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Articles / Applying to College / Can I Apply to Colleges Despite Missing Their Prerequisite Requirements?

Can I Apply to Colleges Despite Missing Their Prerequisite Requirements?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Oct. 25, 2019
Can I Apply to Colleges Despite Missing Their Prerequisite Requirements?


I am a high school senior working on applications, and while looking through the schools that have my major, I'm finding some GREAT college options that I apparently can't apply to. One requires an arts credit and another requires a third year of foreign language — I don't have either and it's too late to take one. Can I apply anyway and say in my essay that I didn't even know what I wanted to do with my life before this year, and ask if they can waive the prerequisites?

Sometimes colleges will make exceptions for otherwise strong candidates who are missing requirements, especially when these requirements are not prerequisites for a future field of study (e.g., an arts credit for a prospective accounting major; foreign language for a budding biologist) or when the applicant has receive inadequate advising.

You can certainly explain your missing credentials in your applications, but I don't recommend doing this in your essay. Instead, us the "Additional Information" section of applications or a separate unsolicited email.

However, if the answer is going to be "No," you'll have wasted application fees unnecessarily. Alternatively, "The Dean" suggests that your next step — before you apply — should be to email your regional admissions rep at the colleges that interest you. (The regional rep is the staff member who oversees applicants from your high school. Often this information is right on a college's website and can be found with minimal hunting. If not, call the admission office to ask.) Explain in your email what you've said here, adding some specific reasons why you feel that this college option is a "GREAT" one for you. If your GPA and test scores (where applicable) make you a top contender, be sure to mention them in the email.

In addition, if you believe that you didn't get good college counseling at school and should have been advised to take more art and language classes, you can explain this too, but do try to avoid sounding whiny, even if your school counseling was seriously lousy. Instead, simply explain matter-of-factly that your counselor's load is unwieldy or that your school rarely sends candidates to selective colleges so students don't always make appropriate course choices. Likewise, if you didn't get much help at home (e.g., your parents didn't attend college or simply weren't involved in your educational decisions), you can mention this as well. You can also offer to take the missing classes over the summer, if the college will offer you a "conditional" acceptance. (You probably won't be expected to do this, but the mere fact that you're asking might work in your favor.)

Finally, it's common that high school classes that students have been told are "required" by colleges are really just "recommended." So your deficiencies may end up being more easily offset by your strengths than you suspect. Good luck!

About the Ask the Dean Column

Sally Rubenstone is a veteran of the college admissions process and is the co-author of three books covering admissions. She worked as a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years and has also served as an independent college counselor, in addition to working as a senior advisor at College Confidential since 2002. If you'd like to submit a question to The Dean please email us at editorial@collegeconfidential.com.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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