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No slack for student slackers

Colleges are revoking admissions for seniors whose grades slipped.

June 22, 2007|Larry Gordon | Times Staff Writer

Some high school seniors may have scoffed at warnings about partying instead of studying this spring. But nagging counselors and parents turn out to have been right: A senior-year slump can have painful repercussions.

In June and July, elite universities in California and across the country increasingly are revoking admission offers to students whose grades originally were good enough to gain acceptance but whose final exams and transcripts took a dive into Ds or worse. It's a little-known practice, but it can dump as much as 2% of an incoming class.

For example, UCLA has begun to send out letters informing some students that their "academic record no longer meets the standards for admission." So the coveted acceptances to the freshman class, celebrated just months ago, are withdrawn. Gone. Revoked. Frittered away.

"It can be quite traumatic," Susan Wilbur, director of undergraduate admissions for the UC system, said of the revocations' effect on students and their parents. The early summer timing is especially hard, she said, because by then the student usually has turned down other admissions offers and has few options left at four-year colleges.

But with so many strong applicants previously rejected at competitive campuses, "it is absolutely incumbent upon us to uphold the integrity of the process and maintain the high standards," Wilbur said.

Universities say they are open to appeals about special circumstances, such as an illness or a divorce that affected grades. They may forgive an otherwise stellar student who stumbles in one ambitious course.

And some, especially private universities not bound by state entrance formulas, will allow students to repeat courses in summer school, delay admission for a year or admit them on a probationary basis.

Still, the increasing competition at elite schools is making some institutions less tolerant of senioritis and more willing to eject a student who had already sent in an enrollment deposit, said Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Assn. of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. "Schools are becoming more stern about that than they were in the past," he said.

"If it is a case of [a student] deciding that 12th grade was a time for merriment, it is hard to cut those kids some slack in these competitive times," he said.

The number of such reversals is not large, but many high schools in Southern California report at least a couple of students worried sick about a final D or F in a required course. UCLA already has revoked about 25 freshman admissions in recent weeks and expects to withdraw about 90 by midsummer as final high school transcripts arrive for its expected 4,600 freshmen, according to Vu T. Tran, director of undergraduate admissions.

Because application deadlines were in November, grades in senior classes are not used in initial admissions decisions, he said.

Still, students are expected to maintain a B average in their senior year and not to score below a C in any of their major courses, especially the ones required for entrance, Tran said.

UCLA reviews each case individually and may show leeway if the trouble is with just one course and there are mitigating factors, he said.

"We are not coldhearted," he stressed. But he too spoke about the need "to be equitable and fair, not only for the students we admitted but also for the ones we denied."

San Diego State is taking a tough stance. Before 1999, the popular campus allowed admitted students to attend summer school if they earned a D or lower in a high school class required by the Cal State system. But no more. Beverly Arata, director of admissions, said she expects to revoke about 2% of the 5,400 who were planning to enroll as freshmen and redirect them to less-crowded Cal State campuses or community colleges.

"It wouldn't be fair to admit an ineligible student," she said.

High school counselors said they often warn students that college acceptances are conditional, based on keeping up their grades. But the message does not always get through. Embarrassed about their predicament, most revoked students are reluctant to discuss it.

A graduate of Lancaster High School recalled how he got a D in advanced placement calculus in the fall of his senior year and then dropped the class for the second semester. As a result, UCLA, his dream school, canceled his acceptance, although UC San Diego, where he just finished his freshman year, did not.

The student, who asked not to be identified, said he is very happy as a biology major at UC San Diego but that he still has some resentment about what happened last spring.

"I don't think that one class should have changed everything," he said.

Another graduate of a Los Angeles-area high school recalled a frighteningly close call last year. Once she was accepted to UC Santa Cruz in April, she slid into senior slackerdom. She skipped classes, went to the beach and blew off homework. The June result was an unshakable D in environmental science.

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