“Admitted – Yes! Congratulations. But your first year must be in Paris, London, Florence, Madrid…” With more students applying to college than ever before and with each of those students submitting more applications than in previous years, college administrators are finding new and innovative ways of not rejecting qualified applicants. Offering these prospective first-year students an acceptance contingent upon them spending their freshman year abroad is becoming en vogue for some highly selective colleges. According to a recent piece in The Wall Street Journal by Anjali Athavaley entitled “More Students Head Overseas in Freshman Year,” colleges such as NYU, Middlebury, Colby, Hamilton, and others have employed this program.
So is this a new trend in highly selective college admissions? Perhaps. In the past, study abroad programs have typically been designated for upperclassmen. Yet while very few college administrators would ever admit it, by sending first-year students to study abroad, they alleviate overcrowding in the dorms. Then, when these study abroad students return for their sophomore year, they fill the spots vacated by students who have transferred out. A perfect system, right?
And studying abroad certainly does have its perks. One obvious perk in particular is that students are immersed in the language and culture of the country, and potentially even learn to speak that language fluently. On the downside, study abroad programs can be very expensive, especially in a time when the U.S. Dollar is severely deflated as it is now. For some students, being exiled to Europe isn’t exactly how they envisioned the beginning of their college experience. When students are eager to bond with their classmates during their first year and forge friendships, that’s not going to happen as easily through a study abroad program at which only a few first-year students are enrolled.
For some parents, studying abroad can present other concerns. As an example, with no minimum drinking age outside of the U.S., spending one’s first-year overseas may also not be all that appropriate for the immature and inexperienced 18 year-old. Yet while it may not be the ideal beginning of a college experience, keep in mind that it can offer the opportunity for many students to attend the school of their dreams. Because by agreeing to attend such study abroad programs, by offering these schools such flexibility, these students are giving themselves extra opportunities to earn admission to these schools in the first place. What can we say? Our nation’s elite colleges sure do love their flexibility!
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