A couple of weeks ago, one of my students got a college acceptance letter in the mail. The school wasn’t his first choice, but it was a state university and most of his high school friends had already gotten in. He’d been waiting for this acceptance since being blindsided by a deferral in December. Only, it wasn’t an acceptance…I mean, it was—but not the acceptance he wanted. He had been invited to join the university’s bridge program.
After all those weeks of waiting, his friends’ acceptances, and my premature onslaught of celebratory emojis when I first received his mother’s text, it was a massive disappointment. Even the envelope was smaller than a regular university admission acceptance envelope.
If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, bridge programs essentially provide a “bridge”—a connector—between high school and college. These programs consist of various academic supports designed to help students cross over from high school to higher college-level coursework more successfully. Universities will often offer students the opportunity to take core curriculum courses (100- and 200-level classes that cover general education requirements) at an affiliated two-year institution. After establishing a successful academic record there, the four-year institution provides a pathway for transfer.
Why students are offered spots in bridge programs
High school seniors may get bridged for a variety of reasons:
- If their application credentials come close to but don’t meet admission standards or needs
- If they’re applying to highly sought-after programs of study or colleges within a university
- If the university has experienced unexpected popularity and growth in its applicant pool (sports championships can cause this, for example)
- If the university experiences infrastructure stress and/or housing shortages
There are different sorts of bridge programs at different universities, and some are much more structured and integrated than others. The particular program I’m referring to in the example of my premature emojis offered a virtually seamless experience of the university via a satellite community college. In that case, students have access to all university resources, amenities, services, and housing. They simply take courses at another (nearby) campus for a minimum of two semesters (i.e., freshman year).
Still, all this integration was not enough to entice my student to accept the invitation. He was stung by the implication that he couldn’t start at the university with his friends. And I get it. But as I said, this college was never his top pick. So he shrugged it off, put down his deposit at another university, and got ready for new adventures.
I’ve taught countless undergrads at Coastal Carolina University who came to my upper-level courses from bridge programs. They were well prepared academically, were accustomed to high expectations, and got their core curriculum classes out of the way while saving money. When they transitioned into the university, they were ready for the specialized coursework their majors required. In fact, I never would’ve known they hadn’t been at my university all along unless they’d told me.
Should you choose a bridge program?
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to whether you should bridge or not. As far as money is concerned, bridging can be super cost efficient, since tuition at technical and community colleges is generally less expensive than at four-year institutions. This can contribute to a prudent game plan for funding an undergraduate education, especially for students who have the option of living at home rent-free.
Students who are absolutely, positively sure they must attend a specific program at a particular university should be open to the possibility of attending classes at a bridge or affiliated campus for freshman (and sometimes sophomore) year in order to gain admission into that program. The more popular and/or competitive the program is, the greater the likelihood some students will get bridged, depending on how competitive their applications are compared to the rest of the pool. If your priority is graduating from a certain program at a certain school, then embrace the benefits of bridging and keep your eyes on the eventual prize.
If you’re not completely sold on the university in the first place, like my student in the example above, then pursue your other options by all means. But do keep in mind that participating in a bridge program has a lot to offer—financially and academically—and, after all, you wind up with the same degree at the end of four years regardless of where you spend your first two.
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