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On-the-Spot College Admissions

Bard's immediate-decision plan gives students an answer on acceptance after an interview. EDUCATION

By Ross AtkinStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / February 9, 1990


FOR many high school seniors, the mail-watching season has begun. It is a time of unwanted suspense, spent waiting for vaguely understood college admissions offices to process aplications. For students who'd rather not hang on tenterhooks, however, Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., offers an alternative with its Immediate Decision Plan (IDP). Within hours after submitting an application, a student gets a face-to-face interview with an admissions officer, who renders an acceptance decision on the spot. It is an express-lane approach that many participants like.

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``I'd rather go through the anxiety in one day than in four months,'' says a relieved Jesse Buckley, a senior at Belmont (Mass.) High School, upon completing an off-campus, immediate-decision day held in the Boston area. Having been accepted means he can be more relaxed as he awaits word from other schools. (Bard doesn't require students to announce their attendance plans until May 1.)

The personal contact is another appealing aspect of the IDP program. ``It's so much nicer than getting a letter that just says you're in or you're not,'' says Dillon Paul of Brookline (Mass.) High School. In the latter case, ``you have no idea why or how the process worked. This way you get a good idea of how they evaluated your application.''

Rachel Martin, also of Brookline, says the immediate-decision format, which kicks off with a classroom-type discussion of assigned readings, at first sounded intimidating. ``But something about meeting other kids who are interested in going to Bard and sharing with them was comforting to me,'' she says. The hardest assignment, she believes, is in the hands of the admissions officers, who must produce a verdict in their one-on-one interviews. ``That's gutsy,'' she says.

Karen Wilcox, Bard's dean of admissions, acknowledges that turning down students directly is ``the hard part'' of her job. ``But that can be done with compassion and be done in a way that is of more service than a form rejection letter,'' Ms. Wilcox says. ``There's no point in bruising somebody's ego. We try to offer constructive suggestions on what they might do to prove to themselves and others that they are appropriate college material.''

Besides the immediate-decision program, Bard offers ``regular'' and ``early-decision'' admission procedures. Regular applications, due Feb. 15, are answered by early April. Early-decision applications, due Dec. 1, bring a response in early January.

The school leaves these traditional options open because not everyone is inclined or can afford to participate in either an on-campus IDP session or one of those held in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, and Washington.

The immediate-decision program has worked well for Bard, though. It accepts about 65 percent of the candidates who apply in this manner, compared with about 50 percent of those who seek entry through the other avenues. Approximately half the students accepted through the IDP attend Bard.

The higher acceptance rate may stem, in part, from the opportunity students have to present themselves in person.

``In reading through an application, an admissions officer may come upon a weak record and tentatively conclude that this is a `non-accept,''' says Stuart Levine, Bard's dean and a co-editor of the Immediate Decision Plan syllabus. ``The interview allows students to turn it around if they look like a risk on paper. And in the case of gray-area students, where the admissions people have a hard time making up their minds, the interview helps to decide one way or another.''

The IDP program, now in its 12th year, tends to attract the kind of person who enjoys participatory-style education, which Bard offers. The school, a small liberal-arts college 90 miles north of New York City, enrolls only about 900 students; classes average 15 pupils.