1995 Applications Up 9 Percent, the Largest Increase in the UC System
by Julia Sommer
It's a hard act to follow, but every year Berkeley's freshman class outdoes the one before it.
This year's frosh have the highest high school mean grade point average ever (3.84), the highest high school median GPA ever (4.00) and the highest mean combined SAT score ever (1225).
Says Bob Laird, director of undergraduate admissions and relations with schools: "This class is stronger from top to bottom."
And it looks like it will be outdone next year. The number of freshman applications for fall 1995 is up 9 percent over last year, even though the number of California high school graduates is up less than 1 percent. That increase is the largest in the UC system, which has seen a 3.2 percent increase in undergraduate applications in 1994-95.
This year also marks the highest number of freshmen applications ever received by Berkeley--22,600. From that pool, 8,840 will be sent acceptance letters March 15, of whom 3,470 are expected to actually enroll this fall. Transfer applications, meanwhile, have jumped by more than 10 percent.
Why the record-breaking numbers? "We think we're doing a good job on outreach. We're letting prospective students and their parents know that, despite budget cuts, Berkeley is maintaining quality. High school students in California are also attracted by the quality and diversity of the student body here--they know it reflects what the state is really like," says Laird.
Another consideration is money. Assuming a projected 10 percent fee increase for next year, fees at Berkeley will be $4,700. Stanford's tuition will be $19,695.
Lowell High School in San Francisco sends both Berkeley and the UC system more students than any other high school in the state. Why is Berkeley such a hot ticket at Lowell?
"First, academic reputation," says Lowell counselor Joan Catelli. "They know that a Berkeley degree will help them in a competitive job market. Second, the diversity of courses and people. Third, the value for money and the fact that it's close to home."
College guidebooks also give uniformly high marks to Berkeley. The Fiske Guide to Colleges says, "About the only thing lacking at this university are average IQs and commonplace aspirations."
Princeton Review's The Best 306 Colleges writes: "No matter how you judge academic excellence, UC Berkeley is, quite simply, the nation's finest public university."
And Barron's Best Buys in College Education says: "For Californians, who comprise 87 percent of the undergraduate student body, the deal is simply too good to pass up: a name equal to that of the East Coast ivies for about a fifth of the tuition cost."
Reading applicants' essays, Laird says, "we're finding more extraordinary students who have done more extraordinary things. Teenagers are increasingly challenged in the '90s."
One example from last year was a homeless applicant from Oakland who made a 3.8 GPA his first semester this fall.
"The quality seems to continue to go up," says Laird. Another first this year: an applicant with a 4.0 GPA and perfect 800 scores on both verbal and math SAT tests. But he only managed 790 on the SAT writing test.
About a third of all applications are read by two people on Laird's staff--those applicants who aren't obviously in or out. "It's the middle of the pool that determines the real essence of the class," comments Laird. "The admissions process here is remarkably tightly controlled."
The best of those not admitted for fall are offered the option of being considered for acceptance spring semester. Last year, 2,200 applicants chose that option, of whom 1,200 were admitted and 700 enrolled.
Over the past four years, undergraduate applications to Berkeley have gone up 15 percent while admissions staff has been cut by the same amount.
Added to the usual frayed nerves in Laird's office at this time of year is the hotly debated future of affirmative action. During the last week of February, Laird and his boss Patrick Hayashi, associate vice chancellor of admissions and enrollment, were interviewed on the subject by the Chicago Tribune, the French newspaper Liberation, National Public Radio, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Sacramento Bee and TV's Channel 5, among others.
"This is an uncertain time," says Laird, in understatement. "Everyone is looking to see what we do about affirmative action. Other schools tend to follow Berkeley's lead."