English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Suppose someone writes "undergraduate students need only apply" when posting a job ad.

Does this really mean "We'll take anybody off the street right away with no further questions as long as they're an undergraduate student" like it seems to?

What are the implications for people who aren't "undergraduate students"? Do they merely have more work to do, or is the requirement outright excluding them?

share|improve this question
up vote 7 down vote accepted

Usually, the phrase would be undergraduate students only need apply. This implies that the job poster only wants to receive applications from undergraduate students.

To say "need only apply" implies that undergraduate students only need to fill out an application in order to be considered. In the context of a job, this may mean that they don't need to undergo an interview. Non-undergraduate students are not expressly excluded, but they may have a more rigorous process to apply for the same job.

That being said, this is not how need only apply has always been used. In practice, it seems to be synonymous (and possibly an error in this case) with "only need apply". For example, on this gaming forum somebody posted:

Mature Casual Fun Players Need Only Apply: We are currently recruiting mature gamers (male or female) throughout the United States West Coast to join either our Alliance or our Horde Group.

But there are also instances like this which use the phrase as would be expected from the literal analysis:

Scholarship opportunities abound; students need only apply

There is another example here of a job ad which uses the expected meaning. So it is actually difficult to discern what the ad means. It could mean that the poster only wants undergraduate students, but it could also mean the undergraduate students merely have a different process to go through.

share|improve this answer
Thanks for your response - I was afraid I was missing something really obvious. – Michael Burge Aug 21 '11 at 2:09
Think of it as the logical opposite of "xy need not apply", i.e. all applications except from 'xy' will be reviewed. – Hackworth Aug 21 '11 at 2:49

Only undergraduate students will be considered.

The word only places a restriction on something and should be placed immediately before that.

share|improve this answer
Do you have sources? – American Luke Oct 8 '12 at 14:46

Here "need only" obviously means that undergraduates merely are required to apply for the job to be regarded for the job. However it is to my observation from some "need only" applications that the phrase is also meant to say that it is "easy to do." So actually the person posting the job is suggesting that the job is effortless and unchallenging to get. All they have to do is apply.

From the sentences on google, "need only" usually implies two meanings. 1) You want to do this thing. 2) It is not difficult to do it.


To understand their national sport, you need only watch it;

(This implies you want to understand their national sport)

If you want to lose weight you need only do the simple things in this book and you WILL lose weight.

(This implies losing weight is not so difficult)

Ex 14:14 "The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still." (NIV)

The bible also uses the phrase. And I feel "need only" here has the meaning of "just" and has the connotation within that "it is easy if you just be still."

http://forum.wordreference.com/threads/you-need-only-just-ask.469438/ https://www.englishforums.com/English/YouCorrect/zpvlw/post.htm

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.