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After admittance, students still may have work to complete

College applications are in, and sighs of relief can be heard all over the country as admissions decisions are being received.

But for more and more students each year, there is still one more hurdle to jump after matriculating to their first-choice university. Many colleges are increasingly using a dual approach in admitting students into highly competitive programs. The approach includes:

• Direct admissions: The student is admitted directly, as a freshman, into both the college and major of his or her choice.

• Pre-admissions: The student is admitted into the college as a “pre-major” and must complete a prescribed curriculum with a minimum grade-point average to be admitted into the selected major. Admissions may be competitive, and not all students will move from “pre” to actual major. So in this case, the student competes twice – once at admissions and again after completing the prerequisites for program admission.

An increasing number of majors are starting with pre-admissions, and many universities offer pre-admissions in those majors. Following is a current sampling.

• Business: University of Arizona, University of Colorado at Boulder, University of Oregon, San Diego State

• Computer science: University of Arizona, UC Berkeley (Bachelor of Arts option), UC Santa Barbara, University of Washington

• Engineering: University of Colorado at Boulder, Oregon State, University of Washington

• Nursing: San Francisco State, San Jose State, Sonoma State, University of Wisconsin at Madison

Most universities do a combination of direct and pre-admissions. Actual numbers differ by university/college, but usually the top 5-10 percent in the academic pool are directly admitted, provided they have completed prerequisites (like calculus for engineering) and are further required to maintain a high GPA to remain in their major. The other 90-95 percent of students are pre-admitted to the major and must follow a specific curriculum with a predefined GPA and/or an additional admissions application before being accepted into their chosen major.

Some programs will auto-admit anyone with a minimum GPA. For example, currently a cumulative college GPA of 3.0 is enough to gain admission to the full business program at San Diego State. Other programs require a minimum GPA and an application.

Many of the programs are impacted, and admissions rates vary widely by college and program. The University of Washington, for example, admits only approximately 30-35 percent of pre-engineers, while the University of Colorado admits roughly 65 percent. That 65 percent number is more promising than it sounds, because it is quite common for students to self-select out of the program during the pre years, especially in engineering. Most of the 35 percent who do not move on are due to attrition in the program rather than from being denied. Those who are denied, however, face a tough choice: transfer to another university to complete their initial course of study or accept a different major at their original college.

So before making that all-important matriculation decision, students should do their research and understand whether the program is direct or pre-admit.

Hollis Bischoff is a college admissions adviser for Strategies 4 Admission LLC. She earned a graduate certificate in college and career counseling from UCLA and is a Certified Educational Planner. She blogs about college admissions at and tweets at @collegeunlocked. For more information, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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