The practice leaves some college gatekeepers in an ethical quandary. While supporting the idea of giving students time to do better, administrators fret about the equity of a strategy available only to the ambitious affluent, those who can pay $25,000 to $35,000 a year.
''The ones who can do this are only the ones who can afford to do this,'' says Jim Bock, dean of admissions and financial aid at Swarthmore College. ''Where does that leave the rest of the people?''
For moderate-income families seeking a similar advantage, and those in public schools, the answer is probably nowhere.
At New Trier, a rigorous public high school on Chicago's affluent North Shore, repeating a grade to shore up a solid transcript is out of the question. ''The answer is unequivocally no, never has happened and I would not support it,'' says Hank Bangser, the superintendent.
Some private schools aren't going along either. At Thayer Academy in Braintree, Mass., officials say they were amazed recently when a handful of its current upper-class students asked to repeat. Thayer refused, fearful of seeding the practice.