The University of California, Irvine slashed 499 students from its incoming fall class in mid-July after they’d already been accepted and submitted their deposits. While other universities may revoke the acceptances of a few handfuls of students each year, UCI sent mass emails without explanation to students in the 2021 class, which is composed of more first-generation college students than nearly any other university in the nation.
UCI has given students the option to request an appeal if an error had occurred and provide proof they had met all of the conditions for the provisional acceptance contract they signed upon enrolling. UC press secretary Dianne Klein said UCI acknowledges the admissions decision was not properly handled and emphasized that anyone who submits an appeal will be re-enrolled if “the student is not at fault or there were mistakes.”
Online groups exploded with panicked and anxious teenagers as hundreds of students sought answers in the days that followed, finding admissions officers unresponsive or unhelpful, and sometimes lacking experienced parents to guide them. One student said they called the admissions office 50 times in a row and never heard back, others say they desperately emailed and called anyone they thought could help.
Eighteen-year-old Aryasp Nejat, an out-of-state student from Arizona who plans to study molecular biology, was one of the early ones to receive the email informing him his acceptance had been rescinded in early July. He said he was able to appeal UCI’s decision by proving a clerical error had occurred.
After Nejat successfully navigated the appeals process, he posted in a UCI Facebook group and was shocked when he received more than a hundred messages from students with questions about their own revoked acceptances. Responding to each student, Nejat said he began to realize the majority of students who contacted him were first-generation students who don’t know their way around the intricacies of college policies.
“The process that they’re using to mass rescind all of these students and force them to appeal, I think it unfairly targets poor students in lower income areas. Especially first gen students, they have no understanding of how to maneuver through the university process and system,” Nejat said.
Officially, the university does not collect first-generation status of students on college applications, and therefore does not know what percentage of students affected are the first in their families to attend a four-year university, Klein said.
UCI boasted in June nearly half of its graduating class were first-generation students. Though fall enrollment numbers won’t be released until September, the University of California has continually sought to recruit and accept students “on the lower rungs of the economic ladder.” A 2015 statement about its first-generation student enrollment says while other colleges struggle, UC stands apart, and acknowledges that with all of the first-time college students enrolling, additional resources and help are a necessity to ensure these students have a successful adjustment and clear path to graduation.
Admissions officers, counselors, and administrators sold first-generation students on all the unique support they would receive navigating the college system at UC, but administrators admit that this year, if students made one mistake—a clerical error, a missed transcript deadline, a grade that fell below UCI standards—they were out without warning or, in some cases, access to guidance on next steps.
UCI administrators have since apologized for their handling of rescinded admissions decisions this year.
“The campus had made clear that all students who meet the terms of their provisional acceptance letters will be enrolled at UCI if they still choose to be. They have brought in additional personnel to provide guidance and answer all questions and concerns,” Klein said.
According to Klein, as of Monday night, 290 of the 499 rescinded acceptances were due to transcript missing or not received. Of those, 214 students appealed, and of those, 112 appeals were granted while 102 appeals are still pending.
Davin Phoenix, a UCI professor and co-director of the First Generation First Quarter Challenge, a 10-week program offered to first-generation students, said the school’s decision unfairly impacts first-generation students.
“This doesn’t just place a disproportionate burden of prospective first gen students; it has an alienating effect on them,” Phoenix said. “I imagine students currently going through this experience, even if they successfully resolve the issue and arrive on campus come fall, are going to deal with the nagging suspicion that they’ve been marked as an ‘other’—that their spot on campus is conditional. College is challenging enough with feeling you have the burden to prove you belong.”
Eighteen-year-old Jorge Salgado turned to the class of 2021’s Facebook group to describe his appeal experience and ask questions. He said getting rescinded just a month before classes were set to begin, well after other college deposit deadlines had past, was shocking.
“Apart from the unexpected notification, I was surprised since the only option they would leave us with was community college,” Salgado said.
This strict policy has not been enforced previously by UCI. In previous years, officials say they were much more lenient with deadlines and clerical issues, amid the chaos that often ensues as thousands of students and high school administrators attempt to meet university transcript deadlines and file senior year grades. Vice Chancellor Thomas Parham said in a letter on July 28 to students the number of applications received was more than all but two colleges nationwide this year, causing the number of students intending to register at the university to be higher than expected.
“We heard from some students that this year’s process was too stringent and our customer-service approach needs improvement. I acknowledge that we took a harder line on the terms and conditions this year,” Parham wrote.
First-generation students whose acceptances were revoked say their orientation date had already been selected, travel plans were made, they’d jumped through hoops and scaled barriers without parents who could hold their hand and say, “Don’t worry, I’ve been through this before.”
Emily Quintero, a 19-year-old from San Bernardino, California, who hopes to become a neurologist, is the youngest of five children and would have been the first in her family to attend college. She said UCI didn’t tell her why her acceptance was revoked—yet another thing she just had to “figure out myself.”
“I didn’t think that it was possible, I kept refreshing the page hoping it was a mistake. As soon as I read the message I called admissions. They weren’t helpful at all. I messaged my counselor asking if there was anything for me,” Quintero said. “It was definitely a little bit scary because I couldn’t ask my family for help. I had to rely on my teachers for help and some things I had to figure out myself. Overall this entire experience has been horrible because I went from making my entire family proud of me to feeling like a failure.”
For first-generation students who are lucky enough to appeal UCI’s decision, this admissions debacle could have long term effects on their education.
“[Their apology] didn’t assuage any of our concerns it just confirmed our concerns,” Nejat said. “Students who had their admission withdrawn can’t attend their orientation, which means changing travel plans, rescheduling flights, et cetera. With every passing orientation, now that students have not had their appeal granted even if it was for errors, they’re losing the chance to sign up for classes.”
Student government petition signers said they couldn’t reach the admissions office even though they had confirmation numbers showing their transcripts indeed were received (PDF). Quintero is waiting to hear back about her appeal decision, watching the orientation dates left number fewer and fewer. Other students said they feel discouraged about going to college at all.
“I feel like this admission decision was unfair and rash,” Quintero said. “Frankly it’s kind of sad because they pride themselves on being one of the top schools to give us the American dream but all they did was take it away.”
Also referencing the school’s reputation, Phoenix said he believes those revoked did everything in their power to get accepted to UCI and deserve to attend.
“If we want to tout the fact that three fifths of our students are first generation, and position ourselves as a champion of this student group, we’ve got to recognize and address their distinct needs earlier in the process of their engagement with the university,” he said. “We owe them absolutely nothing less than to do everything in our power to honor that effort and create space for everyone who earned their spot.”