Admissions statistics illuminate trend

Class of 2011, first to undergo holistic review, has fewer students, slightly higher GPA

University officials have released final data on the fall 2007 class, shedding light on the first year UCLA has used its new holistic admissions process.

The Office of Undergraduate Admissions and Relations with Schools released statistics last week on class size, students’ ethnic backgrounds, average GPA and SAT scores, as well as other information.

The figures were largely consistent with preliminary numbers released last May, when admitted students submitted their statements of intent to register. A handful of students who submitted SIRs decided over the summer not to attend UCLA, accounting for minor disparities between the preliminary numbers and the final data.

The fall 2007 freshman class is comprised of 4,564 students, nearly 300 fewer than the fall 2006 class. Janina Montero, vice chancellor for student affairs, said admissions officials opted to hold down the size of the freshman class because the university in general is slightly overenrolled.

The latest admissions information also showed steady levels of academic achievement – new students’ average GPA and SAT scores were relatively consistent with recent years. But the bulk of scrutiny has been focused on nonacademic factors. This was the first year UCLA used holistic admissions, a new process designed to give greater weight to students’ personal circumstances and achievements.

University officials adopted the new policy last year in response to criticism that UCLA’s old admissions process unfairly disadvantaged underrepresented minority students.

Montero said reactions to holistic admissions have been strongly positive, especially from application readers.

“There has been an overwhelming positive response to the quality of the selection process,” she said. “(Readers appreciate) the opportunity to really see a student’s experience really displayed in full.”

Some underrepresented groups saw increased enrollment for fall 2007 – the number of black and Latino freshman jumped from 241 in 2006 to 389 in 2007. But other groups, such as students from low-income families and first-generation college students, saw enrollment declines.

Montero cautioned against drawing conclusions about the efficacy of holistic admissions based on data from just one year. “It’s difficult to be making any definitive statements,” she said. “You can’t look at figures of any one year. ... You have to look at trends.”

She added that university officials are currently reviewing the data but have no immediate plans to change the holistic admissions process.

D’Artagnan Scorza, student regent-designate on the UC Board of Regents and a UCLA graduate student in education and information studies, said that though he agrees it is too early to judge holistic review, he believes it is a step in the right direction.

“Given the factor that we see a more diverse student population, it could be a sign for a more inclusive, more helpful process,” he said. “Students now have a better chance of getting into the university based on the context of their environment.”

He noted that the holistic review process itself may not be entirely responsible for the change in enrollment for some underrepresented groups. Rather, normal variance in the general applicant pool may account for some of the change, Scorza said.

Vu Tran, UCLA’s director of admissions, said he was happy with the fall 2007 results.

“Overall, our admissions goal is always to enroll a group of high achievers from diverse backgrounds,” he said. “Fall 2007 ... is very encouraging – to be able to increase diversity while academic achievement remains more or less the same.”

University officials were surprised by the consistent quality of academics, Montero said. UCLA modeled its version of holistic review after UC Berkeley’s, and the year after Berkeley implemented holistic admissions, academic achievement declined slightly.

But policy set by the regents mandates that academics be given more weight than any other section of the application, and readers are specifically trained to assess applications in light of that requirement, Montero said.

Readers go through several months of training, including many practice reads, Tran said. The training process for fall 2008 readers is already under way.

Early admissions policies give children of the rich an edge

This week the College Board released its annual report on college pricing - and as many feared, tuitions continue to rise, while the average Pell Grant, the cornerstone of federal funding for higher education, failed for the fourth year in a row to keep pace with inflation.

For the wealthy, however, their own affirmative action is just heating up. Early admissions - the first round of college admissions deadlines - are upon us. The lucky few who are chosen are exempted from the agony of completing dozens of applications and the daily ritual of anxiously checking the mail or the Internet next spring once colleges have decided.

Early admission provides an opportunity for students who are ready to commit to a college or university to know whether the feelings are mutual. For colleges, it is their chance to lock in a portion of their freshman class with high GPAs or excellent test scores or unique talents.

Everyone wins, right? Not exactly. As it turns out, applicants for early admissions slots are not just lucky and not just the most qualified. They have better odds of getting in than do regular applicants, but only wealthy students who don't need financial aid can afford to make their choice based solely on the school they think they'd like to attend. Recognizing the inherent unfairness, Harvard and Princeton have ended this practice.

But it's not just early admissions practices that are unfair.

A college coach asserts that 95 percent of her teenage clients are accepted by their first-choice school, usually one in the Ivy League. The price for coaching services: $40,000. (To put this figure into perspective, two-thirds of Pell Grant recipients came from families with annual incomes below $30,000.) A summer camp for writing college admissions essays ($3,500) boasts that more than 70 percent of its alumni are accepted into their first-choice college. For $7,000, you can buy a summer experience for a high school student to describe on their college application as community service.

While some high school seniors enjoy these fruits of their parents' wealth, other equally talented students from less affluent families do not have these options.

Advantages for the rich often begin long before an application is even submitted. Before the college applications hit the mailbox, parents with the financial means are exercising their purchasing power to the hilt to secure competitive advantages for their children to compete for entry. Can their applications truly be viewed as equal to those of a poorer student whose parents can't afford the costly prep work? Can the applications of two students be fairly evaluated when one received years of SAT prep and personalized coaching sessions and the other had no such luck?

One answer is for universities to require mandatory disclosure by students and parents of each and every form of purchased help. Parents could disclose and certify the level of college coaching their child received, including the amount of assistance provided by a high school; any private college counselors/coaches retained; the number of PSAT, SAT and any other standardized test preparatory classes taken; the number of times the tests were actually taken; any assistance on essay writing; and activities pursued to bolster the student's record, including community service activities, trips and unpaid internships.

Another solution, partly in place at many universities, is comprehensive review. This process is designed to look at the applicants' entire circumstances and put their achievements into context. For example, if two students from different schools have comparable high school transcripts and each took three advanced placement classes, it should matter that at one student's school this was the total number of AP courses offered, while in the other student's school, 25 AP classes were available.

Similarly, if a student's SAT score was 610 in math, it's reasonable to consider whether that represents the 90th percentile or the 30th percentile among that student's classmates. With a broader understanding of raw talent versus coached and coddled talent, admission committees can make better decisions. With a full understanding of how perks available to children of the well-to-do put children of lower socioeconomic groups at an unfair disadvantage, we can begin to bring an end to a system of reinforcing wealth and privilege and create a fairer admissions process.

In other words, we can support meaningful efforts to level the playing field and make our institutions of higher education more meritocratic. And what does this mean for business? Recruiters touting a desire to hire a diverse staff frequently complain of a limited pool of people of color. The first step in fostering a diverse environment needs to come well before they are reviewing resumes. It is a role and responsibility of corporate leaders to press for hidden barriers to be removed early in their communities, in schools and elsewhere. Businesses will, in the end, reap the benefits for prompting changes in schools.

Mitch Kapor is the founder of Lotus Development Corp. and board chairman of Linden Research, which created Second Life. He also helps fund education programs for underrepresented students of color. Freada Kapor Klein is the founder of the Level Playing Field Institute ( and author of "Giving Notice: Why the Best and the Brightest Leave the Workplace and How You Can Help Them Stay" (Jossey-Bass, October 2007). Contact us at