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Wait-listed study abroad hopefuls find process confusing

Karen Langley | Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Sophomore Paula Kim was surprised when she was wait-listed a week-and-a-half ago for the second of two international studies programs. She also realized for the first time how confusing the application process seemed.

Kim’s concerns at being placed on the waiting lists for the Trinity College Dublin program (which notified students in January) and the program in Toledo, Spain, mirrors that of numerous students who remain unsure about the Office of International Studies’ selection process – and the meaning of being placed on a wait-list.

“The way Notre Dame describes the application process, they want every student who is qualified to go,” Kim said. “I never really got the sense that applying to study abroad programs [was] so competitive.”

Claudia Kselman, director of the Office of International Studies, described the process as extremely competitive – a feature that limits some qualified applicants from participating in a program.

“We have an incredible number of excellent applicants,” Kselman said. “We just don’t have room for them. We’d love to take more students.”

Kselman said the Office of International Studies’ is unable to increase the number of students who can participate due to “natural limitations abroad in terms of accommodations.”

Up until now, Kselman said, students have only been considered for their first-choice programs. Kim claims this fact is unclear to many students.

“That’s an ambiguity,” she said. “I don’t know whether my being wait-listed at Trinity affected my being wait-listed at Toledo. Nobody knows exactly.”

Wait-listed candidates are seen as “eligible to participate, but not as strong overall as the students who were accepted,” Kselman said. Though the majority of applicants who were not accepted were placed on wait-lists, some students were rejected outright if the selection committee deemed them unqualified.

Joseph Stanfiel, associate director of the London Program, said no students have received rejections from that program so far this year.

At this point, applications have only been evaluated for applicants’ first-choice programs – a policy which Kselman said corresponds with the Office’s desire to fit students with their first choice programs whenever possible.

“There’s this terrible day when you get three or four wait-lists, but that’s clear from the literature [that students are not accepted to a program while still being considered for their first choice.],” Kselman said. “People forget that.”

As the Office of International Studies tallies accepted students’ confirmations in the coming weeks, wait-listed students will begin to hear about spots in first-choice programs, followed by spots in their lower-ranked programs when first-choice spots are not available.

“There are definitely situations where students don’t get their first choice but get their second choice,” Kselman said. “I would encourage students to apply to more than one program. I would not put all my eggs in one basket.”

Though both directors and students agree that applying to more programs increases a student’s chances of being accepted to go abroad, students have expressed concern that the ordering of their preferences can affect their chances of acceptance to any program.

Sophomore Andrea Thompson, who was accepted to study in Rome, said the possible problem of ordering preferred programs was her only critique of the selection process – though she admitted she did not know how to improve such a feature.

“[For] some people who do really want to study abroad … their preferences can mess up their chances of getting in,” she said.

Kselman said students applying to highly competitive programs should consider the way they order their preferences, though the office does try to match students with their first choices whenever possible.

Stanfield also said there was some merit to concerns about how programs are ordered on an application.

“Technically, it’s true [a student could be shutout], if you take two extremely competitive programs” Stanfiel said, citing high application rates this year to Rome and Dublin. “If you put Rome as a first choice and Dublin as a second choice, it’s conceivable you won’t get into [Rome or] Dublin.”

He said the Office of International Studies tries to fit every qualified student with a program.

“We do try to ensure that qualified students get to go somewhere,” Stanfiel said. “We try to make sure no one falls through the cracks.”

To increase the odds of getting in, Kselman advised students to include oft-overlooked programs in their application.

“I would encourage students to apply to less popular programs, like the programs in China and Japan,” she said, “They’ll have a greater chance of going somewhere if they add a program like that.”

Kim said some International Studies policies remain unclear to wait-listed students.

“One thing I really wish … was that they gave more information to those who are on the wait-list,” Kim said. “You are pretty much putting your whole life on hold for the next year, so it’s hard not knowing anything.”

Notre Dame students’ drive and desire to plan for the future makes it especially difficult for them and their families to wait it out, she said.

“They just tell us we’re on a wait-list and say, ‘Don’t call us, we’ll call you,'” Kim said. “That sort of attitude is really tough on the students when you don’t know how high you are on the wait-list or how many people are on it.”

Students on the waiting lists will not be informed of their chances of getting into a program until they actually are offered a spot, Kselman said.

“We’ve notified students that we expect the process to be finished by spring break,” she said. “On the other hand, there’s always a chance over the summer or even during the fall semester [for spring programs] that slots will open up.”

Kselman said the office could not release the numbers of students who applied or breakdowns of how many were accepted, wait-listed and rejected, while Stanfiel said 373 students applied for 260 spots (130 per semester) in the London Program.