While campus demonstrators react to anti-affirmative action bake sales nationwide, few of the protestors could imagine paying top dollar for a cookie and still not getting it. That’s what happened to thousands who applied to the University of California at Berkeley (UCB).
A confidential report prepared by UCB and leaked to The Los Angeles Times shows that 641 students with near-perfect SAT scores (above 1500) were denied admission to the university in 2002 while 381 students with SAT scores below 1000 were accepted. The national mean for the SAT is 1000; the average SAT score for students admitted to UCB in 2002 was 1337.
Why are students with below average SAT scores being accepted into one of the nation’s most prestigious universities?
Like all the University of California (UC) schools except UC Riverside, UC Berkeley conducts admissions using a policy of “comprehensive review.” After voters rejected affirmative action quotas in state college and university admissions in California, the UC system implemented this new policy. Under the policy, students who have overcome difficulties can be admitted to the university with comparatively low test scores and grade point averages (GPA).
The school’s comprehensive review not only takes into account the applicant’s grades and scores, but also “personal achievements” (extra-circular activities), and any “unusual circumstances or hardships” that the student has faced. However, “having a hardship is no guarantee of admission.”
Richard Black, UC Berkeley’s assistant vice chancellor for admission and enrollment, told the press that a “substantial portion” of the students admitted to the university with SAT scores below 1000 were minority applicants.
“Students who don’t quite qualify to be admitted and students who simply have low SAT scores are two distinct categories and should not be assumed to be the same,” Student Regent Matt Murray said, noting that SAT I scores are only one factor of many in the admissions process.
Overall, many people are confused by UCB’s apparently random acceptances. “The SAT seem to be more of an afterthought,” said UCLA student and Chairman of the Bruin Republicans, Jonathon Cayton.
“It makes me question exactly what they’re thinking; I can’t imagine that many people had that many good stories,” said Leah Bushman, a third-year UCB student. While Bushman says that she supports accepting some students with lower test scores, she does not support accepting students with scores drastically below average.
“If they don’t test well, they’re not going to do well at a UC,” agreed Janice Wang, a third-year art history major at UCLA. Wang noted that at huge universities such as UCLA and UCB, students are often nothing more than a number, and that their grades are determined purely by multiple-choice tests.
Murray, however, does not feel that classifying applicants solely by their numbers is fair. “I can’t emphasize enough that making decisions about who to admit based on SAT scores would be a terrible mistake. Students are people, not numbers, and deserve to be treated as such.”
Upon learning of the low-scoring students being admitted to her university, Delena Burnett, a UCB junior-college transfer student responded critically. Overall, Burnett felt that many of these students would have been better off transferring to the university from a junior college.
“They will face a greater hardship by not doing well in school,” she said. “The purpose of a junior college is to take students who didn’t get in the first time around and prepare them academically. If I had gotten into a good school after high school I would’ve treated education like a joke because I would never have had to work hard for anything.”
Burnett was also not impressed with the academic achievements of some of her new peers. “Their scores are pretty low; I think they could’ve found people with hardships with higher scores,” she said. Actually, AIA found one student who meets Burnett’s criteria, although evidently not the UCB special admissions standards.
A current student at UC San Diego who applied to UCB in 2001 is one such example. Molested by her father until he went to jail for the offense, she was sent to foster care upon his incarceration. However, she disliked her foster home and ran away. She was eventually sent back to live with her mother. Despite the policy of comprehensive review, a 3.9+ GPA, and SAT score totaling 1250, she was not admitted to UCB.
A third year Cognitive Science major at UCLA, Colleen is a native of Berkeley, CA. Last spring, Colleen completed an internship with the National Journalism Center and syndicated columnist Robert Novak. Colleen plans to work as a science writer after graduation.