges and universities – including Embry-Riddle and SMU – have intensive English language programs that help conditionally admitted students boost their skills. How long a program takes often depends on students’ English level when they begin and how quickly they improve.

Tang spent one semester working on her English in Miami University’s American Culture and English, or ACE, Program. “I practiced pronunciation and grammar and writing, reading – all of the different English skills,” she says.

But participating in an intensive English program can add to the already steep cost of U.S. higher education, especially if students aren’t earning credit toward their degree while they’re working on their language skills. And even if they do earn credit, they may still have to pay additional fees associated with the program.

[See 10 colleges that offer international students the most financial aid.]

Here are four tips for prospective international students who are conditionally admitted, particularly for English proficiency reasons, to a U.S. school.

• Seek extra guidance, if needed. If students have questions about a conditional admission offer, they can always follow up with a school’s admissions office, experts say. However, the school may not have an individual who speaks their native language, so students may need to reach out to someone who can help translate emails or other information the school provides that’s in English.

One option is to seek help from an EducationUSA adviser, says Brown from SMU. EducationUSA is a U.S. Department of State-supported global network of advising centers that offer free assistance to prospective international students interested in studying in the U.S. Prospective students can visit this website to find the nearest advising center.

• Get details about the English program. Conditionally admitted students considering a school’s intensive English program should ask, among other things, whether they’ll be able to earn credit toward their degree through the program, Schaurer says. This affects how long it will take a student to earn a degree.

At Miami University, undergraduate students in the ACE program earn a minimum of 12 credits, says Schaurer. However, this isn’t the case at every college or university.

• Keep track of necessary documents. A school will send a Form I-20 to conditionally admitted international students who are bound for an intensive English program. The form will specify that the student has been accepted to a language program, as opposed to a full degree program, says Good. Students should take the I-20 and all other required documentation with them to their visa appointment, she says.

• Ask if you can submit another test score. After being conditionally admitted, students may have the option to retake the TOEFL or another English language test. If their new score is high enough to meet the school’s standards and the institution still has space in the incoming class, students can be fully admitted to the degree program, says Brown.

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