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Starting College in the Spring Semester: How It Works and Why It Might Be Right for You

Written by
Samantha Rose
Samantha Rose is a personal finance writer covering financial literacy for OppU. Her work focuses on providing hands-on resources for high school and college-age students in addition to their parents and educators.
Read time: 6 min
Updated on July 27, 2023
Here’s how to make it work.

Everyone’s familiar with the traditional academic calendar — school starts in the fall, and ends in the summer. But matriculating in the fall isn’t the only path to success.

Starting college in the spring semester is another option.

A spring semester start is perfectly normal, and it may even be more common than you think. Academically, it won’t put you behind other students, but a smooth transition requires adjustments.

Whether you’re a spring admit or transfer student, you probably have questions about starting college halfway through the year. Here’s what you need to know to rock a mid-year spring semester start.

Is it OK to start college in the spring?

Long story short — yes. There are several reasons why a student may choose to start college in the spring.

Students might want a gap semester off to work or travel, or for health concerns. Other students may opt for a deferred spring admission if they didn’t receive fall admission. Either way, it’s normal and perfectly OK to jump in mid-year.

And the good news is that you won’t be the only one. In fact, a spring start is becoming increasingly common — like taking a gap year.

How do you start college in the spring?

Applicants can apply to a spring admission program or to a fall program that allows admitted students to defer to the spring. Deferred means a student is accepted, but won’t matriculate until later. In most cases, a deferred admission is decided by the academic institution. If the fall class fills up, waitlisted students are offered spring admission. It’s then up to the student to accept or decline the offer.

Spring admits often don’t need to be on campus until January. They're free to spend the fall semester however they want — working, interning, or otherwise.

Which colleges have spring admission?

A growing number of colleges and universities allow spring admission. It’s not limited to small liberal arts colleges anymore — big universities are following suit. Transfers and prospective students can both apply for spring admission.

Spring admission is beneficial for colleges and students. These programs allow schools to accommodate matriculated students halfway through the year. When winter graduates leave campus, spring admits take their place.

Policies and deadlines vary, so you’ll need to research which colleges offer spring admission. For instance, Harvard University doesn’t admit spring students. Freshmen and transfer students must start in the fall. The University of Southern California, however, admits spring applicants. This includes transfers and freshmen.

Check the college’s website to learn more about the admissions process. Be sure to look up the specific program or department you’re interested in. Policies also vary within a school across programs. Still have questions? Contact the college admissions office.

What is it like to start college in the spring?

Joining college in the spring can be a challenging transition. Campus will likely feel settled. Fall students have secured their housing, joined clubs, and finished the first round of classes. As a result, spring admits might feel out of place. This already established college world appears more intimidating than it actually is.

The truth is that no one cares about students’ spring or fall admit status. College is different from high school. Students aren’t judging one another for class year. In fact, many colleges have a mix of students of all ages, races, ethnicities, and backgrounds across different class years. Spring admits will find that it doesn’t take long to learn the ins and outs of college culture. And peers, professors, and staff are all there to befriend or guide newbies.

Think about this: there’s little to no difference between a spring admit and a fall admit. They can sit in the same class as upperclassmen and all deliver quality work. A one-semester difference will have little to no effect on overall academic performance. And isn’t that the point of college? To find a path and achieve success — regardless of background.

Don’t worry — starting college in the spring isn’t a red mark. Chances are no one will even notice.

What are the benefits of starting college in the spring?

No. 1: Individual attention

The spring class is smaller than the fall class. As such, orientation is more personable and the class size is more manageable. Spring admits often receive special attention from advisors and mentors. With the smaller class size, many spring admits bond to their peers — it’s a built-in social group.

No. 2: Scholarship opportunities

Spring brings just as many scholarship opportunities as the fall — and with less demand. In fact, some colleges offer special spring tuition rates, grants, and scholarships. Spring admits should check with the financial aid office to find out if financial aid, which might have been inaccessible in the fall, is renewed by the spring. These perks can reduce the price of college.

No. 3: Time off

Spring students effectively get a gap semester — what would you do with an extra four months? Spring admits can spend their free time however they want. Pick up a job or internship experience. Travel the world or enroll in an exchange program. Hone a skill or pursue a passion. No matter how they use the time off, it’s important to make the most of it. And wise students will save any money earned to cut the cost of college later.

No. 4: Graduation options

Spring students have a variety of options for graduation. They can graduate in eight semesters mid-year or with their fall peers the following semester. Most colleges have a small mid-year ceremony to celebrate graduating students. The larger, traditional commencement festivities are held in the spring at the end of the academic year. Spring admits can often choose to graduate mid-year and walk in the formal ceremony later.

What are the challenges of starting college in the spring?

No. 1: Imposter syndrome

It’s hard to feel like a newcomer, especially when other students are already settled in. The transition process is always challenging at first. But in time spring admits learn the ropes, create a routine, and fit in like everyone else. If they experience any questions or concerns, a residential advisor, mentor, or academic advisor is there to help students feel welcome.

No. 2: Limited housing

To find housing on or off campus is typically first come, first served. Spring admits might be able to find housing, but chances are it won’t be anyone’s top choice. The most desirable accommodations are long gone.

No. 3: Membership quotas

If there are membership quotas, clubs and organizations likely already met them in the fall. This can be a major downfall for a spring admit looking to be involved on campus. There’s a high chance that a spot will open up for the proactive students. If not, there’s always next semester.

Bottom line

A spring semester brings a fresh start and a new chapter. After a brief transition, spring admits can be just as successful as their fall peers.

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