What is Conditional Admission in the USA?

What is Conditional Admission in the USA?

By Jim Crawley

Many universities offer conditional admission to academically qualified students who need to improve their English proficiency.

Choosing to continue your education in the United States is an exhilarating decision. As you begin your search for the right U.S. school you may feel hope, excitement, motivation and a little intimidation. 

Some of you may know exactly what you want to study, and possibly you have even chosen a university or college. Others of you are dreaming of being in an American university classroom, but are not sure how to make the dream come true.

When you learn about a school’s English language requirements, and realize your English language skills are not at a high enough level to begin classes, you may feel frustrated. Your academic marks meet the college or university admission requirements and you have the financial means to study in the USA. The only problem is your English language proficiency. This may cause you to delay your plans to study in the U.S., or to give up on a prospective school. 

But there’s another way …

Many universities now offer “conditional admission” to international students who meet all other admission requirements, but need to improve their English language proficiency. Conditional admission provides talented and capable international students a pathway into university classrooms. 

Step 1: Apply for conditional admission to a university

Not all universities and colleges offer conditional admission, so it is important to find out whether this option is available before applying for admission. Frequently, if the university has an intensive English program, or has an agreement with a local private intensive English program, applicants who are academically qualified may be considered for conditional admission. In this case, you would submit an application packet with all required original documentation, with the exception of the proof of English proficiency.

The university will evaluate your application documents and if you’re academically admissible, the university could issue you a letter of conditional admission. This means that once you successfully complete the specified intensive English program and/or have the appropriate test score report (TOEFL or IELTS), you will be offered full admission to the university.

Step 2: Apply for admission to an intensive English program

Once you have been granted conditional admission, you will also need to apply for admission to the university approved intensive English program. All the appropriate application, fees, and verification of financial support need to be submitted. The intensive English program will then issue you an admission letter and the appropriate immigration form, usually a Form I-20.

Step 3: Apply for your student visa

To apply for a student visa, you will need to take the admission documents from the intensive English program, original financial support documentation, and the conditional admission letter from the university to the U.S. consulate or embassy.

Even though you may have limited English abilities, it is important that you are able to answer basic questions about the intensive English program and the university. Knowing the university and English program’s location, what you want to study, and having the ability to briefly state why you want to attend that school can be very helpful in the visa interview. Although there are no guarantees in the visa interview, the more natural and comfortable you are with your answers, the more likely there will be a positive outcome.

Step 4: Confirm, confirm, confirm!

When you begin studying in the intensive English program it is important that you contact the university to which you’ve been conditionally admitted. You will want to confirm the conditions of the offer of admission, and the university will want to verify when you will complete the intensive English program. This will ensure that you start in the semester indicated in the letter of conditional admission.

Step 5: Success! You’ve completed your intensive English program and are gaining full university admission

Once you’ve completed the intensive English language program, you will be transferring to the university. Remember that your student visa will be transferring as well. Therefore, you might be required to provide updated verification of financial support before the transfer can take place. Be sure and check for any other items that were outlined in the offer of conditional admission—all requirements must be met before a full offer of admission will be extended to you.

One last tip …

The final word of advice is to take advantage of all the classes offered by the intensive English program and to speak English in and out of the classroom. You will not only become proficient in English during this time, but you will have practiced the study skills necessary for university success.

“I received a conditional acceptance to complete my Master’s Degree, but I had to learn English first!”

—Alaa Alsabbah from Saudi Arabia first studied intensive English at an ELS Language Center in Portland, Oregon.


“I made a lot of progress in my one session in the IEP [Intensive English Program]. I was able to pass the TOEFL and enter my graduate program. My use of English, in terms of the skills, improved. My ability to read, write, and discuss in English improved so that I could take graduate classes.”


—Ebru Ozkurt from Turkey plans to earn an advanced degree in psychology, studied intensive English at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.

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Jim Crawley is the Director of Global Recruiting and Partnerships at Alma College in Alma, Michigan

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