UC Goes Holistic

The UC Regents, perhaps trying to make up for their relatively low participation in staving off the budget cuts, are urging schools to adopt a new way to offer incoming students a better opportunity to showcase themselves to UCs: holistic application reviewing.

A little back-story is required for this to make much sense. Up until this next academic year the UCs, excluding Berkeley and Los Angeles, graded their applications in parts and did not take into account how each part affected the other.
Depending on the school and how it was impacted, different parts of the application were ranked higher than others. For instance, many schools now focus on GPA and SAT scores over the personal essay and extracurricular activities. Smaller schools like Merced, Santa Cruz and Riverside work the other way.

Now, UC Irvine, as well as UC San Diego, will be joining UCLA and Cal in looking at applications holistically, or “as a whole.” This new method can both harm students as well as help them.

One of the biggest changes that will come with this new method is that test scores and GPA will take into account actual life experiences and weigh them against the outcome.

Before this method took place, each part of the application was scored separately and then averaged together. For instance, (based on a 1-10 grading system) your GPA could be 3.5 earning a 7 grade, your SAT could be 2000 earning an 8, your extracurricular activities could earn a 9 and your personal essays could give you a 10. Those four numbers averaged together would give you an 8.5 and you would be either accepted or rejected based on the competitiveness of the applicants that year and the weight each part is given.

However, with holistic grading, one score would be given based on the entirety of the application with all parts taken into account, which will widen the number of applications that are eligible for acceptance and give a better view of the applicants themselves.

Before, each part was separated and they weren’t viewed together. Now students have the opportunity to show their talents on a holistic basis and application reviewers can get a better overall picture of the UC applicant.

The new holistic review does produce an interesting scenario, however. Though the state of California has placed a ban on affirmative action, some Regents have expressed concern that the new review process could allow colleges to sidestep the ban.
The argument is that reviewers could potentially be more subjective in their scoring process. Because the applications are looked at holistically by a single reviewer, only one score is given for the entire application instead of separate scores for each part that are averaged together. With this view being subjective, graders could look at the overall application and grade it differently based on the specific background or life circumstances of the student.

But what does that mean for college students now? Surely we are not applying for our own school. This change only seems to affect the incoming freshmen class and perhaps transfer students looking to switch to Berkeley or UCLA.

However, the effect may be a bit more sinister. The new budget cuts will ultimately shrink the number of students the university will be able to accept. But the new holistic review of applications will allow for more students to be eligible for acceptance. The widened pool could potentially mean that not everyone who meets the UC eligibility criteria will be able to attend a UC school. Even the smaller schools like Merced and Riverside, upon accepting the new holistic system, would find they are unable to support that number of eligible students without expanding their campuses.

Likewise, this holistic review will require more staff members to look at the entirety of the application as each application would have one or two people reviewing them, and a comprehensive review where everything is taken into account will take more time, energy and focus than simply scoring based off different parts.

This raises a question. If the UC system is about to face major cutbacks on admission, staff members and faculty, why are they urging a new reviewing system that would involve hiring more people and making it so that more students meet the eligibility criteria?

It may be as simple as trying to create a more competitive, academically successful freshman class. I feel more inclined toward the idea that the university is trying to find a loophole around the state’s affirmative action ban by looking at applications differently. After all, the incoming class is competitive enough. Why make it more competitive and subjective now?

Sara Naor is a first-year film and media studies major. She can be reached at snaor@uci.edu.