The conditional offer: what is it and why you should know about it
Updated: Nov 8
There is nothing worse than opening a long-awaited email from a U.S. university (or packet in the mail, back in my day) and seeing the word "waitlisted" for your admissions outcome.
It's even worse than being rejected.
Because... guess what? It's not a firm decision either way.
On one hand, there's still a chance of getting in, but on the other hand, the anxiety continues -- and may continue on well into May, June or beyond.
Enter, another option -- one that is most commonly found when applying for college overseas in places like the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.
The conditional offer.
Sure, it's not a rejection or a firm acceptance, but it's definitely not a waitlist.
And unless you're super organized and took AP exams or other tests early on in high school, a conditional offer is often the most common outcome.
So there's no need for disappointment; it's a good result!
What exactly is a conditional offer then?
For all intents and purposes, a conditional offer is an offer -- just one with a slight string attached; one that relies entirely on you, the student, and not the institution.
What happens next, is dependent on you and you alone, and that level of control over an admissions outcome is much welcomed by many, especially in a time where we can't seem to control anything.
A conditional offer from a college abroad has nothing to do with a university trying to build a very specific class and therefore waiting to see how many people from a particular region, school, ethnicity, gender or academic background end up enrolling before deciding on your fate (the way a waitlist works for most U.S. universities).
Instead, it has everything to do with your academic qualifications.
How does a conditional offer work?
Here's how it works: after receiving your application, the university admissions team has decided that on paper, everything you've submitted so far looks good, but there's still something missing to meet all the requirements.
Usually this is a particular test score or exam; for example, "achieving a score of 4 or higher on the Advanced Placement Spanish exam" or "achieving a score of 650 or above on any SAT subject test."
For non-native speakers of English, it could also be achieving a particular score on an IELTS or TOEFL exam.
And for students applying for graduate school abroad, it could be as simple as "graduating from your bachelor's degree and maintaining a GPA of X."
However, with a conditional offer, the university is holding a place for you in the program in the meantime.
Then, when you do achieve that very specific score on that very specific exam (or simply graduated), you just have to notify admissions to be granted an unconditional offer.
And that, my friends, is the end of it. You're in!
What should I know about applying?
Since universities abroad can make conditional offers, it's an important part of the application process to include not only the scores you've achieved but also the exams and tests you're planning to take.
This will help increase the likelihood of a conditional offer if you are applying before completing all your testing.
And because of this, it means you can actually apply before meeting all the entry requirements.
Conditional offers and Covid
With the Covid-19 pandemic making it more difficult than ever to sit for an SAT, ACT or subject test, many seniors have found themselves in the position of having to apply for college abroad without any test scores, not knowing whether they will be competitive applicants or not.
This is where the conditional offer really comes into play, as only a handful of overseas colleges have gone test-optional.
So in most cases, after receiving a conditional offer, you'd have up until the summer before the program starts to fulfill your condition, so if you truly did need to submit test scores in this application cycle, there is still plenty of time left to do so.
And fingers crossed the public health crisis will have improved by then so you can actually successfully and safely take the tests you need.
Or at the very minimum, fingers crossed the ACT and College Board get their acts together to include more test dates, more socially distant options, a smoother registration process and stop cancelling on students the night before a test, to name a few...
But until then, just remember that what the conditional offer does is give you options and time, and having both of those in this current climate is certainly a blessing.