From kindergarten up until high school, most of us have grown conditioned to the academic year — we start school in the fall, and end in the summer. There’s half a month to a month of winter break in the middle, and another break in the spring. It’s all pretty much ingrained into our existences by the time college comes around, which is nice because college generally works the same way.

 

Unless you’re a spring freshman.

 

You’ll know it if you are; it usually says on your acceptance letter whether you’ve been accepted into the regular or the spring term. It’s not always going to be in the boldest print or the biggest letters, but if you read carefully, you’ll know.

 

You’ve probably figured out by this point in the post that spring freshmen don’t start school in the fall, but spring admissions is a lot more than just that. Let’s take a closer look.

 

In a nutshell…

 

Spring admissions programs are when colleges accept students that start their first semester of college after winter break is over. Sometimes, applicants can specifically apply to begin school in the spring semester — like at Purdue. Other times, the institution will decide who to put in the spring class from their regular applicant pool — like at UC Berkeley.

 

Typically, being a spring freshman means that you have a semester off — the college won’t be ready to have you show up on campus until at least January. You’ll still technically count as part of the same graduating class as the regular freshmen who started school in the fall and be called the same thing (so if they’re the class of 2020, for instance, you’ll also be part of the class of 2020).

 

These programs help schools to accommodate more students at one time, since winter graduates leaving the school make room in the dorms and classrooms for more matriculated freshmen.

 

Academic logistics

 

Now, if you decide to just take the fall semester off as a spring freshman, you’ll usually graduate in the winter if you plan on completing your undergraduate degree in eight semesters. And that’s perfectly okay — a lot of people choose to graduate in the winter for various reasons (internships, taking a ninth semester, taking time off) and you’ll have an equally formal ceremony. And if you want, some schools even let winter graduates walk the same stage with their peers in the spring.

 

However, if you really like getting things done quickly, it’s not impossible to graduate in seven semesters either. AP credit can definitely help in this respect if your college is willing to accept it.

 

Some schools that accept spring freshmen also run auxiliary programs for spring freshmen to get credits during their semester off, such as Berkeley’s Fall Program for Freshmen. Essentially, spring freshmen take classes in a designated location off of the main campus, which still count for Berkeley credits. They also live in Berkeley’s dorms and transition to taking their classes on the campus proper when their first fall semester is over.

 

Other spring freshmen choose to take classes at local community colleges for a semester before arriving at their college of choice so that they won’t fall behind in credits. After the end of their fall semester, these spring freshmen transfer their credits over to their college of choice and can ease into life on campus as a second-semester freshman. But of course, this requires checking the transfer credit policies at your college first. Not all colleges take all credits.

 

For those people who like the idea of having an extended summer and don’t want to take classes at all during their fall semester (but still want to graduate in the spring), there’s also the option of taking summer classes. However, summer courses are often more expensive than courses offered in the regular academic semesters, but they are shorter and more compact than semester classes.

 

By and large, there’s no discernible difference between spring freshmen and fall freshmen in class — they could sit side-by-side with each other and there’d be no difference. Yes, the fall freshmen will have been taking classes at the college for a semester before the spring freshmen even got there, but because of the high amount of variance there is in most people’s college schedules anyway (some seniors save intro classes for last), this has little effect on overall performance.

 

The only possible exception to this rule is if some academic departments or subjects have strict course sequences — for example, some colleges will exclusively offer Chemistry I in the fall and Chemistry II in the spring, and have Chemistry I be a prerequisite for Chemistry II. So if you’re a premed looking to take organic chemistry which has Chemistry II as a prerequisite, starting in the spring may put you at a disadvantage since you’ll have to wait until the fall semester before Chemistry I is offered again.

 

Most college advising offices are very understanding for spring freshmen, however, and will try to work with them around this change. So it’s always good to talk to them first before making an academic decision on what to do with your fall semester.

 

Making the transition

 

There are typically many fewer spring freshmen than fall freshmen in a single admissions cycle. Cornell, another school that operates a spring admissions program, admitted a total of 3,219 freshmen to its class of 2019. 125 of these were spring freshmen.

 

Because fall freshmen have had one semester under their belt by the time the spring freshmen arrive on campus, spring freshmen may find that it’s a little harder to make friends and break into existing social circles. Conversely, spring freshmen often bond really closely among each other — in the beginning, at least —  as they are a small number of people who are all undergoing the same experience.

 

Though it typically won’t be as large of an event as orientation in the fall, most colleges who have a spring admissions program will also host a smaller-scale spring orientation geared towards spring freshmen. The events are usually more relaxed and intimate as opposed to the icebreakers and large groups during fall orientation.

 

Many spring freshmen find that joining extracurriculars is a helpful way to meet new people and make new friends, so it may help to do a little research of the different student organizations at your college of choice as a spring freshman.

 

But the good news is, after a few months of getting to know the school, spring freshmen are practically indistinguishable from fall freshmen. This isn’t something that people are ostracized for, nor is it something that people usually care to ask about and single you out for.

 

Other perks and drawbacks

 

One major perk about being a spring freshman is the flexibility it gives you — you have an extra three months’ time to do practically anything you want. Some people treat it like a gap year, where they explore pursuits they couldn’t in high school before heading off to college. Many people try to find internships to build their resume;  others may choose to head for a different country; still others choose to stay closer to home for a little longer, especially if their college of choice is far away. Spring admission gives you more freedom with your fall semester while still ensuring that you go to a school that you like.

 

However, financial aid often works a little differently for spring freshmen. Often, fall freshmen are given priority in the financial aid allocation process, and some merit-based scholarships are only reserved for fall freshmen. Again, the specific policies vary by school, and not all schools allocate their financial aid like this. Also, some schools require that freshmen be on campus for at least one semester before rushing for a sorority or a fraternity, so spring freshmen at some schools may have to wait until their sophomore year to rush.

 

But college is what you decide to make it — it’s just as possible for a spring freshman to succeed in college as a fall freshman, and the semester you’re admitted for doesn’t predict your future success. If you decide that the pros outweigh the cons for you, spring admissions programs can definitely be a good way to gain a little more life experience before going off to college.

 

Jeanette Si

Jeanette Si

Jeanette is a junior at Cornell University double majoring in Information Science and China and Asia-Pacific Studies. As someone who’s received a lot of help from mentors during her personal admissions process, she’s looking to give back now that her own admissions season is behind her. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found singing show tunes (terribly), playing MOBAs (passably), or quoting Jane Austen (expertly).
Jeanette Si