University will cut January Program after 2012-13 year

As Washington University admissions officers sift through early decision applicants for the class of 2017 this month, they will have one less thing on their minds.

“We do it in three-and-a-half,” the age-old motto of the January Program, will soon become obsolete as the last group of JProg students arrives on campus in January.

In the past, Washington University has offered between 40 to 50 students admission to the University under the condition that they begin a semester later than other freshmen. Historically, these “JProg” students have spent the fall pursuing internships, studying abroad, taking classes at local colleges or working.

Washington University decided to end the program primarily because of logistical concerns. The move will make it easier for the to figure out housing for students as incoming classes continue to increase in size, University officials said.

“This gives us more flexibility by having [entire classes] entering as first-year students, all of them in the fall,” Sharon Stahl, vice chancellor for students, said.

While Stahl believes that the program has benefitted students who wish to explore their interests off- campus for a semester, she said that the change will allow for an easier transition to college life.

“I think that one of the positives about this [is that] when students enter in the fall, they can have the full experience of going through orientation,” Stahl said.

But she added that students who are interested in taking some time before attending the University will still have the ability to do so.

“Of course, we still give students the option of taking a gap year, so if a student coming to us wants to take a year off, they can do that, which I think is a great idea,” Stahl said.  “The long-range plan is to have a larger class, and this gives us more flexibility in achieving what is best for the University moving forward.”

The change is being implemented collaboratively between the Office of Residential Life and the Office of Undergraduate Admissions.

“[Admissions officers] had to make a decision not so much [about] what should they do, but what can they do,” Matthew Devoll, assistant dean in the College of Arts & Sciences, said.

Current JProg students noted both strengths and weaknesses of the program.

“It was a great experience for me because I didn’t know what I wanted to study before coming to Wash. U.,” senior Daryl Stein said. “In [fall] semester I went abroad and really figured out what I wanted to study.”

Stein admitted that not every JProg student had the same positive experience as she did but argued that for some people it can be an extremely valuable experience.

“I have friends in the January Program, and it wasn’t the right thing for them, but then I also have friends who came in September and think that [the program] would have helped them. It really depends on the type of person,” she said.

Senior Lauren Smith-Lin noted the program’s limitations for students who consider transferring out of the College of Arts & Sciences.

“I thought I wanted to be in the engineering school, so I took some classes at another university to transfer credits because I wanted to be able to transfer into the engineering school,” Smith-Lin said. “[The College of Engineering] actually doesn’t like January Program students because they miss out on a lot of [prerequisites] for the first semester. So the January Program was a little inconvenient for me in that regard.”

Despite its shortcomings, Stahl believes that the program was successful in attracting quality students to the University.

“It really has to do with planning and nothing to do with the quality of the kids who join us in January because these kids have just been amazing and made wonderful contributions,” she said. “It’s just that those students will now join us in September instead of joining us in January.”