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Access Type

WSU Access

Date of Award

January 2020

Degree Type


Degree Name



Educational Leadership and Policy

First Advisor

Carolyn M. Shields


From open admissions to highly selective, college admission standards are an important determiner of whom a college or university chooses to serve, and setting college admission requirements is a delicate process that has the potential to harm or help a university’s development of each incoming class. In an effort to recruit and retain students from a variety of backgrounds, colleges and universities are developing programs that provide academic and personal support to students as they navigate the transition from high school to college. For students whose academic credentials indicate that they may need more academic strengthening, these support programs can provide a plethora of tools to assist them in their first year of college. Whether it is a Summer Bridge enrichment program that helps to mitigate the effects of “summer melt” while providing students with opportunities to fill in any academic gaps, or an on-going support program that provides support in tandem with the ebbs and flows of the first year of college, these support programs provide underprepared students with an opportunity to recalibrate their habits from high school and start their post-secondary education on the right foot. High school GPA and college entrance exam scores are cited as the number one determiner of predicted college success (Noble & Sawyer, 2004; Sawyer, 2013; Zwick, 2019); however, absent from the body of literature on college success markers is a discussion on what determines college success when regular admission is denied and alternative pathways to college are presented.

The purpose of this phenomenological study was to understand the lived experiences of undergraduate students who gained admission to a four-year college or university via an alternative admissions program. Alternative admission programs are generally defined as programs that provide conditional admission or Summer Bridge support programming to students whose academic profile falls below regular admissions standards. This study on students’ experiences in alternative admissions programs sought to understand how and why students make it to an alternative admit pathway and what characteristics and backgrounds may contribute to a successful college experience for students in this population. In-depth, semi-structured individual interviews were conducted with students who participated in an alternative admission program. The major findings included: (1) participating in the program contributed to feelings of academic and personal growth; (2) most participants experienced feelings of stigma or doubts in their academic abilities early in their participation of the program; (3) positive connections with program staff, faculty, and peers led to feelings of success, maturity, and confidence.

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