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Under Review

Published Jan 1, 2009 8:00 AM

Recently, a professor who was a member of UCLA's Committee on Undergraduate Admissions and Relations with Schools criticized the holistic review process. UCLA's vice chancellor for legal affairs explains the issues involved.

By Kevin Reed, UCLA Vice Chancellor, Legal Affairs and Associate General Counsel

Does UCLA take race into account in admissions?

No. University of California policy and the state constitution forbid UCLA from discriminating against, or granting preference to, candidates on the basis of race, ethnicity, sex or national origin. All admissions officials and reviewers of applications receive explicit instructions that race and ethnicity are to play no role in their rankings of candidates. While race does not play a role in any individual admissions decision, UCLA can and must take steps to ensure that its admissions process overall works in such a way that exceptional candidates from all of California's racial and ethnic groups have a fair chance at admission.

What is the holistic review process in effect since the 2006–07 academic year?

Holistic review is a process in which readers rank undergraduate candidates for admission on the basis of a review of a candidate's entire application. Under the prior system, two readers assessed separate components of each application — one for academic review and one for personal achievement and life challenges. Scores were then combined for a final rank. Under the holistic model, the review of each application is an integrated process that considers the full record of a student's achievements and experiences, as well as challenges faced, and provides a more carefully individualized and qualitative assessment.

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What is the goal of the holistic review?

The best study answers the question: Did our process correctly identify those students who were prepared to excel at UCLA? It is impossible to answer that question without measurements of the admitted students' performance over time. The professor, however, has raised the question of whether race illegally played a role in admissions since we moved to a holistic system. Because of the important implications of this question, we are committed to attempt to answer that question for the faculty member and the UCLA community.

The holistic admissions process attempts to assess candidates as comprehensive individuals with varying assemblages of competencies and experiences that make it more, or less, likely that they will succeed at UCLA. Rather than examining a candidate's academic record or personal achievements in isolation, as occurred under the prior admissions scheme, holistic review reflects multiple readers' thoughtful consideration of the full spectrum of an applicant's qualifications.

When did UCLA begin considering the holistic review process? Why was it implemented when reviewing applications for the fall 2007 freshman class?

Each year, UCLA's admissions process is subjected to review and adjustment by the faculty Committee on Undergraduate Admissions and Relations with Schools. The faculty admissions committee had been studying the possibility of a change to a holistic approach for more than a year. The shocking decline in 2006 in the number of African-American high school students offered admission to UCLA — combined with the small number of African Americans who elected to attend the university — was a catalyst for consideration of changes to improve the fairness and accuracy of the process. It was not designed to increase the number of African Americans admitted as freshmen, but to ensure equal opportunity.

Does any other university use holistic review? Why?

UC Berkeley has used a holistic admissions process for years, as have Ivy League universities, Stanford and the University of Southern California. All of these institutions understand that the ability to succeed in college depends on much more than just test scores or grade-point averages, so they use admissions processes that examine the total candidate and his or her achievements in the context of the opportunities the candidate has been given.

Is there a difference in the way minority students who are applying to UCLA are considered by readers?

No. Data concerning the race of individual applicants are not provided to the readers. While it is possible for applicants, in their personal statements, to self-identify their race and ethnicity, all readers are expressly instructed to disregard such factors in their rankings. Furthermore, the use of multiple readers for each application, combined with senior-level review whenever two raters' assessments vary widely, is intended to protect against improper bias.

Isn't it possible for readers to collude when considering the admission of a particular student? What do you do to make sure that doesn't happen?

No. The use of multiple, randomly assigned readers (in a pool of more than 150 readers), combined with high-level review in the case of substantial rating disparity, prevents collusion.

How do you explain the 100% increase in the number of African Americans who enrolled as freshmen between fall 2006 — before holistic review — and fall 2007, when holistic review was put in place?

Holistic review is based on a reader looking at all relevant academic and non-academic information at the same time as he or she evaluates and scores an applicant. When all factors are considered at the same time, it is likely that the challenges and opportunities faced by many African-American applicants, as well as those applicants from all other groups, were assessed more fully. The change in African-American admits from 2006 to 2007 was very similar to that experienced by UC Berkeley after it instituted holistic review.

As African-American admissions have increased, admissions for Asians have decreased. Why?

Year-to-year fluctuations in the demographic composition of the applicant pool are normal, while the size of the admitted pool has been quite stable in recent years. So an increase in the number of African Americans admitted to UCLA's freshman class would automatically mean a reduction in students admitted from other ethnic or racial groups.

Why not provide the applications to the faculty member who requested them?

Federal and state privacy laws, as well as policies established by the University of California, protect applicants from the release of private and personally identifiable information outside the university system. That is why UCLA has offered to have the faculty member participate in a UCLA-sponsored study, a comprehensive review of its holistic admissions process that will examine whether the system has created any unlawful barriers.

Former UC Regent Ward Connerly suggested that students not be allowed to reveal their race in their applications and said the university should disqualify any student who does that. Wouldn't this level the playing field?

No, to do so would be unfair and potentially illegal. Applicants for admission are entitled to describe who they are and what they have accomplished. Under Mr. Connerly's logic, a student would potentially be disqualified for stating in their application that she was a member of the women's tennis team or an officer in a local chapter of B'nai B'rith, or that he developed spiritually by visiting his parents' birthplace in Vietnam. No fair or workable admissions process could force applicants to suppress information about themselves that might reveal their gender, religion, race or ethnicity.

Admit One

Read more on this topic in the UCLA Magazine article Reviewing the Reviewers. For more details on UCLA's admissions policies for freshmen and transfers, and links to other admissions-related sites, visit the UCLA admissions policies page.

You say that you are moving forward with a study of the holistic review process at UCLA, although you had hoped to defer a study until you had at least four or five years experience with it. Why move up your timetable, and will the concerns expressed by the faculty member be addressed?

The best study answers the question: Did our process correctly identify those students who were prepared to excel at UCLA? It is impossible to answer that question without measurements of the admitted students' performance over time. The professor, however, has raised the question of whether race illegally played a role in admissions since we moved to a holistic system. Because of the important implications of this question, we are committed to attempt to answer that question for the faculty member and the UCLA community.