Spring forward, Fall back?

Like many Trojan hopefuls, spring admit freshman Angel Viscarra  knew  USC  was his dream school as soon as he stepped on campus as a high school junior. He toured the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, spoke to a couple of students and within a few hours knew that this was where he wanted to spend his four years of college.

When an acceptance arrived on decision day, it seemed that Viscarra’s dreams had come true. But when he opened the cardinal red packet, he only had a few moments to celebrate before noticing an addition to the bottom corner of his acceptance letter — “Spring 2016.”

“It was bittersweet,” Viscarra said. “When you’re a senior, you’ve been working towards college for so long, you just want to go. I didn’t doubt for a second that I wanted to go to USC, but it definitely made people around me question whether that was the best way to go for me.”

This is the story of many spring admits: the mix of excitement and disappointment at an acceptance, the semester spent watching as other students attend classes and football games and finally, the nerves of starting school when most freshmen have already been attending for a semester.

Though it allows more students to attend USC, the spring admit system can create a difficult transition for spring admit students. With help from the Undergraduate Student Government, the Office of Admissions is working on improving this system.

The spring admit system was a foreign concept to many of Viscarra’s peers. This lack of awareness made Viscarra nervous about the process up until his first day of classes. But hearing from Undergraduate Student Government President Rini Sampath at his orientation helped reassure him.

Sampath was also a spring admit and as nervous as any other student about starting in the spring. Now, as the president of USG, she reassures spring admits at orientation that the time they begin school has no correlation with their success.

“Seeing someone who has been so successful in her time at USC, and seeing that she had the same start as me — that was really inspiring,” Viscarra said. “I think it just proves that all that matters is how hard you work, how hard you want it once you get here.”

The decision to make a spring admittance process began in the mid-’90s, as USC admission became increasingly competitive.

Originally, the admissions department developed the idea of creating a waitlist in order to limit the number of admitted students. This idea was rejected by former dean of admission Joseph Allen, who believed that waitlists were unnecessarily difficult on students.

The main problem with waitlists, according to Director of Admission Kirk Brennan, was that they forced students to put off the stressful decision of choosing a university. Putting a student on the waitlist meant that the school, city and people that would dominate the next four years of a potential student’s life would be completely uncertain until the summer.

Instead, Allen suggested the University look into accepting students in the spring. Due to the fluctuation in enrollment between the fall and spring semesters — a combination of early graduation, study abroad and dropping out — he noted that the University had extra space to fill with new students. This, Allen felt, would be the best way to welcome in more students to USC without a waitlist program.

Brennan acknowledged that the spring admit group typically falls into the lower range of scores in their admitted class. However, he added that the students’ lower scores were offset by outside factors — such as leadership and success in extracurricular activities — that made the students strong candidates for USC.

This was true for Viscarra, who said that his test scores were lower than the average USC admit. Instead, his depth of involvement in school organizations strengthened his application. Still, he felt that many people unfamiliar with the spring admit process judged him for his admittance.

“There were definitely a lot of uncomfortable questions, especially when I was going to community college in the fall and everyone else was at school,” Viscarra said. “I had to explain that I was still admitted, just like everyone else, but I had this gap semester before I could start.”

The stereotype that spring admits are less qualified to be Trojans is one of the major factors for the separation that many spring admits feel, according to Viscarra. But other aspects of their college experience can make spring admits feel different or left out.

One of the major factors that causes spring admits to feel estranged from their freshman community is a lack of housing options. Without open spaces at on-campus dorms, a majority of spring admits are placed in off-campus housing options.

“The transition was definitely hard on me in terms of noticing that other students were able to live in on-campus places like New/North,” Sampath said. “I know that’s a huge problem for spring admits in general, is that everyone’s kind of pushed off to the side and lives in off-campus residences.”

This is an issue Sampath has brought up in USG meetings in the past, and that will be addressed by the extended dorm options provided by the University Village.

Though housing is always a major concern, the Office of Admission has noted there are many other smaller issues that can make the spring admission process less than ideal. One of these is the moment Viscarra experienced — the excitement of opening an acceptance, only to realize it is for spring admission.

To combat this combination of excitement and disappointment, Brennan said that future packets will be color coded. Spring admission will come in gold envelopes while fall admission will come in white envelopes, and students will be notified beforehand what the difference in color means. Brennan hopes that this will allow students to have accurate expectations before they even open the envelope.

The most recent initiative from the admission department creates more opportunities for international spring admits to take transferrable courses during the fall semester before they arrive at USC. According to Brennan, the University established partnerships with American-accredited overseas institutions to establish a “fast-track” admissions process for international USC spring admits.

The initiative started with the American University of Paris two years ago and added three international schools last year. The program has been a success for some students, who now have the opportunity to take classes and stay on track for a four-year graduation.

Brennan emphasized that the Office of Admissions is always striving to listen to students to improve the overall experience of being a spring admit.

His hope is to continue creating new initiatives that will ease the process. In the end, Brennan’s ultimate goal is for students to understand that spring admits are the same as any other student, regardless of when they arrive on campus.

“They absolutely belong here, and we turned away over 40,000 other students in place of that student,” Brennan said. “I think spring students should be proud to be here, and should forget as soon as they can that they had to start a semester later.”


Burke Gibson contributed to this report.