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College applications now an open (Face)book

High school seniors learn a downside to social networking: lack of privacy over acceptance or rejection by universities.

March 31, 2009|Gale Holland

For a generation of students who share every detail of their personal lives in text messages, MySpace pages and other online postings, the college admissions chase is offering a lesson that some things are best kept private.

Last December, when Brown University's early admission decisions were released online, students in one classroom at North Hollywood High's highly gifted magnet program could be heard applauding. In another, there was silence, followed by the sound of someone crying.

So today when many Ivy League colleges are expected to render their decisions, magnet students will be rushing home to absorb the news, seniors Kelsey Collins and Joseph Wang said.

"That's D-day for everybody," said Joseph, 17. "No one wants to check in public."

With 33 National Merit Scholarship finalists and a rigorous program of advanced courses, most of the North Hollywood magnet student body is choosing between fabulous and more fabulous college offers.

But, for every member of the Facebook nation, even a successful admissions season poses challenges: Should you post your good fortune on your home page before learning whether your best friend got in? Or check your iPhone for online decisions, with everyone watching? If you put your college wish list online, will you be humiliated if the rejections come thick and fast?

The admissions process this year is particularly fraught. Competition is shaping up to be the toughest in years at the University of California, which, facing budget cutbacks, capped freshman enrollment while fielding a jump in applications, UC admissions director Susan Wilbur said.

On Monday, 28,000 students listed as rejected on the UC San Diego site received e-mails saying the university was "thrilled" that they had been admitted and inviting them to an orientation this weekend.

The university later sent e-mails apologizing for the error.

"We deeply regret this mistake, because we understand the level of distress it has caused for many of you," Mae W. Brown, director of admissions at UC San Diego, said in the apology.

"It's really disappointing they would make that kind of mistake and hurt people," said Jessica Abughattas, 17, of Corona, who received one of the suspect invitations.

How did she and many others find out that they had received the same note? They posted messages on a college discussion website.

Many highly qualified students apply to multiple schools, and admission decisions come in waves between December and April; so the waiting can stretch on for months.

In December, Amaru Tejeda made a pact with his friend, Yureli Lopez, to post Pomona College's response to their applications on Facebook.

That way, the seniors at Bravo Medical Magnet east of downtown Los Angeles wouldn't have to deal with each other face to face if one lost out.

Amaru, 18, of Lincoln Heights got home and found a large envelope from Pomona but waited until Yureli, 17, of Boyle Heights posted "Future Sagehen" (Pomona College's mascot) in her "status update" window before he sent an instant message that he had gotten in too.

Because they had applied for an early decision, Yureli and Amaru were committed to attending Pomona. But on Friday, Yureli learned she had also been accepted to Occidental College, the dream school of another friend.

As of Sunday, she hadn't heard how her friend had fared and was nervous about being perceived as getting her slot.

"That's the worst-case scenario: When one of your best friends got accepted to the school you really wanted to get into and you didn't," said Yureli.

Being discreet doesn't necessarily prevent sticky situations. Milly Shah, a senior at Gretchen Whitney High School in Cerritos, said she told only a few close friends about her acceptance to her first-choice college, USC.

But friends texted friends, and by the next day, the whole class knew.

"I know of one person who didn't know if she got in and other people said she had; actually it turned out she got wait-listed," Milly said. "It was kind of a con side to the whole thing."

Although some colleges still use regular mail to send acceptances and rejections -- the proverbial fat and thin envelopes -- many now conduct the process online.

Some UC applicants get e-mails saying "Your status has changed," then visit online accounts and learn they've been rejected. It's a cold way to have dreams destroyed.

"It was a huge surprise; I'm pretty smart," said Naira Goukisian, 18, a Bravo student who was turned down by some UC campuses. "You make an account . . . they didn't even send letters or e-mail. It was really bad this year, really hard."

Julian Lemus, 18, of Boyle Heights, who was admitted early to MIT, didn't even check his account when UC Berkeley decisions were first posted last week.

Classmates can become bitter hearing about students like him needlessly taking up space on the UC rolls, he said.

"Some of my classmates don't know where they're going yet; they've either gotten rejections or haven't heard," said Julian, also a Bravo student.

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