Selecting the Freshman Class
The New Admissions Process is Balanced, Comprehensive, Thorough
by Gretchen Kell and Jesus Mena, Public Affairs
posted Mar. 4, 1998
The product of nearly a decade of planning, a new admissions process
developed by a Berkeley faculty committee is underway this spring
to select next years freshman class.
Berkeleys new process focuses on both the academic and non-academic
achievements of each applicant and involves the awesome task of
carefully reviewing each of the 30,000 applications the campus
has received. The campus will admit 8,250 applicants for a freshman
class of nearly 3,500 students.
We have developed an admissions process that evaluates each student,
judging all of their accomplishments and the context in which
these were achieved, said Associate Professor Jenny Franchot,
head of the nine-member Academic Senate Committee on Admissions,
Enrollment and Preparatory Education (AE&PE) that crafted the
Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Affairs Genaro Padilla said
the process is advantageous to all applicants.
What we now have is a process that is more balanced, comprehensive,
thorough and flexible than any previous review of applicants to
Berkeley, said Padilla.
The plans of the AE&PE committee had not included ending consideration
of an applicants race and ethnicity. But in accordance with the
UC Regents SP-1 policy adopted in 1995 and with Proposition 209,
those criteria no longer are used in admissions.
A Process Responding to Stiff Competition for Admissions
The revamped process emerged from a growing competition for admission
to Berkeley. For years now, admissions officers have noticed not
only rising numbers of applicants each spring, but how academically
outstanding the applicants are.
These days, almost half the applicant pool has a 4.0 or higher
grade point average, said Patrick S. Hayashi, associate vice
chancellor for enrollment and admissions. The competition is
severe, and it does take really outstanding achievement to gain
admission to Berkeley.
The campus realized that it needed a better way to distinguish
one bright applicant from the next, and the decision was made
to read applicants files more thoroughly. Last year, 23,000 of
the 27,000 applications that Berkeley received were read, but
not as extensively as files are being read this year.
All of the nearly 30,000 applications, with the exception of applications
to the College of Engineering, will be reviewed by the end of
March by a team of 52 readers trained to better spot the best
candidates for Berkeleys next freshman class and identify the
nuances between applicants. At the College of Engineering, applications
traditionally are reviewed by college faculty and staff.
But Franchot stressed that outstanding achievement can be demonstrated
in ways beyond coursework, grades and test scores, which remain
the most important factors. A high level of achievement in non-academic
areas also can help an applicant earn admission to Berkeley.
The main components of the new admissions policy include:
- At least two thorough readings each by a different person
of an individuals application for admission.
- Replacement of specified weights for particular criteria, such
as test scores or grades, in favor of a comprehensive assessment
of each applicants accomplishments and the context in which those
- No longer using the Academic Index Score as the primary measure
of academic achievement. The index was a mathematical formula
that factored together an applicants grade point average and
scores from Scholastic Assessment Tests I and II.
- No longer capping an applicants grade point average. Previously,
all students with 4.0 GPAs and above by taking accelerated or
advanced placement courses, students can earn up to a 5.0 were
treated the same, regardless of how challenging their high school
- Reviewing applicants by high school. Applicants from the same
school will be compared with each other to determine which students
have most challenged themselves and achieved the most against
a common curriculum.
Academic Scores and Comprehensive Scores
On Jan. 6, the reader group began its task of reviewing the voluminous
number of applications. They will be finished March 31. Under
the new process, two readers review each application, each assigning
the applicant an Academic Score and a Comprehensive Score.
The Academic Score is based primarily on an assessment of the
courses the applicants have taken, their grades in those courses
and their scores on the SAT I and SAT II. The rising or falling
pattern of ones grades and the rigor of ones courses also can
factor into the score. The scoring scale is 1 to 7, with 1 being
Half of the admit spaces in each college are being filled on the
basis of the Academic Score. This is in compliance with SP-1,
which requires that each campus select 50 to 75 percent of its
incoming freshmen on the basis of academic criteria alone.
The other 50 percent of the admit spaces are filled based on the
Comprehensive Score. This score, on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1
being the highest, takes into account everything in an applicants
file. In addition to academic achievement, this would include
accomplishments in high school; employment or community service;
demonstrated leadership qualities and concern for others and for
society; and likely contributions to the intellectual and cultural
vitality of the campus.
This non-academic information about a student often is contained
in the two-page personal statement within the application. The
applicant is to write about attributes and experiences that may
not be evident through a review of his or her academic record.
Students in California come from a wide range of circumstances
and backgrounds, said Hayashi, and its important for us to
understand these in order to make informed and fair judgments
about our applicants and their achievements.
We are interested in students who have accomplished remarkable
things. Students who have done so under unusual or challenging
circumstances may be even more engaging to us.
Expanded Academic Criteria
In determining the Academic Score, this year, for the first time,
its not only an applicants grades, scores and high school course
load that are examined, but the context in which the grades and
scores were earned and the school in which the classes were taken.
Other factors that help readers decide this score include:
- The number of college preparatory courses and the number of honors
courses taken, both in relation to the UC minimum and in relation
to what was offered in the students high school.
- The actual grades earned in courses and the number of honors grade
points added to the students GPA.
- Participation in rigorous academic enrichment programs, college-level
work completed, honors and awards in academic areas and demonstrated
intellectual vitality, which may be reflected in specific achievements.
The uncapping of an applicants grade point average also helps
readers make a more informed decision.
We can compare the actual grades earned by a student against
the GPA enriched by the honors grade point policy, said Bob Laird,
director of undergraduate admission. We can distinguish among
4.0 GPAs, rewarding the student who has earned such an average
while taking more than the minimum UC required courses and while
taking as many challenging courses as possible.
Rather than using standardized test scores, such as the SAT, as
a decisive factor for admission, readers are using these scores
to supplement other information in a students file.
Readers note the level of achievement on the individual sections
of the SAT and on each of the SAT II tests and compare these scores
to the academic record, to other academic achievements listed
or described in the application, and to all of the other information
presented by the applicant.
An Experienced Team of Readers
The readers this year are comprised of 31 professional admissions
or outreach officers in the Office of Undergraduate Admission
and Relations With Schools (OUARS), 10 part-time readers, six
volunteers from other units on the campus, and five Bay Area high
school counselors who read applications as paid interns.
Four of the five Bay Area high school counselors have read for
Berkeley for several years. The fifth began reading last year.
Reader-counselors are asked for a three-year commitment and come
from a wide range of schools in the Bay Area.
All of the high school counselors, half of the campus volunteers
and four of the part-time readers have read for Berkeley for at
least one prior admissions cycle; most of these people have been
readers for several years.
Each year, all readers are required to complete a rigorous training
and norming program conducted by OUARS. The training includes
a thorough review of Berkeleys admissions policies and process
and a careful examination of the campuss applicant pool. They
read, score and discuss a large number of applications to build
validity and reliability into the reading process.
If the two readers reviewing a particular application each assign
it a different Academic Score or Comprehensive Score and the scores
are more than a single point apart, then the file goes to a third
reader for the determining score.
Our scoring process is highly reliable, said Laird, in that
different readers tend to assign very similar scores to the same
file. Of the applications read in the fall 1997 reading process,
only 7 percent required a third read.
Once actual reading of the files has begun, mandatory norming
sessions each week help readers remember the common criteria they
all must use to score and rank applicants. Many readers read files
at home. These sessions provide an opportunity to hear other readers
experiences and perspectives.
Readers jointly review and score a set of applications picked
by the reader groups team leaders that pose compelling issues
that make assigning a score complicated. The scores are tallied
on a grid for the entire reader group to see, and a discussion
follows about individual applicants.
Seeing the scores and listening to the readers comments allows
admissions officers to see whos within the norming bounds,
She considers the new admissions policy a boon for all applicants.
We now have the maximum degree of flexibility permitted under
the law to review and consider the full range of accomplishments
and contributions each applicant has to offer, said Franchot.
Admissions officers and faculty agree that the new policy is certain
to be improved upon. But they added that this years process,
with its new focus on an applicants academic and non-academic
accomplishments, signals an important break from the past.
The context for admissions keeps changing, its always evolving,
said Franchot. But I feel were close to a really great process.
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