UC Moves Toward Holistic Review of Applicants

Larry Gordon, Los Angeles Times, January 20, 2011

The University of California regents on Wednesday moved to expand the use of an undergraduate admissions practice in which applicants’ grades and test scores are considered in the context of their educational opportunities and life experiences.

UCLA and UC Berkeley already use the admissions process, known as holistic review, in which an applicant’s entire file, including essays, are read and scored as a whole, rather than in pieces. At least two other UC campuses, San Diego and Irvine, are adopting the method this year, officials said.

As the university’s governing board met at UC San Diego, a regents’ committee approved the resolution that urges, but does not require, all nine undergraduate UC campuses to use holistic review in admissions decisions. Adoption by the full board is expected Thursday. No date has been set for its implementation.

Some regents said they feared broader use of holistic review might introduce too much subjectivity to the process of choosing students and could be seen as an attempt to get around the state’s ban on affirmative action. But admissions officials said the method, in use at UC Berkeley since 2001 and UCLA since 2007, is the best and fairest way to pick a freshman class from a competitive applicant pool.

Under holistic review, admissions readers come up with a single score for an applicant’s file, including information about high school courses, SAT or ACT exams, extracurricular activities, special talents and any difficulties the student overcame.

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“The goal of holistic review is to give students more thorough and fair evaluations,” said Susan Wilbur, UC’s director of undergraduate admissions. {snip}

After racially charged incidents last year at UC San Diego, including an off-campus student party that mocked Black History Month, that campus’ low enrollment of African American students became a hot topic. Soon afterward, UC President Mark G. Yudof said he wanted all campuses to use holistic review as a way to ensure that academically eligible minority and low-income applicants were not being rejected at unfair rates.

On Wednesday, UC officials insisted that the expanded use of holistic review would not boost any ethnic group’s chances relative to any other in admissions and was not a backdoor to affirmative action.

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