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A Quick 'Congradulations'-College Admission, While You Wait

March 04, 1997|RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In just a little longer than it takes her to get from one class to another, high school senior Kris Pate endured a ritual that has many of her peers in agony: She applied for college--and waited all of eight minutes to learn she was accepted.

Just like that. Right there in the Aliso Niguel High School guidance office, after fidgeting, biting her lip and squirming while a Cal State Fullerton counselor scrutinized her high school transcript and college admissions test scores.

"Congratulations," said Thomas Mauck, handing her an admissions slip good as a ticket to college.

"Oh my God, I'm so excited," said Pate, who is still waiting to hear from her other choice, the University of Georgia.

Under a growing program, some Cal State University campuses conduct "on-site" admissions at high schools and community colleges, accepting students who meet minimum requirements and pay the $55 application fee on the spot.

The Cal State system does not keep track of how many students are admitted on-site, but administrators at several of its 23 campuses said they accept anywhere from a few hundred to more than a thousand students in this manner. Cal State Fullerton, for example, has accepted 1,167 students--about one-fifth of its projected admissions pool--so far this year in the field, compared with 817 last year.

Not only does the program ease students' anguish over college acceptance--news they usually don't hear until April--it also helps boost enrollment because students are more likely to attend the school that admits them first, said Lawrence J. Labrado, Fullerton's outreach coordinator.

Last year at Fullerton, 58% of the students admitted in the field enrolled, compared with 49% for the total pool notified by the traditional letter in the mail, whose applications take two to three months to process.

USC applications also take about three months; and the wait to hear from the UC system takes more like five months.

Attracting more students is especially important for Cal State, which is rebounding from budget cuts and tuition hikes in the early 1990s that precipitated a 50,000-student drop in systemwide enrollment between 1990 and 1994.

Several CSU schools use spot admissions in the field or on their campuses during special recruitment days as a way to make personal contact with students and address misperceptions they may have about the system, which draws from the top one-third of high school seniors. In comparison, the University of California targets the top 12.5%.

"Especially in south Orange County, they are trying to get into UC or private colleges and see Cal State as their last choice," Mauck said. "What they don't understand is CSU has a lot to offer, especially for business programs and education."

Unless it has reached enrollment capacity, qualified CSU prospects are guaranteed a spot at the campus of their choice.

Applicants are evaluated based on their college prep courses and Scholastic Assessment Test or American College Test scores. The system does not require its applicants to submit a personal essay or other materials, so recruiters are able to swiftly calculate, from official student transcripts provided by the high school and admissions test results, whether a prospect qualifies.

High school students with a grade point average as low as a 2.0 or SAT score of 550 can gain admission in some cases, although the average last year at Fullerton was a 3.1 GPA and 960 SAT score. For community college transfer students, the eligibility requirements are more complicated but they include at least a 2.0 in transferable courses.

"On-site admissions are a particular feature of the CSU campuses that can admit every qualified freshman or transfer applicant," said Dea Nelson, director of student recruitment at San Jose State University and incoming president of the Western Assn. for College Admissions and Counseling. "The independent colleges and UC campuses that must read each application are not able to make the same type of instant decision."

When the decision is reached, the student reaction ranges from stunned silence to nonchalance, but almost always includes relief, whether Fullerton was their first choice or a "safeguard" school to ensure they got into at least one college.

One by one on a recent morning, Aliso Niguel students sat with Mauck as he made small talk and reviewed their record.

There was Tiffany Jones, who dared not look at Mauck or his scribbling as he calculated her GPA and SAT scores and applied them to a mathematical formula Cal State uses to tell who's in and who's not.

"Congratulations, you're in," he said, and with that Jones cracked a smile and breathed a sigh of relief. An aspiring teacher, Fullerton is her first choice.

"I was extremely nervous but I'm glad and excited," she said afterward.

Vineet Mehta said she was scared she would not get into USC or the UC schools to which she applied so she decided to go for Fullerton, which is close to home and her father's alma mater.

For USC, the prospective political science major sat for an interview with an admissions officer "which was nerve racking because I wanted to go so badly." For Fullerton, she scarcely had time to get comfortable in the chair before Mauck admitted her.

"My first choice was USC but I haven't heard from them and I'm scared I'm not going to get in," Vineet said. "I wanted a back-up school and this is it."

Visiting Sierra Vista High in Baldwin Park, counselor Eduardo Aldas said he takes pride in admitting students such as Sandra Angel who are the first in their family to attend college.

"This means you're admitted," Aldas said as he handed her a copy of the admissions form.

"Wow, that's pretty cool," Sandra said.

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