Pitzer admissions director Angel Perez writes in the LA Times about the agony of rejecting well-qualified students. Pitzer received received 4,079 applications for 245 spots in the freshman class. (The college accepts 22 percent of applicants; most who are accepted choose to go elsewhere.)
I recall the fate of one young woman whose academic profile was top-notch. She had a 4.0 grade-point average at a competitive high school in Los Angeles, she listed a fair amount of extracurricular activities, and her essays read well. But she was from a town very close by and had never taken the time to visit the college. We offer many opportunities to do so, but she had had no contact with us.
I interviewed him, and in my evaluation I wrote, “This kid bleeds Pitzer College.” He was concerned about issues of social justice and social responsibility — two key values that our institution was founded on.
They laughed out loud in response to this young man’s humor, and they could not believe how much time he took to demonstrate to us how right he was for Pitzer.
I followed up the reading by telling them about my impressions from the interview: “He won’t graduate top of his class, but he is going to be a powerful presence here.” One of our staff members, who was clearly impressed, said, “This kid really does want to change the world, doesn’t he?”
Pitzer tries for an even balance of men and women (it’s 61 percent female), a mix of California and out-of-state students and “a strong balance of socioeconomic and ethnic diversity,” writes Perez. Clearly, they’re trying to boost their rankings by showing that a higher number of accepted students choose Pitzer. That means highly qualified students looking for a back-up school will be rejected while less-qualified students who really, really want Pitzer will get in.
Last week, I interviewed Downtown College Prep seniors who were applying for college scholarships funded by the charter school’s donors. The class of ’09 is unusually large and remarkably talented. Most students apply for a scholarship — financial need is a factor as well as grades — so I saw top students and students who’d struggled academically. I wasn’t most impressed by the kids who wanted to be a role model for the Hispanic community or those who said, “I don’t want to be a statistic.” I liked the girl who said, “I love math.” She plans to study aeronautic engineering. And the boy who said, “I love reading.” He’s hoping to qualify for the nationals in a slam poetry competition. There was a boy who’s into chemistry but may not get enough aid to study chemical engineering at the excellent private university that accepted him. (Not a tragedy: He’s got a UC option.) Another kid was fascinated by the French Revolution, the Bolshevik Revolution and the civil war in Yugoslavia. I met kids who are passionate about photography and choreography. Most come from working-class families; some are working to help their laid-off parents pay the bills.
One of the interviewers was Magdalena Villalvazo, a member of DCP’s first class who spoke at the first graduation in ’04 and earned her college degree in ’08. She works as a banker. Her speech is in my book, Our School: The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea and the Charter School That Beat the Odds.