A LOST OPPORTUNITY
Serious senioritis can sometimes lead to rescinded admission.
By Marion Franck
Stephen, a bright, sports-loving 17-year-old high school graduate was already back east, starting a summer job, when ominous information arrived from home. Instead of the C he hoped for in his last semester of high school English, he had received a D.
Stephen (not his real name) knew what this meant. His acceptance to the freshman class of UC Davis might be rescinded.
He hoped, however, that all was not lost. He recalled sending an e-mail to UC Davis notifying them of his slipping grades, and he knew that UC Davis tries to work things out with prospective freshmen.
“Unfortunately,” he explains, “it turns out that I didn’t send that e-mail. I just wrote it. Much later, when I checked my sent mail, it wasn’t there. That was bad.”
This lack of follow-through characterized his entire senior year, and Stephen will be the first to tell you that he received plenty of warnings that his failure to turn in assignments could get him into trouble. His teachers warned him. His parents warned him.
He submitted his application to UC Davis on time, but continued to slack off in his classes.
Because applications to the University of California are due in November, UC Davis makes its admission decisions primarily on achievement in grades 9 through 11. For those years, Stephen’s grade-point average was satisfactory, if not stellar. His SAT scores were exceptionally high.
In March, he received his acceptance and the very important “statement of conditions,” which is sent to all incoming students. Admission is contingent on remaining in all UC preparatory courses, maintaining a C or better in all senior-year classes listed on the application and graduating from high school.
In addition to problems with English, Stephen had dropped his language class and slipped to a 2.0 GPA. He knew it was his job to notify the university, but he let the summer pass.
In August, his admission was rescinded.
Admission office procedures
Like virtually all colleges, UC Davis requests a transcript of senior year, due July 15. When the transcript reveals significant problems, the Admissions Office tries to reach the student.
Each summer, UC Davis contacts approximately 200 prospective freshmen who have failed to meet the conditions of admission. If students respond promptly, the Admissions Office can usually work with them to correct the problem, often via summer school classes.
In the end, only about 30 students per year lose their chance to attend UC Davis. A small number are dropped for lying on their application, but most have slacked off, like Stephen.
Leslie Campbell, interim director of Undergraduate Admissions, knows how upsetting rescinded admission can be.
“Your family has congratulated you on your college acceptance. The school, your friends and neighbors are congratulating you, and then all of a sudden you’re not going there. It is a very painful action for us to rescind admission, so we don’t take it lightly.”
UC Davis asks students to inform the campus about extenuating circumstances. “Sometimes there has been an error in recording a grade,” says Campbell. “Sometimes there’s illness or trauma. But when there’s simply no plausible reason other than the student just didn’t do the work, the case goes to further review.”
Not finishing the English requirement—Stephen’s problem—is particularly worrisome, according to Campbell. “English is key,” she says. “It’s not like an elective; it’s important in everything else you do here.”
A rescinded admission is a shocking event and families react to it in a variety of ways. In a well-publicized case at another public university, 18-year-old Mark Edmonson, who earned a perfect 1600 on his SAT but achieved only a 1.3 GPA senior year, sued the University of North Carolina to get his place back, charging that the university had breached a contract. The suit, filed last year, is still in court.
Stephen’s family took a different approach. Although his parents made a few phone calls, they ultimately decided that they could not push the university when their own son kept choosing to let things slide. They suspected that despite his obvious abilities, Stephen, at 17, might not be ready for college. Stephen now works and attends a two-year college, where he hopes to learn better study habits and pull his grades up.
At the beginning of sophomore year, he will be offered the opportunity to make a transfer agreement with UC Davis. Such agreements stipulate that if the student meets certain criteria, his or her admission at the junior level will be guaranteed.
It’s nice to know that there is life after rescinded admission, but most families would prefer to avoid it in the first place.
How can that be done? At UC Davis, the best action is to contact the university early, even before final grades come out. Says Campbell, “We tell students if anything changed from when you put your application in, let us know as soon as it happens. We want to work with you early on.”
There is no reason for an admitted student to fear making contact, even with news about poor performance, because the university’s goal is to keep the student eligible to enroll. If the student delays, he or she may find that it’s too late to sign up for summer school at community college, which often begins in early June.
Concerned parents can also call the Admissions Office with questions. However, answers must remain general, unless the student gives written permission for admissions advisers to discuss the particulars with his or her parents.
When should a parent become concerned?
A lot depends on whether or not the student is experiencing normal senioritis, where grades falter but do not bottom out. There are good psychological reasons for some slippage. Many students realize that time is winding down in high school, and they want to spend what’s left with friends or in extracurricular activities. Sometimes high-achievers have worked so intensely that they yearn for time off.
Shelley Chavoor of the UC Davis Counseling Center describes normal senioritis as a rebalancing. “Students want to take a bit of a break. They want to say good-bye. It’s nice to slack off a little bit and learn to play.” Easing up on academics in favor of relationships and celebration can be a healthy way of approaching a major life transition.
If, however, the student is very capable, but grades are going all the way down to D’s or F’s, parents need to look for underlying issues.
“If students really crash and burn,” says Chavoor, “then something more is going on.” The student may be signaling a lack of readiness to leave home. Despite apparent bravado, the student may fear failure in college. Sometimes a maturing process got skipped over.
“Does the student have a passion for something?” asks Chavoor. If so, perhaps he just needs a little extra time to find his way in life or to decide that college is worth it. “Some young people take a more circuitous route to self-discovery. We need to be supportive of that process.”
If the student is open to counseling, Chavoor recommends it, and if the student refuses, the parents may still want to go.
Stephen’s mom and dad tried many ways of motivating their son to do school work, such as withholding privileges, but they were ineffective. They feel now that factual information—the simple knowledge that colleges do indeed rescind acceptances—might have been the strongest motivator.
On the other hand, they know that their son simply might not be ready for college. Parenting is all about recognizing individual differences in our children. Sometimes the circumstances surrounding those discoveries, such as rescinded admission, are just plain hard.
Marion Franck is a Davis writer and regular contributor to campus publications for parents.
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