Freshman January starts: Has the number of students who leave after fall semester of freshman year increased?

I hear a lot about people being offered admission to competitive schools, but with a January start date, and the option of doing a semester abroad first in an affiliated program. It gives the person the opportunity to attend the college they want, but they miss out on that incredible September freshman year experience, which is when everyone else is making all their new friends.

Are schools offering this because they expect to have more dorm space available due to juniors taking their spring semester abroad? Or is it because freshmen are leaving after one semester? The thing is, I only knew or heard of one person who left my Ivy early during my freshman year, over 40 years ago, due to severe mental illness, and I cannot even recall if he left before January. Meanwhile, I and other MD friends of mine who deal with teens and young adults have seen many young people who returned home after one semester. Some didn’t even make it through the first semester. It seems that they were just unable to leave home. Virtually always, these were young people who had never gone to sleep away camp, or any other “away” experience. They’re not suffering from severe mental illness. It seems more that they just can’t hack being away from home.

There most definitely are advantages to living at home for college. Cheaper, usually own bedroom, access to a car, better food, quieter. But the negative impact upon a young person’s social life and nascent independence cannot be denied. I don’t recall knowing anyone at college who was “homesick”. It seemed that everyone was so happy to be able to run their own lives at college.

For so many competitive schools to be offering this, something must have changed. Is it that more freshmen are leaving after one semester?

A college where everyone starts in the fall will ordinarily have higher fall enrollment than spring enrollment, because a student who graduates one semester early or one semester late will usually have an extra fall semester. Some colleges have some students start in the spring in order to balance the enrollment. Frosh fall study abroad programs are a variation of this type of thing. Another way of balancing the load across terms can be seen in the Dartmouth D-plan (which is not new). The quarter system itself (which Dartmouth uses, and may have been more common decades ago, though quarter system colleges seem to be slowly switching to semester systems) may also have been an attempt to balance the load across terms, but most students at quarter system schools still prefer summer off, so that aspect was not gained.

Some colleges have also noticed that giving their lower stat admits spring start takes them out of the frosh fall term stats used for college ranking purposes. Perhaps it is not a surprise that aggressive ranking climbers like USC, Northeastern, and Boston University admit some students to start in the spring.

Is this really new, though? Back when I was in college (when the dinosaurs roamed the earth) there were “feb freshmen” who started in the Spring after doing their first semester abroad somewhere. A lot of students went abroad junior year which opened up spots for incoming students - it was a competitive school that graduates 90%+ of students so spaces weren’t opening due to attrition.

My son was offered Spring start at FSU. He had several options.

He could go to Community College, another state school that he was accepted at for the fall semester then Start in January at FSU

FSU Panama City, Florida campus for the first year then go to main campus his sophomore year

Study abroad at one of the FSU Study Centers for the First semester or First Year. Choices were London, Florence, Valencia and Panama City Panama. Then continue at main campus

He chose FSU First Year Abroad in Florence, Italy. He leaves September 1st
There are 61 Students going for the First year and 30 something for the first semester

He chose this over Fall starts at Pitt, Penn State, Iowa and Michigan State among others

My son was offered a January start date at Hamilton College. He spent his first semester studying in London with 35 other Hamilton Jans, as they’re called. He had a blast, and had no issues starting at Hamilton in January. The college does a great job with orientation for Jans. He’s now very glad that he had that opportunity to go abroad first semester, as last year, his junior year, many of his classmates couldn’t study abroad due to Covid.

1 Like

Students who start in Spring or start abroad are not counted in the statistics for USNWR. Northeastern played this game when they were trying to get the stats up.

This is a big part of it.