No slack for student slackers

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 So the coveted acceptances to the freshman class, celebrated just months ago, are withdrawn.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.

"That was the class I was least worried about. It later came around and bit me," said the student, who also asked not to be identified. Her parents were extremely upset, and the young woman recalled "freaking out." At her counselor's advice, she confessed to the university before final transcripts were mailed. UC officials threatened her with revocation unless she explained her grade better.

She was honest: "I told them it was my fault, and it was something I would never do again." Because her academic record was otherwise excellent, the campus relented.

UC Santa Cruz officials say that all students whose entrance offer survives such a review are placed on a watch list to monitor their first-year grades.

Now the grateful student, who successfully finished her freshman year, warns friends in high school that "if you get a case of senioritis, don't push it too far."

At San Marino High School, revocations are rare but happen about twice a year. Last year, two students got Ds in senior English and lost their fall spots at Cal Poly Pomona; they first had to attend community college, said Assistant Principal Mary Johnson.

"It's a heartbreak," Johnson said. "But in my own opinion, consequences follow actions all too infrequently in some students' lives. And this is the real thing."

At Eagle Rock High School in Los Angeles, college counselor Stephen Williams recalled a student two years ago whose acceptance to UCLA was revoked because of a D in advanced placement calculus.

After "a bunch of mea culpas," the student landed at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, a school whose previous acceptance he had turned down.

Another counselor at a school in northern Los Angeles County, who asked not to be identified, said one boy had a 3.8 grade-point average and excellent SAT scores but then became so addicted to video games that he failed a couple of classes this month. He lost his admission to Cal State Long Beach and plans to attend a two-year school instead.

"It is major tears," the counselor said of such situations.

Private universities say they can be more flexible than state schools.

USC expects to revoke a handful of freshmen out of an expected class of about 2,900, according to school officials. "A lot of students get senioritis, but very few of them die of it," said Jerry Lucido, USC's vice provost for enrollment policy and management.

Lucido, like other university officials around the country, urges students with late academic troubles to let the colleges know and not to wait until summer transcripts are mailed. "It makes a big difference if students self-report," he said. "We don't want to feel we were led astray in the admission process."

At the University of Pennsylvania, a private Ivy League institution, Dean of Admissions Lee Stetson said his office looks at final transcripts and is more likely to send a warning about declining high school grades than a revocation. Such students usually are told they will be closely watched their freshman year.

Some senioritis is understandable, Stetson said. "If you've already gotten into the school of your choice, it's human nature to let up a little bit. It's only natural. On the other hand, it's the degree, the pattern, that is the issue."

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larry.gordon@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Staying in good stead

How to avoid having a college admissions offer revoked, and what do to if a college threatens to do so:

* Remember that an acceptance letter is conditional upon maintaining good grades.

* Be honest on your college applications. Do not exaggerate the courses you are taking or your grade-point average.

* If you are in trouble in a course, talk to the teacher early about possible tutoring and extra-credit work.

* Let colleges know early if you are likely to receive a D or lower in any major class and if you have dropped a course that you previously indicated you were taking.

* Alert the college admissions office to any potential issue that might cause a grade decline, such as illness, a death in the family or the need to hold down an after-school job.

* Fully scout out potential remedies before it is too late. Many summer school classes start in June; don't lose your spot. Be willing to attend a remedial course at college in the fall.

Source: Times reporting

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