Obviously, most college students begin their college careers in the fall. But for a growing number of college students and their families, January marks not only the beginning of a new calendar year, but also the beginning of their college experience.
Some students receive admissions decisions that admit them to college not for fall semester, but for spring admission. This relatively new trend in college admission helps colleges fill openings that may occur for second term, and may provide a welcome break for students between high school and college. Other students opt out of fall admission after being accepted and choose to defer their enrollment until second semester. Still other students may have life experiences that intervene and force them to delay beginning their college career a semester, or they may have applied late.
Whatever your student’s reason for beginning college at mid-year, it is important that he think about both the advantages and potential challenges of stepping into college at the midpoint of the year.
The prospect of beginning college after everyone else has had a semester to settle in can be intimidating, and it is natural for your student to feel somewhat insecure. Help her realize that this is a normal reaction. Although your student will probably not have a large cohort of students who are beginning along with her, she will not be alone. Mid-year numbers are fewer, but there are more and more students each year. Some colleges have formal programs to help these students adjust.
Are there advantages to starting college mid-year?
Beginning college mid-year provides a different experience for your student, but it may be just the right thing for many students.
- Your student will begin college after much of the turmoil of the beginning of the year has settled down. With so many new students entering college in the fall semester, students may have trouble settling in. College offices and staff may be overwhelmed with student issues, students may be bombarded constantly with new offers, programs and activities. By the time that your student begins college in January, activities are humming along smoothly, and everyone has a bit more breathing space.
- The second semester is a fresh start for all students. Most begin new classes and many may change roommates or residence halls. Your student will not be alone in participating in new experiences. As all students begin new classes, they will all be on the same footing. Many fellow students will not even know that your student is new to the school unless she shares that information.
- Your student has had an extra semester’s time to gain some maturity before launching her college career. Whether she chose to remain at home and work, participated in volunteer activities, enrolled in a post-graduate program, or traveled, she has more experience now than she had in September. Hopefully, this will translate into wise decisions and less vulnerability to peer pressure.
- Because fewer students begin at mid-year, many offices may have more time and energy to help support your student during his transition.
What are the challenges that students may face?
Mid-year or Winter Starts, as they are sometimes called, face some challenges as well. Anticipating these challenges can be the first step toward overcoming them.
- Your student may not receive much orientation. Most colleges conduct extensive orientation programs for new incoming students during the summer, but may not do any orientation — or only an abbreviated orientation — in January. (However, there will be many students available who now ”know the ropes” and will be able to help your student.)
- Your student will need to make an extra effort to make friends and to get involved. Students have had the fall semester to sign up for activities and clubs and to get to know one another. (However, students begin new classes and may move to new residence halls and so even returning students will be meeting new friends.)
- Your student may be out of sync with two part courses in which Part 1 is offered in the fall semester and Part 2 is offered in the spring. Your student may need to wait to begin such a sequence next fall and take other courses this semester.
- If your student hopes to graduate with his incoming class that began in the fall, he may need to make up credits through summer classes, winter terms, or CLEP exams. Anticipating this and looking ahead at the big picture will make this reasonable.
- It is possible that there may be less financial aid available for spring semester. Your student should thoroughly investigate all possibilities with the financial aid office.
- Your student will be registering for courses after the returning students. Most returning students register for classes in November. This means that for this semester it may be more difficult for your student to find ideal courses. This should only be a problem this semester as he will be registering with all other students during the spring semester.
Starting college mid-year has both advantages and challenges. It is not for all students, but it is an ideal option for a growing number of students. Helping your student anticipate the situation and the potential challenges may help to make a smooth transition.