This spring, thousands of graduating high school seniors accepted offers of admission to the University of California, Irvine. They made it through a competitive selection process — 36 percent of those who applied were accepted, racking up mean grade point averages between 4.0 and 4.25.
Incoming freshmen from California and states across the country prepared to start the fall semester at UC Irvine at the end of September.
Then, only two months before the beginning of their college classes, 499 incoming students were notified that their acceptances had been revoked.
Many were told they had failed to deliver their final high school transcripts on time, or had inadequate grades during their senior year. Others complained that admissions staff gave them petty or confusing reasons, or no justification at all for rescinding their admissions. The unexpected reversals forced hundreds of students to appeal the decisions or look for other options for the upcoming school year.
“This was really heartbreaking for me,” Simran Chopra, 18, of Los Angeles told the Orange County Register, asserting that she mailed the university her transcript before the July 1 deadline. When she found out her admission was pulled, she said, she locked herself in a bathroom and cried.
On Friday, after significant student protest, UC Irvine’s Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Thomas A. Parham published an explanation for the decisions, which he acknowledged were “disappointing and frightening” to many affected students.
This year, Parham said, the university was faced with “unprecedented demand” from prospective students, receiving 104,000 applications. This was the third highest number of applications at any college nationwide, he said. Moreover, the number of accepted students who decided to enroll for fall classes was higher than anticipated.
About 7,100 admitted freshman students registered for fall classes as of May, the Los Angeles Times reported. That’s 850 more students than UC Irvine had planned for.
And as a result of the over-enrollment, the university took a more stringent approach to the terms and conditions that are outlined in every incoming student’s provisional admissions offer, including submitting transcripts and test scores by a certain deadline and upholding adequate grades through the end of senior year.
Though these contractual terms and conditions are in place every year, “I acknowledge that we took a harder line on the terms and conditions this year and we could have managed that process with greater care, sensitivity, and clarity about available options,” Parham said in his apologetic statement.
Tom Vasich, interim media relations director, clarified in an interview with The Washington Post on Sunday that the university is not withdrawing offers to any students because more students accepted admissions than planned.
“Students had their provisional approvals withdrawn because full transcripts and test scores were not submitted in time or because of poor senior grades,” Vasich said. He said it is “upsetting” and “damaging” that students and some media outlets have framed the withdrawals as the direct result of over-enrollment.
Every year, students have admissions offer revoked through no fault of their own — sometimes it’s because a high school failed to process the transcript or because a teacher submitted the wrong grade. For this reason, Parham is urging students to appeal decisions they feel were unfair or done in error.
As of Friday, 64 appeals had led to reinstated admissions, Vasich said, and more may be approved this week. The admissions staff has sped up the appeals process and is “diligently” working through the requests in the hope of processing all of them by the end of this coming week.
“Accepted students who meet the terms of the offer letter are welcomed to the UCI Family,” Vasich said. “No one will be turned away due to over-enrollment.”
Still, the withdrawals have left hundreds of students temporarily in limbo dealing with a nerve-racking headache. Students complained on Reddit threads and in Facebook groups, pleading for clarity and assistance. In a joint statement from the Associated Students of UC Irvine, the student organization demanded that administrators and admissions staff release clear explanations for each withdrawn offer, reimburse all fees associated with the unfairly revoked acceptances, and establish a special transfer agreement contract for any students who may now be choosing to spend their first two years at a community college.
The withdrawn acceptances have prompted outrage among students and non-students alike across the country, while also serving as a reminder of the potential risks of “senioritis” — or letting grades drop at the end of senior year.
It’s not the first time a university has made headlines for overturning acceptances. Although in many recent cases, the admissions were granted in error, due to technical glitches. At Columbia University earlier this year, the Mailman School of Public Health accidentally sent offers of admission to 277 students, telling students the offers were erroneous about an hour later. Carnegie Mellon and Tulane recently made similar mistakes, and in 2009 the University of California-San Diego accidentally told 28,000 students they were accepted, when they were actually denied admission.
Vasich said he did not know how this year’s numbers of withdrawn admissions to UC Irvine compared with last year’s. But as the Los Angeles Times noted, UC Irvine’s numbers were much larger than other UC schools. UCLA withdrew seven freshman offers this year and UC San Diego revoked nine. UC Davis has averaged about 150 in each of the past two years, a spokeswoman told the newspaper, but has not yet released its notices this year.
Speaking to the Los Angeles Times, Ashley Gonzalez, 18, said UC Irvine notified her the campus had not received one of the two required transcripts by the July 1 deadline, even though she and her mother are certain they mailed documents two weeks in advance. Gonzalez, whose Guatemalan immigrant parents did not attend high school, said UC Irvine was her dream school.
When she found out her admission offer was revoked, “I felt I was going to pass out,” she told the newspaper. “I couldn’t stop crying.”
In written testimonies published by the Associated Students of UC Irvine, another student made similar assertions about a transcript “getting lost along the way.” The student offered to “literally drive 3 hours to Irvine to give them another transcript but I don’t know if that’s allowed or if they will accept it.”
The student is “currently trying to just figure it out because I’ve spent over $1,000 already trying to get into the college and now I’m going to lose that along with other scholarship money which equaled about 6,000 plus dollars,” the student wrote.
“Why didn’t you give students a chance to check up on transcripts after July 15th instead of just immediately withdrawing their admissions?” another student wrote. “How do transcripts somehow get lost in the process?”
In an email, Vasich acknowledged that the way the school officials communicated with students, and the appeals process they established, “were not adequate. And we need to do better, immediately.”
“Parham is personally reviewing admissions processes to ensure this does not happen again,” Vasich said.
But some students don’t have the patience for apologies or appeals. Some, like Julia Kim, of Claremont, Calif., decided not to take the risk of waiting for an appeal to be processed, Kim told the Orange County Register.
After considering community college or a gap year, she committed to a different school that had previously admitted her: Clark University, in Massachusetts.