Open Admissions at Colleges and Universities

Learn About the Pros and Cons of Open Admission Policies

A Welcome Sign
A Welcome Sign. Josh Meek / Flickr

In its purest form, a college that has open admissions allows any student with a high school diploma or GED certificate to attend. An open admission policy gives any student who has completed high school the opportunity to pursue a college degree.

The reality isn't quite so simple. At four-year colleges, students are sometimes guaranteed admission if they meet minimum test score and GPA requirements.

In some situations, a four-year college often collaborates with a community college so that students who don't meet the minimum requirements can still begin their college educations.

Also, guaranteed admission to an open admission college doesn't always mean that a student can take courses. If a college has too many applicants, students may find themselves waitlisted for some if not all courses. This scenario has proven all too common in the current economic climate.

Community colleges are almost always open admissions, as are a significant number of four-year colleges and universities. As college applicants come up with their short list of reach, match, and safety schools, an open admissions institution will always be a safety school (this is assuming the applicant meets any minimum requirements for admission).

An open admission policy is not without its critics who argue that graduation rates tend to be low, college standards are lowered and the need for remedial courses increases.

So while the idea of open admissions may sound admirable because of the access to higher education it can provide, the policy has can create its own issues:

  • Many students are not academically prepared to succeed in college
  • Many students will need to take remedial courses before they can take college-level courses
  • Graduation rates tend to be low, often in the teens or even single digits
  • Few students graduate in four years
  • While tuition is often lower than at more selective schools, grant aid is often limited. Open admission institutions rarely have the endowments and financial resources for financial aid that more selective colleges and universities have.

Put together, these issues can lead to significant problems for many students. At some open admission institutions, a majority of students will fail to earn a diploma but will go into debt in the attempt.

History of Open Admissions:

The open admissions movement began in the second half of the 20th century and had many ties to the civil rights movement. California and New York were on the forefront of making college accessible to all high school graduates. CUNY, the City University of New York, moved to an open admissions policy in 1970, an action that greatly increased enrollment and provided far greater college access to Hispanic and black students. Since then, CUNY ideals clashed with fiscal reality, and the four-year colleges in the system no longer have open admissions.

Other Admission Programs: 

Early Action | Single-Choice Early Action | Early Decision | Rolling Admission

Examples of Open Admission Colleges and Universities: