Originally published in H.E.N. #110
The whole process started just over two years ago when she decided that sheąd like to take a couple of courses on the history of the English language at UBC. There were several reasons for this. In part, this was an opportunity to see if she wanted to go to university, primarily it was because she was very interested in the subject and the course descriptions interested her, but also it was a chance to develop some contacts with faculty who might then help us get through the bureaucracy of admissions. At the time, the official policy of UBC, at least as explained in its calendar, was that it only admitted students who had completed a grade 12 diploma which in BC means attending school for two years.
So, in May 1998 she applied to audit two courses that started in September 1998. We heard nothing from UBC till late in June when they sent a letter saying that the application deadlines had passed. This in spite of the fact that when she applied, I had spoken to someone on the phone who said that we still had a couple of days to apply and should use the internet based form. What had surprised me about applying to audit courses was that there were still very stringent admissions requirements, essentially the same as for admission to UBC. Youąd think that since the university wasnąt going to give you any credit for the work you did, theyąd be quite happy to take your money regardless of whether you were qualified. Though this wasnąt made clear in the letter, I now think that when they say we missed the application deadline they meant that we hadnąt gotten the supporting materials like high school grades in before the deadline.
Undaunted, Rachel and I showed up at UBC on the first day of classes to talk to the two instructors to see if they would let her attend without being formally registered. We caught one instructor in her office before class and she was very encouraging. Sheąd done the same thing when she was a high school student and offered to give Rachel additional help if she needed it. In the other course, we couldnąt find the instructor before class, so she sat in on the class and spoke to him afterwards. He was also willing to accept the arrangement. So, Rachel attended these courses, did most of the homework and wrote the tests and exams. The instructors willing marked her work. Essentially, she got the full benefit of the courses except for the official credit.
During December it dawned on me that it might help Rachel gain admission if she wrote the SAT exams. Though Canadians universities donąt use them for making admission decisions, American universities do. They donąt test curriculum knowledge, only general aptitude so little preparation is required. They have a math component and a verbal component and Rachel did extremely well, especially in the verbal component.
Then in late January of 1999 while she was attending the second term of the courses, Rachel approached one of the instructors who was also an Associate Dean of Arts about helping her gain admission to UBC. On the spot, he phoned the registrarąs office and learnt that UBC had changed its rules and would now admit home educated students if they wrote the provincial exams. But Rachel didnąt want to write the exams because she hadnąt been preparing for them. So we thought her remaining hope was her application to Trinity Western University which does take home educated students without high school diplomas or provincial exams.
Then, some time later, I decided I should have one more try at getting Rachel in. If only I could communicate directly with the person who can make the decision, not someone who applies the official rules, I thought I might have a chance. Being someone who is much better at communicating by writing than by speaking, I wanted to send an email message. I knew that email addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org would go to someone who just applied the rules, so I searched around on the UBC web site and managed to find the email address of a woman listed as Assistant Registrar in charge of undergraduate admissions. My idea was to convince them that they should change their mode of operation with Rachel from filtering out to trying to attract her. I knew that universities spend a lot of time and money trying to attract some of the better students to their university. My point was that with her SAT scores and her performance on the two audited courses, they had enough information to realize that she was one of the ones they would ordinarily have to spend money trying to attract. But in her case, since UBC was her first choice, all they had to do to get this brilliant student (this was no time to be shy or modest) was find a way to admit her. (As an aside, a high level executive at 3M once explained to me that when trying to get something you want, explaining how that will benefit the person making the decision or their organization can be more effective that appealing to their sense of fairness.) She replied that same day saying that they were interested and she should apply requesting special consideration with a letter explaining her educational background.
So, we fired off an application and sat on tenterhooks for over a month. Rachel finally got her acceptance letter less than two weeks before the date when she could register for her courses. Later communication with the instructor who was also Associate Dean of Arts indicated that he was instrumental in the decision to admit her. So, our carefully orchestrated campaign paid off.
One thing we didnąt realize was that all students attending a university in BC have to write the Language Proficiency Index (LPI) exam before arriving since their score on that test determines what first year English courses they can take. It would have been much more convenient to write it at one of the local high schools. As it was, Rachel had to write it at UBC one Saturday during the summer.
The other mistake we made was that we didnąt apply for a Canada Student Loan and residence on campus till after acceptance. It turns out that these things are typically applied for before acceptance and processes are in place to handle the situation where the student fails to gain admission. It seems that residences are generally full by the time UBC sends out its acceptance letters while Canada Student Loans require 6 weeks processing time. Iąm sure that students in high school learn all these things from the counselors there. Those of us educating our kids at home right through high school should find a way to pass on this information to those following us.
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