What we look for
It takes trained eyes to give 36,400 application files the individual review they deserve

By Fernando Quintero


Pam Burnett, Mary Dubitzky

Pam Burnett, director of Undergraduate Admissions, and Mary Dubitzky, the office’s associate director, with a batch of application files.
Peg Skorpinski photo

20 March 2002 | In an era of standardized tests and computerized scores, it’s important to note that a very human touch goes into the admissions process at Berkeley.

Two humans, to be exact, read and score each application, says Mary Dubitzky, associate director of undergraduate admissions. “Real humans beings,” as she puts it. “Readers with extensive training and a professional background in education.”

And what qualities do they seek in a potential Berkeley student?

“In addition to what classes they took and how many, we look at how difficult the courses were. Whether they were increasingly difficult. Grades in each class, and grade trends,” she explains. “Although we do consider test scores, we give more weight to students’ achievements in individual classes. It’s an overall review of their entire file.”

Most important, Dubitzky adds, “We don’t just look at applications at face value. We also look at opportunities students have, or don’t have — and what they have made of those opportunities. We think in terms of their potential and their viability in adding to the diverse, intellectual mix of the Berkeley campus.”

This year, Undergraduate Admissions received 36,400 applications. That’s up slightly from last year, and part of an overall upward trend in the numbers of students applying for admission to UC Berkeley, Dubitzky says.

Once the applications reach Berkeley’s admissions office, they are divided among 79 readers — some admissions and outreach staff and some community members, including working and retired educators and counselors.

Readers receive more than 45 hours of training, including a process Dubitzky calls “norming.” In the norming exercises, sample applications are discussed individually and sometimes debated before the evaluators come to consensus about the appropriate score for each. Faculty from the Academic Senate committee on Admissions, Enrollment and Preparatory Education are frequent participants in these norming discussions.

“Readers are using their own professional judgment, but they are also keeping our objectives first and foremost,” she said. “We have a good system in place whereby readers are using the same yardstick when measuring students’ achievements and potential.”

After readers are trained, each is given several hundred applications to read independently, without knowledge of how others have scored it. Mandatory weekly norming exercises help keep the professional judgment of readers aligned.

“We keep each student as well as each school in mind,” says Dubitzky. “We look at the most rigorous program available at each school, knowing that some less affluent schools may have fewer arts or honors courses available.

“We look at students’ individual circumstances. Do they have to work part time? Do they help take care of sick or elderly family members? We look at a student’s achievement within his or her context.”

The admissions office also considers students’ extracurricular activities — such as work, volunteer experience and involvement in clubs, sports or student government.

“We look at their level of leadership in the activities they have chosen to pursue,” Dubitzky adds. “We look for qualities like perseverance, persistence and tenacity.”

Such qualities are often gleaned from the student’s personal statement, a revealing and therefore valuable component of the application.

“Personal statements are very important. They are an opportunity for students to tell us things that scores and other measurements don’t,” she said.

Would it serve an applicant to imitate Elle Woods — a fictional character in the summer film hit “Legally Blonde” — who included in her application to Harvard an outrageous video on her high school exploits?

Not likely, says Dubitzky. “Gimmicky sorts of personal statements, while they may be entertaining, are usually not successful.”


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