Saturday, February 4, 2012

Dispirited 76

Imagine this scenario: You've applied for early decision to a favorite college and you get an official email informing you that, yes, you have been accepted, and that means you must, by contract, cancel your application for all the other schools to which you've applied.

Then, a few hours later, after you've excitedly and giddily told all your friends and every family member as far as your great aunts and your cousins once removed, and perhaps already sent those letters to the other colleges, you get an email from the same college saying, effectively, "Whoops, you weren't supposed to get that because we in fact have rejected your application."

That's what happened with seventy-six-applicants to Vassar College.

Now the question is what to do about it. So far, Vassar has seen it fit just to offer little more than a mealy-mouthed apology. To me, instead of telling these students to just suck it up, this is a good chance for the university itself to acknowledge that they, and not those applicants, are the ones who screwed up, and do the right thing. The onus is on Vassar to fix this, not the students who were inadvertently admitted. It's not right to just tell them, as some commenters have, that life sucks and then take no responsibility.

Vassar College models its buildings after those at Korea University.

If Vassar is like the University of California, which I attended for my undergrad studies, then it has some sort of minimum eligibility requirements above which applicants are considered to be "qualified" (this is relevant to affirmative action issues, too, but that's another post for another time). All of those seventy-six who do meet the minimum eligibility requirements should have their acceptance honored.

Those among the seventy-six who do not meet the minimum eligibility requirements should still have their acceptance honored, but they should be sat down with counselors and university officials and have their individually analyzed prospects for success at Vassar explained in great detail (and perhaps this should be done with those who did meet the minimum eligibility). But the final decision whether to matriculate should be up to the prospective student.

An important part of this idea is that all of the seventy-six should be given the option of going to another school with Vassar paying their first semester's tuition at that other school, though no such payment should be made if they choose to go to Vassar instead.

In the end, seventy-six students is merely thirteen percent of the 2012 freshman class: Vassar can turn this liability into a unique opportunity. It will be interesting to see how these seventy-six fare over the next four to five years. In fact, it would be an interesting experiment to test how good Vassar's admissions process is at predicting student success.

The subsequent report could be called "The Spirit of the Seventy-Six." No, I am not joking about any of this. Vassar, go and do the right thing.

[This whole adventure is a pleasant reminder that some American students still have that fervor for higher education that dominates in South Korea but seems painfully lacking as a major driver of behavior in the United States.]

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