Inundated with applications to its freshman classes, UCLA is altering its admissions procedures for next fall so that no applicant will be evaluated solely on the basis of standardized test scores and grades from high school.
The new UCLA system, which has been evolving for several years, includes a "subjective" review process similar to that used by private colleges. It requires that at least two faculty members or admissions officers read and evaluate every application.
In the past, UCLA has granted virtually automatic admission to applicants with extremely high standardized test scores and grade-point averages, and conducted the more thorough review mainly to help it evaluate borderline applicants.
"In essence, we have decided that it is not fair to use strictly objective numbers to select students, even at the top of the applicant pool," said Thomas E. Lifka, UCLA's assistant vice chancellor for registration.
"What it means," he explained, "is that it is not enough just to have a 4.0 GPA and high test scores. We now have so many applicants that if we evaluated students just on the basis of objective numbers, we would be admitting one student with a 3.9 and rejecting another with a 3.8. . . . When the numbers are that close, such arbitrary cuts simply are not fair. Some kind of subjective evaluation must be made all the way up and down the line."
Mountain of Applications
A mountain of applications that far exceeds the number of available places for students also exists at UC Irvine and at Berkeley, the one other University of California campus that shares with UCLA what one university official calls "brand-name recognition." As a result, Berkeley is also modifying its admissions policy, though not nearly as dramatically as UCLA.
At the other five undergraduate UC campuses, applications and openings are more or less evenly matched.
The UCLA system will have a direct impact only on regular applicants, namely whites and Asians, who are not members of "under-represented" minority groups, said Rae Lee Siporin, UCLA's director of admissions. Students who are designated as under-represented--that is, blacks, Latinos and American Indians--and who meet the state's minimum eligibility requirements for UC will continue to be automatically admitted to UCLA or any other UC campus under state guidelines designed to boost enrollments of certain disadvantaged groups.
The procedure will be used for those students who are applying to UCLA for the fall of 1987. Those applications are due at the end of this month. Letters informing students whether they have been admitted are scheduled to go out around the middle of February, somewhat later than the Feb. 1 notification date scheduled for most of the other UC campuses, Siporin said.
What the UCLA admissions committee will be looking for in the applications is not just obvious objective indications of students' abilities and achievements, Siporin said, but more subjective measures, such as the quality and content of their courses, the overall difficulty of their high school programs and, in certain borderline cases, their commitment to extracurricular activities and their ability to express those commitments in a written essay.
Elaborate Selection System
In some departments, particularly engineering, other UC campuses have been using and will continue to use a selection process similar to that now being employed by UCLA for its entire undergraduate program. Most of the UC campuses, however, have not had to develop such an elaborate selection system simply because they do not have a volume of applications that warrants it.
In deciding that UCLA should abandon its practice of taking any student on the basis of test scores or grades alone, Siporin said she thinks that "there is something drastically wrong when a university reduces a student to a number."
"Practically speaking," she said, "I am confident that 80% of the students we admit to UCLA we would admit anyway, whatever review process we used. But there is 20% that I am not so sure about. In order to make better decisions about those students, we need to look very carefully at the entire applicant pool."
UCLA officials are eager to publicize their approach in the hope that it will eliminate some of the public misunderstanding about what it means to be "eligible" to attend the University of California.
Under state law, all California high school students who complete a set of required courses and who rank in the upper 12% of their high school graduating classes on the basis of grade-point average and standardized test scores are eligible for admission to the UC system, just as students in the upper third of their graduating classes are eligible for admission to the California State University system. Eligibility, however, only assures students of a place somewhere in the university system, not necessarily the campus of their choice.