Provisional Admission: What It Is and How It Works

Students offered provisional admission to college need to do extra work to gain regular acceptance, but it could well be worth their time and effort.

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by Nancy Parode

Published June 22, 2022

Reviewed by Lauren Albano, M.Ed.

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Provisional Admission: What It Is and How It Works
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College admissions officers sometimes discover that a student may have a fairly strong application package, but they are missing documents or have not clearly demonstrated their full academic potential.

Some schools offer provisional admission to these students, granting acceptance in exchange for fulfilling extra requirements. But what is provisional admission exactly? And what does it mean if you're provisionally accepted to a college?

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Ready to start your journey?

What Is Provisional Admission?

Provisional admission — also called provisional acceptance, conditional admission, or conditional acceptance — is when a school accepts you, provided you meet specific conditions.

A conditional acceptance letter spells out the next steps you must take to complete the admissions process and qualify for full admission to that school.

Usually, students who've been provisionally accepted must provide certain documentation, such as final transcripts and test scores. Alternatively, they may be required to complete current or future coursework before their acceptance becomes official.

Provisional acceptance letters may contain one or more of the following:

Some colleges may also ask students to verify in writing that they will comply with the provisional admission requirements.

How Does Provisional Admission for Transfer Students Work?

Provisionally accepted transfer students may be asked to provide official transcripts and test scores, such as AP or IB scores. They may also need to document successful completion of the college courses they listed on their application.

Additionally, keep in mind that changing or withdrawing from a class could affect your provisional admission status. If you need to change your current class schedule, get written permission from the school you're transferring to first.

Be sure to find out whether the college you're transferring to will check your social media accounts to verify your conduct. This practice is becoming increasingly common.

How Does Provisional Admission for International Students Work?

Depending on where a student lives, U.S. colleges may ask provisionally accepted international students to provide documented evidence of their English language skills.

Some schools require a minimum TOEFL or IELTS score. Others may accept high scores on common standardized tests, like the SAT or ACT, or strong grades in English language classes.

Finally, some schools may require international students to enroll in and pass one or more English proficiency courses before extending full admission to them.

Should You Accept Conditional Admission?

Whether you should accept provisional admission depends on your goals, finances, and overall commitment to the school.

If conditional admission offers a workable path to regular admission at your dream school, you may benefit from accepting an offer of provisional admission.

Unfortunately, provisionally admitted students are not eligible for many types of financial aid. Until you receive a full admission offer, you may need to pay for required coursework or take out a loan from a private lender. As such, you may prefer a full admission offer from another school that promises a solid financial aid package.

If you must take prerequisite courses while in provisional admission status, it may take you more than four years to earn your degree.

Frequently Asked Questions About Provisional Admission

Is there a difference between provisional and conditional acceptance?

Each college uses its own terminology. At some colleges and universities, provisional and conditional acceptance are the same thing. This is not true for all schools, however.

Read your conditional admission letter and review information on the college's website so you understand what you're being asked to do. If you're still confused, contact the admissions office and ask for clarification.

Can provisional acceptance become full acceptance?

Yes, provisional acceptance can become full acceptance, but only if you complete all the requirements laid out in your conditional acceptance letter.

Meet every deadline and track delivery of every submission. Work hard to pass any required tests and prerequisite courses so that you exceed the target scores and grades.

How long does provisional status last?

Each school sets its own provisional admission deadlines. Some students complete this process more quickly than others, depending on the requirements and due dates. Allow for transcript delivery and visa application delays, and set aside time for resolving any problems that may arise.

Take care to register for required standardized tests as early as possible. It also helps to have a second test date in mind in case you need to reschedule.

Can I receive financial aid with my provisional admission?

Most colleges do not offer financial aid to provisionally admitted students. However, you should still file the FAFSA if you accept provisional admission. Your college will reevaluate your financial aid status once your status changes to full admission. Having your FAFSA results on file will speed up that process.

In addition, depending on your college and situation, you may be eligible for federal aid if you have to take prerequisite courses. Contact your college's financial aid office for more information.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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