Study Abroad rejections come down hard on students

By Eliot Brown

Miranda Gray ’07 got an early start when planning to study abroad in the spring 2006 semester. She looked into programs last year, started her application process in the summer, and was accepted to study in a competitive math program in Budapest in early September. In October, she handed in her application for Macalester’s approval to the International Center on time.In early November, she received a letter denying her application to study abroad from Macalester’s Study Away Review Committee (SARC), offering an explanation that her application was incomplete. Gray didn’t include a required transcript, and thus her application was not considered. Confused, Gray thought back to what could have gone wrong. She said that indeed she did not turn in a transcript, but only after she talked with Study Abroad Coordinator Katherine Yngve, who told her to ignore the direction to include one because the Budapest program had already accepted her.

“She said I could disregard that,” Gray said.

Gray appealed the decision, only to be turned down because there was no proof that she was told not to include a transcript, she said. Now, after fighting and appealing, Gray seems distraught, crushed, and angry at the school, and has thoughts of transferring or taking some time off.

“I was planning on taking a leave of absence,” she said. “It just left me upset-this whole process.”

Gray was not alone in her feelings of distress. Eighteen students received denials from SARC to study abroad next semester, according to Yngve-rejections that come with great anguish for many.

With record numbers of students applying to study abroad in the spring, the school stretched some budgets and allocated $300,000 extra to allow more students than the traditional cap of around 220 for the year allows. But even with the added funds, the college, as it does every year, rejects a number of applicants for a variety of reasons extending from low grades to the selection of poor programs.

But emotions run high with study abroad, as it is a program both students and the college hold as an important part of Macalester’s mission. The process of being approved by Macalester to study abroad isn’t run in the same laid-back manner as many other aspects of the school, students say. One only gets one chance to apply a semester, and when students are rejected for the spring of their junior year, future opportunities are limited. In addition to Gray, who is unsure whether she will try to transfer or not, a number of other students were hard-hit by their rejections. One student, Megan Moran ’07, has left school mid-semester, her friends say, and others are considering taking leaves of absence. Collier Meyerson ’07 was rejected for a reason similar to Gray-she said she did not realize her program, a School for International Training (SIT) program in Ireland, was not on the approved list of Macalester programs, and thus did not turn in the supplemental required essay.

Angry with the school and determined to go abroad, Meyerson said she is going to take a leave of absence and go to Paris on a program for which she will receive no credit. She said that because of the flawed approval process, she will have to go through a great deal of hassle “because of this essay I didn’t write-it just seems so stupid.” Kate Lechner ’07, a psychology major, also is taking a leave of absence to go abroad with SIT to Madagascar without approval from the school. Right after she received the rejection letter, she said she was rather upset. As a tour walked by, “I just wanted to

scream at them not to come here,” she said.

Lechner said she was rejected because the independent study she proposed didn’t match the program as a whole, though SIT had already approved her independent study. “[Macalester] did not take the time to understand my project before rejecting me,” Lechner said.

Yngve, who said she met with many of the rejected applicants, said that rejections are not ever easy, but they are necessary as Macalester puts a cap on the number of students allowed each year. “Because of the Macalester cap on study abroad, the committee has had to rank students every spring semester,” she said.

Yngve said she could not comment on individual cases, but with regard to handing in incomplete applications, as did Gray and Meyerson, she said while it’s not an easy call, SARC does not consider those applications as a matter of fairness.

“I guess the college is conflicted about it-we want to be supportive; we don’t want to be mean,” she said. “The committee wants to be fair-the fair way to do it is to stick by the guidelines.”

It is the rigidity of the guidelines that angered both Gray and Meyerson, among others, as students say they result in rejections for qualified students.

“Everyone realizes how ridiculous the situation is,” Gray said. “They can’t really do anything for me because they have this precedent they have to stand by.