Acceptance and rejection

With competition tighter than ever, many top students don't get into their dream school

Published: Sunday, April 6, 2008 at 4:30 a.m.

CHRISTOPHER CHUNG / The Press Democrat


Santa Rosa High School senior Alyssa Black, center, teaches violin to Sheppard Accelerated Elementary school fifth-graders Nora Brenner-West, left, and Kenneth De La Torre on Tuesday afternoon. Black has not decided whether she will attend UC Davis or Cal Poly Pomona.

Four years of grinding study, sleepless nights and countless hours of extracurricular activities earned Alyssa Black a 3.96 grade point average at Santa Rosa High and a solid shot at her dream school: UC Berkeley.

Like thousands of Sonoma County seniors, Black's moment of reckoning came when she sat down in front of her computer and logged into Cal's Web site announcing admissions.

The news wasn't good.

"When you see, 'Sorry, we regret to tell you blah, blah, blah,' you get crushed and all logic goes out the window," Alyssa's mom, Kay Black, said. "They take it personally and they shouldn't."

Long an anxious time, acceptance season this year marked just how hard it is to get into college these days.

Applications to UC campuses hit an all-time high and Ivy League schools are hearing from, and rejecting more, students than ever.

"This is a huge, huge, tough year," said Sophear Hang, a counselor at Montgomery High School. "Many of my seniors have already come to me about appealing to the campuses that they thought they would get in but did not."

Lexy Cook, Healdsburg High's student body president, carried a 4.3 grade point average into the application process, but was turned down by her dream school: Princeton.

"For me, the hardest part was realizing that I couldn't have worked any harder than I did," she said. "It was hard to know that having the best grades you can, doing as much as you can outside of school, and having pretty good test scores isn't enough because there are thousands of people just like you."

Of the more than 21,300 people who applied to Princeton this year, only 2,000 --

9.3 percent -- were accepted.

Cook has narrowed her options to Cornell, Cal and Purdue, where she was offered a $7,000-a-year scholarship.

Meanwhile, she is seeking solace among friends at Healdsburg High.

"Most of us got rejected from our big schools," she said. "It was kind of a rough year for us. We are all kind of in it together."

They are not alone.

In Sonoma County, nearly one-fifth of the anticipated 5,000 graduates hope to attend a UC or CSU campus. Hundreds more likely will go to private or out-of-state institutions where the cost of a four-year education can reach $200,000. And by far the most, almost half, will enroll at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The college goal is increasingly encouraged throughout the educational system -- resulting in a senior-year endurance test that began with applications early in October and did not end until the final decisions made by elite private schools last week.

"I think this has been the most difficult year to get into UCs that I have ever seen," said Lorraine Collins, an independent college counselor who for years ran the career center at Maria Carrillo High School.

No regrets

The pain of not getting into Berkeley caused Alyssa Black to question her entire time in high school. For a fleeting moment she assumed that her heavy extracurricular schedule -- choir, karate, dance, violin -- had hurt her GPA and cost her her shot.

"My mom asked me, 'Would I change anything in my high school career?' and I said 'No,' " she said. "Would I have given that up just to get better grades and a better SAT score? No. The right school chooses you for what you did in high school," she said.

"I chose to do extracurriculars that I love, that are time consuming. I chose to be the student who doesn't just study and who does one extracurricular. The school that chose me, Davis, saw that."

Black expects she will attend UC Davis in the fall but plans to check out Cal Poly Pomona and UC Irvine this month just in case.

Counselors urge students to be mindful that more than one campus may be a good fit.

Those disappointed by rejections from a top UC campus may fall in love with the academics and lifestyle offered within the CSU system.

"There are a lot of wonderful students who applied to Berkeley and didn't get in," said Karen White, an independent college counselor who spent 15 years as a counselor at Healdsburg High, 10 years as department chairwoman.

"A student may be devastated not to go to a school of their choice, but they visit a second choice and love it," she said. "It tends to work out."

Last fall, the average GPA for freshmen admitted to Cal was 4.17, with a combined SAT score of 1359 for critical reading and math. More than 44,000 students applied, and 23 percent were admitted.

Tough choices

At UCLA, which had more than 50,000 applications, the average GPA for this year's freshman class was 4.12 with a 1346 SAT score.

At Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, the average GPA for incoming freshmen was 3.71 with an SAT score of 1183. At Sonoma State, it was 3.13 with 1017 on the SAT.

The test scores for students accepted this spring are expected to be even higher, but the universities will not have figures compiled until later this month.

Montgomery High senior Elba Mendoza said she dreams of a career in cinematography and can't wait to take film classes, but Santa Rosa Junior College is the right fit for her next fall.

"For me, I don't think the 100 or 300-student classes -- I don't think I'm ready for that," she said. "I might still need more one on one attention from the teacher."

Analy High's Jake Williams said he wakes up every day thinking something new about where he will be next fall.

Accepted to his dream school, the University of Oregon, Williams is burdened by the $30,600 a year price tag for tuition and living expenses for out of state students. He also is considering attending San Francisco State and the JC.

"I would really like the whole four-year experience," he said, adding that he sees the practicality of getting his general education requirements done at the JC where he can explore careers and classes while keeping expenses down.

"I'm all over the place. One minute it will be architecture or electrical engineering or construction management," he said. "It's going to come down to me trying to get a gist of what I want to do with my life."

Returning home

Even among those who go away to college, many come back to SRJC, said K.C. Greaney, director of institutional information.

"Approximately 20 percent of regional high school graduates who initially enroll at another college or university return to SRJC within the next three semesters," she said.

Those numbers don't distinguish between full time students, and those who simply take a summer school course and return to their original campus.

Shelby Samples, a 4.0 student and varsity swimmer at Rancho Cotate High School, was turned down by Berkeley and Stanford but accepted by UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara and UC Davis.

"I'm leaning toward San Diego," she said. "That was always my top choice, so I was pretty excited."

Cook, who counts neurobiology as an interest and thinks she will likely take pre-med courses, said she's now embracing the idea that her dream school was a good dream, but reality might turn out better.

"I hope I'm going to look back and think there is no other school I could have gone to but this one."


"Children are seedlings. 

Unless the seedlings are cared for,

beautiful flowers cannot be expected."  

-S. Suzuki   


back to original page