On July 15, the University of the Philippines (UP) released the admission results for school year 2021-2022. For the 11,000 students who were accepted, it was a day of excitement and triumph. But for the rest of the over 100,000 applicants, it was a day of disappointment, even heartbreak.
“I ask myself, ‘Sa’n ba ako nagkulang? Are my grades that terrible?’ I feel ashamed of myself for not passing Upca (University of the Philippines College Admissions),” said Jon Daniel M. Andrada, 18, of Philippine Science High School (PSHS)-Soccsksargen Region Campus.
A number of applicants who did not get a slot in UP expressed their dismay on Twitter—and students of PSHS, popularly known as Pisay, were among them.
#Pisay soon became a trending topic on social media, with many expressing surprise over the drop in the usually high passing rate of the school system. There are PSHS students who got into prestigious universities abroad but not into UP.
Andrada said, “Honestly, I am still surprised by the results. I saw students with lots of potential not get in, who managed to get full scholarships in other colleges and even got accepted in international universities. Even if they stated that the Main Campus had a relatively high passing rate, they overlooked the regional campuses with significantly lower rates.”
Pisay, which has 16 campuses across the country, is known for producing the best of the best in science and mathematics. Its acceptance rate in the Upcat (University of the Philippines College Admission Test) has usually been 90 percent or higher. But not this year.
Low acceptance rate
Lilia Habacon, executive director of the PSHS System, told Lifestyle that based on the PSHS students who have responded to their inquiry, this year’s acceptance rate is 60 percent.
There has been a student-led inquiry (which showed a 50-percent drop in the acceptance rate) and according to Habacon, the school has started an internal inquiry as well “as part of reflective thinking to analyze facts and make sound judgments about what has happened in the recent Upca. I respect the UP admission policy and its results.”
She added, “During the recent PSHS Board of Trustees meeting, the UP representative tackled the factors considered in Upca. In an article on Rappler, UP Office of Admissions director Francisco de los Reyes explained their admissions model for academic year 2021-2022. UP has an excellence-equity admission system, 70 percent for academic excellence and has 30 percent for economic and geographic equity.”Habacon thinks the drop can be attributed to the fact that students didn’t have to take the Upcat this time.
In 2020, because of the pandemic, UP made the decision not to administer the Upcat for freshman applicants for school year 2021-2022. Students were instead asked to submit their applications online, which, along with their grades, would be used in the vetting process. A new admissions model was used to evaluate them. (We reached out to UP’s media office but had yet to hear back as of press time.)
Habacon told Lifestyle, “The absence of an actual university entrance test that focuses on mathematical, scientific and linguistic aptitude is the main reason for the drop in admissions. Given our specialized curriculum and quality instruction assured by competent Pisay teachers, our students are prepared to perform excellently given an actual test. The PSHS track record in the original Upcat is proof.”
Maria (not her real name), a 19-year-old Pisay student, said, “Pisay prepares you for the much awaited Upcat every October. Our parents have full trust in the institution because of the reputation it upholds, which is precisely why some parents urge their children to study in Pisay. We call it the ‘Pisay advantage’ since our curriculum is much more advanced and hence, the likelihood of passing Upcat is significantly higher.”
For a Pisay student, failing to get into UP is not just personal defeat, Maria said. “Failing Upcat, or Upca, for that matter, is somehow an indication that you have failed the PSHS System. People from within and outside the Pisay community tend to talk about the nonqualifiers and even mock them to an extent. In other words, ‘kahihiyan ka sa Pisay’ is the predominant theme once you fail Upcat.”
Andrada said, “Pisay has always boasted a high UP passing rate. It doesn’t explicitly tell you that ‘dapat makapasa ka ng UP,’ but the fact that the system has a consistently high passing rate is already both a burden and motivation to the scholars. We also feel the need to uphold the school reputation, and put up with the pressure from parents.”
Habacon said, “Pressure is both extrinsic and intrinsic. Admission in UP means free excellent quality education. We also see it as a success indicator in terms of the performance of our students.”
Given the pressure they face, it’s not surprising that students want to understand what happened this time.
“We want to know what went wrong,” Maria said. “We know that full transparency is out of the question, given that this can be abused by future applicants later on. At this point, I can only hope that students in the succeeding years don’t get to experience this gut-wrenching and heartbreaking incident, enough to question one’s self-worth and efforts. No student should ever come to that conclusion.”
Habacon isn’t surprised the issue has gone viral. “It’s predictable. Pisay students have always been vocal about issues that affect them. There are lessons to learn from what happened.”
Maria said, “I like that the issue is going viral because it creates noise. It leaves the room open for discourse.”
But there’s a downside, she said. “There were tweets about how entitled, selfish and downright prideful Pisay students are. Reading such comments was painful, to say the least, and it stung because Pisay students never invalidated those that qualified. We were only asking for transparency and to know what went wrong. It hurt that people all over Twitter saw us as entitled brats that only see ourselves as the ‘cream of the cream of the crop.’”
There’s so much that Pisay students have to deal with that people outside the community don’t realize, she said. Impostor syndrome, inferiority complex, leaving their families behind to stay in a dorm at the age of 12, and the immense pressure—these are just some of the things students have to deal with in their quest for quality education. “I hope other people understand that we are also brokenhearted high school students,” Maria said.
UP isn’t the only school out there, some people keep saying. Maria said, “Even though I applied to other universities such as De La Salle University (DLSU) and Ateneo de Manila University, the University of the Philippines, in a way, was my only option.
“Coming from a middle-income family with financial struggles, entering such a prestigious university under the free tuition law was, and still is, anything I could ask for as this opportunity could undoubtedly help my family. This is exactly why it hurt the way it did when I failed Upca 2021 . . . As of now, I am unenrolled and looking for other schools I could apply for.”
‘Agony a good teacher’
Habacon has a message for students who didn’t get into UP: “Your UP dream is not yet over until enrollment is over. Send your appeal for admission if you are in the wait list or DPWAS (Degree Program with Available Slot). The road to achieve one’s dream is not a walk in the park. Agony is a good teacher.
“For Pisay students who chose to pursue their dream course in Ateneo, DLSU, UST (University of Santo Tomas), Mapua and other prestigious universities abroad, I have faith in your innate ability to define excellence and find your purpose.”
Andrada is holding on to his UP dreams. He’s planning to apply for reconsideration. “I was accepted in DLSU. However, I did not pursue it due to financial problems.” Students can file for an appeal from Aug. 1 to 7. “For my fellow Pisay scholars, keep your chin up,” Maria said. “You are more than a university’s statistic. You are more than just Pisay’s statistic. These numbers shouldn’t dictate who you are and what you are worth. I hope we can all collectively heal from this incident and continue to fight. Para sa bayan ang motto natin, hindi ba?”
PSHS released a congratulatory message for Batch 2021 online: “Let the strength of your character help you discern where you are meant to be. What we do and what we have established as a premier science high school in the Philippines shall serve as your foundation to do greater things to be future leaders in science, technology and innovation, and to be the game changers and nation builders for a better country . . . We will always be proud of you.”
Habacon said, “We in Pisay shall capitalize on the strengths of our students to help them overcome weaknesses and future challenges. For all we know, UP’s loss could be the gain of other prestigious universities here and abroad.” INQ