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UC Berkeley Press Release

UC Berkeley releases new report on freshman admissions

– A new study that offers an in-depth quantitative analysis of the University of California, Berkeley, freshman admissions process confirms that the process is working as intended with academic considerations carrying the most weight in virtually all admissions decisions.

The report, which was released to the public today (Monday, May 16), was conducted by UC Berkeley sociology professor Michael Hout at the request of campus officials. Hout is a world leader in the use of innovative quantitative methods to study the sociological and demographic changes that have taken place in the United States.

While there have been several quantitative analyses in the last few years of the campus's freshman admission process, this new study provides the most comprehensive assessment of the factors that play a role in admissions decisions.

Hout reviewed a sample of almost 8,000 applications that includes not only the standard data clearly noted in admissions documents - grades, SAT scores, coursework and information about individual high schools - but also 59 additional factors considered by the professional evaluators, referred to as "readers," when assessing all of the information in the admissions packet. Such factors were not previously considered in prior quantitative analyses of comprehensive review. They include matters such as leadership roles in major organizations, hours worked each week, and the strength of the student's academic program his or her senior year.

UC Berkeley officials commissioned the study in early 2004 to provide an assessment of comprehensive review. Under that process, readers consider not only grades, test scores and coursework in assessing student applications but also personal traits such as leadership and the challenges and opportunities students encountered during their high school careers. The assessment was done in response to questions about the admissions process raised by UC Regent John Moores.

In his report, Hout wrote, "My statistical results reveal that comprehensive review conformed to most aspects of policy guidelines. Academic considerations predominated. Readers gave applicants' grades the most weight in assigning read scores. They also considered how difficult the courses were and scores on SATs. Readers also fulfilled the policy guidelines that instruct them to consider applicants in their local context by giving some weight (less than the weight they gave to academics) to the barriers to achievement that some applicants face."

UC Berkeley officials had asked Hout to assess how the campus's comprehensive review process for freshman admissions was operating, with a special focus on estimating whether outcomes at any stage of the process were correlated with ethnic identity when all other available information was taken into account. The study analyses the admissions process in place for high school applicants seeking freshman admission to the campus for the 2004-05 academic year.

His report found the following:

- Readers gave applicants' grades the most weight in assigning read scores. They also considered how difficult the courses were and scores on SATs.

- Ethnic identity had almost no correlation with scores that readers gave to applications.

- Difficult to quantify aspects of comprehensive review - such as judgments about applicants' leadership potential and character - do matter in admissions decisions, but they do not correlate with ethnic identity.

- Eighty-nine percent of decisions were determined entirely by the scores that professional readers gave each student applicant after considering all of the information in their application packets. Eleven percent of applicants were given additional review.

- The probability of an application being referred for augmented review was slightly higher for African American, Chicano/Latino and Native American applicants compared to applicants who were similar in other respects. However, during the actual augmented review process of assessing and scoring applicants, there was no correlation between ethnic identity and read scores.

- When scores were identical and a tie-breaking process was needed, African Americans were had a higher probability of being admitted when all other things were equal. But the statistical advantage of African Americans was so small that it would have been eliminated if six fewer black students had been admitted.

- Hout's only recommendation concerned the 11 percent of admissions decisions made through tie-breaking and augmented review. He recommended that guidelines for tie breaking and referral to augmented review be more explicit. UC Berkeley's faculty committee on admissions responded to those concerns and added greater specificity in those areas.

NOTE: The full Hout study is available online (PDF format).