Looking beyond fall: Why you should consider an alternative start to college

BY SERGE W. DESIR JR., Director of Student Access, USFSP

ST. PETERSBURG — It’s that time of year when students are beginning to make their college decisions. When thinking about starting college, the fall entry is probably front of mind for many.

Starting college in September (for every place other than Florida, since we start in August) aligns with our expectations.  After all, we start the K-12 school year in the fall, so logical progression means college should as well, right?

And colleges often heavily feature fall in many of their admissions documentation; for example, many talk about their average fall academic profile or average fall class size.

But fall is not the only option for launching a college career, and it may not be the best start for many new college students.  So, for today’s “College Corner,” I want to talk about alternatives to the fall about which students are too often unaware.

Summer is the most frequent non-fall start for most students, and it’s a great way to begin your college journey.  Summer terms tend to be less densely populated than fall, allowing newly enrolled students to receive more attention while they immerse themselves in a less hectic environment.

Additionally, some states – such as Florida – require that most students complete a certain number of courses during the summer; starting at the beginning of the college journey is an excellent way to complete such requirements.  Finally, some students are required to start college in special summer programs.

These programs have many different names, from Summer Bridge to Student Support Services (which USF offers at the St. Petersburg and Tampa campuses).  Regardless of the name, all are designed to provide additional support to students who may not meet a college’s admissions criteria but otherwise show the promise to succeed.

Furthermore, such programs may have special themes, such as leadership or first-generation assistance. They may also further enhance a student’s connection to their college community for special affinity groups.

Indeed, participants in these programs often have some of the highest success and retention rates compared to other students. Clearly, starting in the summer should be considered if the opportunity presents itself.

In recent years, the spring semester has become an increasingly popular way to begin the college journey.  As with special summer opportunities, many spring offers are required for admission to a given college.

Some will require a student to successfully complete a certain number of community college courses before enrolling at their university of choice.  Others may offer scholarships or arrange special housing at their university while the student takes classes at a local community college.

In all cases, spring provides a student the chance to establish a firm collegiate foundation before arriving at a university.

Finally, there are the typical transfer pathways. Florida has one of the strongest transfer partnerships in the country between our community colleges and state universities.

Transferring in Florida is largely seamless for students, from the guaranteed admission to a state university for Florida College System (FCS) AA degree recipients to special accelerated partnerships between certain FCS institutions to specific universities, such as the USF Fuse Consortium, a transfer program between USF and eight Florida State Colleges. The transfer option promotes timely degree completion, less debt, and swifter entry to the job market.

So, if you are offered an alternative college entry, please seriously consider it. These offers are designed to ensure that a prospective student receives the best option for their particular situation.

With that in mind, consider these offers with the same level of scrutiny as all others you receive. And when you have questions about a university’s alternate pathways, always reach out to learn more; never assume that similar offers from different universities are the same.

Ultimately, what matters, in the end, is where and how you finish.  A university that offers an alternative entry wants you to become part of their community, and they want you to earn a degree from their institution.  Don’t let the alternative pathway pass you by.

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