• Mr. Jeff Neill

What Types of Admissions Decisions Are There?


Q: What kinds of admissions decisions might I anticipate?

A: One of the components of the college application process that we tend to neglect to address too much in advance of applications is the assortment of possible results that colleges might share. None of this really informs application strategy or process, so we prefer to wait until applications are submitted and even until results start rolling in to share the possibilities. That said, what follows is a primer of sorts for application results. Keep in mind that colleges and universities the world over are left to their individual whims to determine what, how, and when to release results. As such, while this list may seem exhaustive, there are probably plenty of types of results that we are not including. Still, here are the most common ones!

  • (Unconditional) Admit. This is the traditional “accept” response, which means that you have been offered a place in the freshman class. Although this variety of result does not traditionally include any mention of conditions for the student to meet, most universities will expect that the student continue on performing academically in a manner consistent with that shown through their application, even if this is not explicitly stated. (Read: No senior slump!)

  • Conditional Admit. This means that the student is being offered a spit in the freshman class so long as they meet certain conditions that the acceptance outlines. Most commonly, this includes specific IB exam scores. If the student does not meet those conditions, then the offer of admission turns to a deny.

  • Deny. This means that the student’s request for admission is declined and that they are not being offered a space in the school. In the vast majority of cases, this means that the student may not apply again until the next application cycle.

  • Defer. When a student has applied through an early round -- such as binding Early Decision or non-binding Early Action or some other non-Regular deadline application -- the term “defer” means that they are postponing making a decision until the regular decision pool. However, it is not uncommon for a regular decision application to receive a “defer” decision; in this second case, this means that the admissions office is not yet ready to render a decision on the application and that they will wait for more information or even for the admissions process to play out with other students before they make the decision on whether to admit or deny.

  • Waitlist. This one is a bit trickier. When a college is not able to offer an offer of admission to a student but feels that they would love to have the student if the space is available later, then they will employ a waitlist. This means that the student has been essentially denied but there might be the chance of a late admissions; in this way, the student needs to decide whether to accept the spot on the waitlist or to, essentially, be denied. If they accept the spot on the waitlist, then they must deposit at another school since some waitlist offers do not come until late in the summer. If a college fills entirely, they will typically email and release all students on their waitlist. Be sure to communicate closely with your counselor if this one plays out for you.

  • January (Midyear) Admit or Deferred Admit. Sometimes colleges may not have space in the freshman class for the fall entry period, so they will instead offer space in a later semester. In essence, this gives the student the first semester off. Also, sometimes universities will render offers of admission for later years; in some such cases, these offers were requested -- as in the case of a student who wants to take a gap year who asks for deferred admission -- but in other cases, the university makes the decision unilaterally.

  • Alternative Campus (Admit). Sometimes universities are not able to offer admission to a particular campus and instead will offer admission to a satellite campus, either permanently or temporarily. It is increasingly common for universities with international branches to offer admission to a student to spend the first semester or year at a secondary campus before coming to the main campus.

  • Alternative Major (Admit). Sometimes students are not admitted for their top major and instead are offered admission if they agree to pursue a different program or major. Sometimes this contingency is built into the application process whereby the university asks for a ranking of top majors, but sometimes the university will reach out in special circumstances to offer admission to a secondary major for which they deem the student to be a good fit.

  • Preferred or Guaranteed Transfer. This one perhaps has the most variation, although it is rare overall. Some schools will tell a student that while they are not admitted for the first year, they would be given special consideration or even guaranteed admission if they applied as a transfer student after attending freshman year elsewhere. Usually there is a specific GPA that must be met. Sometimes there are specific courses that must be taken. Also, sometimes the university will specify a specific institution that the student must attend, like a community college.

Again, there is technically an infinite number of potential outcomes from universities, but these are the most common ones. Also, to be clear, the reasons for universities making these decisions are not included here. Sometimes we can figure out why certain decisions are made, but most of the time we do not know. Nevertheless, be sure to share all results with your counselor!

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