A postulant (from Latin: postulare, to ask) was originally one who makes a request or demand; hence, a candidate. The use of the term is now generally restricted to those asking for admission into a monastery or a religious institute, both before actual admission and for the period of time preceding their admission into the novitiate. Currently, however, common usage terms the person who has not yet been accepted by the institution as an "inquirer" or "observer".
The length of time that a prospective candidate remains a postulant may vary depending on the institution, or the postulant's individual situation. Among active religious institutions, it typically lasted 4-6 months. At present, many monasteries have a candidate spend 1-2 years in this stage. During this time, the postulant generally participates as fully as possible in the life of the community, joining the novices and professed members for work and prayer.
Since the candidate is not a formal member of the institution at this stage, it is easier for a man or woman not fully certain about religious life to re-examine his or her intentions and commitment before entering the novitiate. Likewise, should the person be determined to be unsuited to the life, a postulant can be dismissed by an institution without the need for any formal procedure.
The term is also sometimes used to describe the ecclesiastical status of a person who has discerned a call to the priesthood and has received parish and diocesan endorsement. The candidate retains postulant status throughout seminary, until ordination to the transitional diaconate takes place.
In college fraternities, the term postulant is also used to describe those who have yet to be initiated into the fraternity, while they are going through the process of becoming a brother or a sister.