Hundreds of students apply to study abroad at LMU every year, but this year saw a record number of applicants to the programs. While the deep pool of applicants indicates a growing interest in studying abroad, the extra level of competition meant more students were denied for the Fall 2012 semester.
“Our office was able to accept 85 [percent] of the Fall 2012 study abroad applications,” said Director of Study Abroad Jack Hobson.
Those students who won’t be able to study abroad in the fall reacted with a mixture of disappointment and frustration.
“I was bummed,” said sophomore business management major Lauren Flinn, who applied to and was denied from the London program. One of only two cities where there currently is an official LMU-sponsored semester programs, London is competitive due to the number of internships offered.
“There are a tight number of internship seats available, so what’s available is available,” said Hobson. “In Bonn, [however], it’s on-site capacity. … That location can only take a certain number of LMU students at one time.” Bonn is where sophomore sociology major Brad Davis was hoping to go in the fall before receiving his rejection letter.
“I was upset by the fact that I was going to miss out on the opportunity to study abroad,” said Davis. “That was my biggest letdown, that I might miss out on the chance to do so. For me, personally, spring semester doesn’t work … [so] I am at this point no longer able to study abroad.”
The study abroad application process, which calls for students to submit recommendation letters, a transcript and a statement of intent, scores all students on the same criteria as evaluated by faculty members.
“I specifically asked for a sit-down meeting to find out why I was not accepted, what about my application it was, and all I was told was that it was very competitive,” Davis said. “They were very polite, and they were very nice, but it was kind of pointless … because they refused to release that information, which I don’t really understand.”
According to Flinn, students weren’t informed of any potential cap going into the process. “Before I applied, I didn’t really know, but I heard that more and more people had applied and I met with the director,” she said. “He said that only 25 students get in.”
Speaking as to why students aren’t informed of a limit, Hobson said, “We don’t necessarily know how competitive a program is until students apply. Whether there is or is not a cap may not even be an issue. If we’ve got a maximum of 30 seats, we may only have 22 applicants. It’s a moot point.”
Students like Flinn and Davis are now managing the fallout. While Flinn plans on applying for another program in Spring 2012, Davis said he is still trying to figure out next semester.
“At this point, I have no idea where I’m living next year,” Davis said. “I signed up for classes, but the classes I’m now taking are basically just filler classes so that I have enough credits to stay on track.”
For his part, Davis is primarily frustrated with the lack of communication. “They sent out two emails, saying it was very competitive and to come up with a plan B. I think what they should have done is have rolling admissions or something like that,” he said. “I am still trying to pull something together; however, it’s past the deadline for so many things. It’s very difficult to find a program that’s still accepting applications.”
Hobson said that for all students, preparedness for the worst is important. “All study abroad applications are inherently that: applications,” he said. “It’s never a guarantee of an acceptance when a student applies. And we always encourage students to go ahead and just in case get housing and courses set up.”
To help prevent issues like these in the future, Hobson said the study abroad office is introducing a new online application system.
“The software is called StudioAbroad,” Hobson said. “It is an entirely online system. … The application itself will automatically [be] populated from their student records, so they won’t have to get a transcript or anything. … It will make the student process so much better.”
The program will go live in August for students applying for the Spring 2013 semester. However, Hobson recognizes the true problem. “Students need more options and programs,” he said. “We’re addressing that, so we’re in the process of finding new partners that will fulfill curricular and geographic needs.”
While Davis is frustrated that he likely won’t be able to go abroad next semester, he still recommends the experience.
“I don’t want to come off saying that the Study Abroad Office has screwed me over and they’re out to get students, or that they don’t care about students,” Davis said. “I do encourage anyone and everyone to study abroad. … It’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
“We really want to send as many students as we possibly can,” Hobson said. “It’s what we do. My team here, we’ve all studied abroad. We know the transformative abilities it has in someone’s life. We believe in it deeply.”