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Vai's View: Vai's View: The BYU experience

Published: Friday, Dec. 9 2011 3:33 p.m. MST

The Sikahema family takes Gou Jie and Keda Che to Chinatown in Philadelphia.

Jake Heaps' announcement this week that he's transferring from BYU illustrates an issue that is prevalent at BYU: It is a highly competitive environment, as much for the top high school quarterback in the country as it is for the homecoming queens and valedictorians who arrive at the Provo campus without fanfare.

BYU can be a tough place for regular kids — never mind scholarship athletes or music and math prodigies. Don't get me wrong, BYU is an amazing place. No place like it in the world. But it can be awfully lonely for the faint of heart.

By nature, college campuses are competitive environments, but BYU is also competitive in a different, well, LDS-centric way. There's enormous internal and external pressure there to perform, to be the best — athletically (for those on scholarship), academically, socially (to date and find a spouse) and yes, even spiritually — to conform and live up to the high expectations of the sponsoring institution. And every year, the bar is raised and the pressure seems to ratchet up a few more notches with another crop of incoming freshmen rolling in from all 50 states and around the globe.

All three of our older kids were accepted to BYU and our youngest, who is a senior, is also applying. None of our kids are scholarship athletes, so they applied like everyone else. Our older three are boys and they spent a year in Provo, living in dorms, before they left on their missions.

They all returned to BYU, but one struggled academically and came home. That isn't easy, but our children's BYU experience isn't so unique. It works out for some and not for others. That doesn't mean my son is a failure; his grades have improved at a local college, albeit a less rigorous academic school. The upside is he's more confident. Those are the dilemmas kids and their families sometimes have to make.

There was a flurry of applications that arrived in BYU's Admissions Office last week to meet the Dec. 1 early registration deadline. I have been a local church leader in the East since 1997 and in that time I've probably conducted 100 ecclesiastic endorsement interviews that included all four of my children.

I hear from parents every year of their frustration with the process of getting their kids into BYU and certainly understand it. As the Church grows, it's increasingly difficult to get kids admitted to BYU because of the global competition. Thank goodness for BYU-Hawaii for relieving BYU-Provo and BYU-Idaho of the demands it would surely have from those students applying from Polynesia and the Pacific Rim.

It's my understanding that BYU's administration, likely under the direction of the Board of Trustees, is hoping to achieve greater diversity at BYU. I can only guess that with more LDS members living outside of the United States than within, Church leaders would like to see future foreign leaders get the BYU opportunity, if they're qualified. The most recent BYU figures indicate 14 percent of the student body are minorities; 98½ percent are LDS; and only 1½ percent are non-LDS.

It seems quite a few of that 1½ percent non-LDS demographics are scholarship athletes. Admittedly, I used to assume that if you're non-LDS and qualified, you'd be automatically admitted. Not so. I share the following with the permission of the young men involved.

A few years ago, I got an email at work one day from two Chinese students studying locally at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia. Gou Jei and Keda Che were college roommates at a university in Shanghai, came to Philly together in a student-exchange program, and continued to be roommates at St. Joe's. Keda Che was a math major and Gou Jei was in computer science.

Both come from prominent, wealthy families. Gou Jie's parents are both physicians and Keda Che's mother is a university professor, his father owns a latex manufacturing company, and his maternal grandfather is a general in the Chinese Army.

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