Every high school student who has gone off to college has been a prospective student. College graduates browsing law schools and medical schools are prospective students. Even three-year-old toddlers were once prospective students. So, what does it mean to be a “prospective student”? It has nothing to do with your grades, standing, or whether or not you’re a model student in your year level. Here’s what it means to be a prospective student and what you can do to improve your chances of going a step further.

What Is the Meaning of a “Prospective Student”?

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A prospective student is someone planning to attend a school but isn’t officially enrolled yet. They are eligible to study in a school of their choice and are part of a pool of applicants that the school can then choose from. During this time, they cannot officially attend classes. However, some schools that want to drive up engagement and raise the number of prospective students hold activities that allow prospective students to get a feel of what the school’s environment is like. This is why some schools hold open houses, campus tours, and other events to non-students.

In preschools, prospective students are the three-year-olds who show up with their parents. However, it’s the parent who decides if the school is good enough for their child. The school, however, may require children to take a few tests to see their learning capabilities. For high school seniors applying to colleges, they become prospective students when they send in their college applications to their university or college of choice. They may need to take entrance exams and attend interviews, and they can attend campus tours to help decide if pursuing an education in the school is worth it. However, they can’t make a decision yet until the school informs them that they’ve been accepted and can enroll. This also applies to graduates browsing through post-graduate schools.

Acceptance Letters Don’t Make You Enrolled Yet

Let’s say that you applied for three different universities. What if, due to your good grades and stellar performance in the entrance exams, you receive acceptance letters to all three schools. Prior to receiving your acceptance letters, you are still a prospective student for all three universities because you’ve submitted an application with the intent of becoming a student. However, even if you receive all three acceptance letters, you’re still a prospective student until you officially enroll in one of them.

Public & Private Schools: Prospective Students

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Public schools in the United States do not have prospective students because they are required by law to accept students of all backgrounds. Their acceptance is not based on the student’s ability to pay, their academic capability, physical and mental capacity, religion, and other varying factors. Because public schools are funded by local and federal taxes, public schools cannot turn away students based on their background. In fact, the only way a public school can say they have “prospective students” is when you consider its geographical location and the students it covers, but even that’s a stretch.

Private schools, however, can have a pool of prospective students to choose from. Because private schools get their money to operate from tuition fees and non-government organizations, they can choose the students they admit. This means not everyone who applies will be immediately accepted, thus students are considered prospective student before they are accepted and allowed to enroll. A private school can choose its students based on religion (e.g. Catholic schools), sex (all-girls and all-boy schools), academic capabilities (science and technology-oriented schools), socio-economic background (schools with extremely high tuition fees), and other factors. Thus, if a prospective student doesn’t meet the school’s standards, they can be rejected.

International Prospective Students

The term “prospective students” can also apply to foreign students interested in enrolling in a school here. Foreigners can acquire a student visa two ways: they can go here on a visitor visa, enroll as a part-time student, and then apply for a student visa to enroll full-time. This is to show that they serious about pursuing an education in the United States. Or, while still in their country of origin, they can put “prospective student” on their visitor visa as an indicator that they may be interested in looking at schools in the country

What Prospective Students Can Do

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Some schools, despite being private schools, may be open to taking students of all walks of life. In such cases, prospective students don’t have to do a lot to get in. Back when my friends and I were applying to colleges, a friend told me about this college where they didn’t take the exam seriously, but they were still given acceptance letters and invited to campus tours.

However, there are schools that are extremely competitive and hard to get in. Schools may offer campus tours, scholarships, and more to attract prospective students, but it may be known for only picking a fraction of its prospective students. For example, Harvard received 43,330 applicants for the class of 2023, but only 2,009 students were accepted (not including the 65 admitted from the waiting list) – that’s less than 5% of the total applicants. Both applicants and those accepted can be considered prospective students because they aren’t enrolled yet but are part of Harvard’s pool of applicants intending to go to Harvard. Out of the 2,009 accepted students, 1,650 enrolled – this is the number of actual Harvard students, no longer just “prospective students” because they are not enrolled.

For more competitive schools, the best thing to do is to put your best foot forward. In most cases, an impressive track record in school, good scores in the entrance tests, recommendation letters from and a memorable impression in an interview is enough to get you to stand out in a sea of prospective students.

However, just because you really want to get into a school, don’t forget that the application process is also a two-way street. Consider attending campus tours and other events for prospective students to see if the college you’re thinking of entering is actually one you could see yourself going to.

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