If you are considering a college that advertises “open enrollment” or “open admissions,” it helps to know what those terms mean. The best way to explain open enrollment may be to compare it to selective admissions and identify the differences between the two processes.

Qualifications for Admission

Open enrollment schools require only a high school diploma or a general equivalency diploma for admission. Anyone who has graduate from high school or passed the GED is welcome to apply and will be given admission, regardless of grade point averages or extracurricular activities. A school that uses a selective admissions process will have much more strict requirements, often refusing to consider applications of students with grade point averages or test scores below a certain level. Most selective admissions schools accept either the SAT or ACT as qualifying tests for admission.

The Advantages of Open Admission

By refusing to consider test scores or grade point averages, supporters of open enrollment believe that colleges are reducing discrimination and allowing more students an opportunity to go to school. Schools that traditionally had low minority enrollment have been able to expand their rolls and bring in a wide variety of students who infuse their own ideas and culture onto the campus, thereby broadening everyone’s horizons. Students at open-enrollment schools may receive a much wider exposure to students of different cultures and beliefs than those who attend schools that limit enrollment to very small numbers of high-achievers.

High school students considering attending open enrollment colleges have a great deal of pressure removed to make top grades at any cost and can focus their efforts on achieving a more well-rounded education. Sometimes simply removing the pressure of high-stake tests can cause students to do better in their studies and achieve much more realistic study goals. Further, removing testing removes bias associated with culture-specific testing modalities. Students of any culture have an equal opportunity to succeed.

Open enrollment does allow many students a chance at college that they might not otherwise have. By eliminating the need for standardized test scores, students who do not “test well” can have an equal opportunity to prove that they are capable of doing college work. For students who need remediation, most open enrollment plans allow them to take remedial courses to bring their skills up to the level required to do college coursework.

The Disadvantages of Open Admission

There are some critics of the open enrollment system who believe the practice actually lowers the value of a college education. By admitting any and all students who apply, critics claim that schools must either raise tuition to keep numbers manageable or lower standards so that those who are attending can all pass classes. These people believe that, by definition, college should be a time when “good” students are identified and encouraged to continue while “poor” students are encouraged to find other avenues to train for careers that will suit their needs and abilities.

The results of schools that have tried open enrollment do not necessarily bear this belief out, however. Even in schools where grades and test scores are important for admission, many freshman leave after the first year of school. Some experts have estimated that only 56 percent of all students finish a four-year degree in six years, and only 23 percent of associate’s degree students finish in three. These are not encouraging numbers for any school, and given the large number of colleges that still rely on strict admissions procedures, the phenomenon cannot be blamed entirely on open-admission schools.

Open admission may have other disadvantages, however. By continuing to allow students to take remedial classes, schools may be encouraging students who will probably not come up to standards to pay money to retake classes over and over. Students should be guided into other career paths if they have unsuccessfully attempted remediation numerous times, but unfortunately colleges seem to be under the same pressure as secondary schools to “graduate” students at all costs.

Things to Think About If You Want to Attend an Open Enrollment School

If you are considering an open-admissions policy school, be sure to apply early. Open-admission schools have very strict application deadlines due to the high volume of applications they receive each semester. If you do not meet that deadline, it is likely that you will have to wait until the next semester for admission and you may have to repeat the application process.

You should also honestly evaluate your academic skills. College is difficult, and if you do not have the drive and initiative to study and work hard, you may find it an expensive experiment. If you already know that you are weak in certain key areas such as math, science, or English, be sure to plan ahead and secure tutoring help as soon as possible. Do not fall behind; it is much harder to catch up than to keep up. Most open-enrollment colleges have strong tutoring systems in place to help student succeed. Take advantage of every opportunity to improve your grades and earn credits. Remember that every class you fail is money poorly spent.