As many UCLA students have learned the hard way, University of
California admissions are based on more than just numbers.
With the policy of comprehensive review, applicants are judged
by their overall application, not just their test scores and grade
In particular, the admissions process additionally looks at
“personal achievements” ““ or extra-curricular
activities ““ and any “unusual circumstances or
hardships” the applicant has faced, according to the UC
Berkeley admissions Web site.
In implementing comprehensive review, the UC system hoped to
change the examination system and reduce the emphasis on exams
themselves, explained Chand Viswanathan, professor of electrical
engineering at UCLA.
Viswanathan was chairman of the Academic Senate when the
decision to use comprehensive review was passed.
“My role was to ensure that the academic council passed
the policy,” he said.
He was also the one to speak to the regents about the
“[The policy was implemented] because several students
were not skilled at taking standardized exams,” Viswanathan
said. “They were very intelligent, but that was not
He added that the frequent use of study sessions and prep
classes for the SAT also played a role in the university’s
decision. Scores for students who had taken a class or studied
excessively no longer reflected natural ability ““ the
SAT’s original intent.
Overall, Viswanathan said, when using comprehensive review,
applicants are judged on whether they did the best they could under
their particular circumstances.
Though some people say comprehensive review is taking the place
of affirmative action as a way to admit minority students,
Viswanathan said this is not the case.
“Academics are still the primary focus, and admissions
officials are very careful not to lower the standards,” he
In order to maintain the current academic standards, applicants
must first be UC eligible before they can be admitted on other
“To be admitted to any UC campus, you need to be eligible,
which means you must be in the top 12.5 percent of the
state’s graduating class based solely on SAT, SAT IIs, and
GPA. Comprehensive review only applies to competitive admissions to
campuses that can’t accept all eligible applicants,”
explains student regent Matt Murray.
Upon implementing the policy, Viswanathan says UC officials did
not expect admissions to undergo much of a change.
Despite recent reports from UC campuses showing that students
with low SAT scores were accepted while some with high scores were
rejected, Viswanathan said he believes the admissions were
“We expected questions like this to be raised and answered
with statistics,” he explained.
He said that Berkeley should have been better prepared to answer
questions about their admissions decisions.
“If the justification for their admission was on file,
this wouldn’t be a problem. If students are admitted with low
scores, the university should note why “¦ the data can be
misinterpreted if people are not careful,” he said.
Comprehensive review has been used at most of the UC schools for
the last two years.
“Every student that has been admitted to every UC campus
that does not accept all eligible applicants “¦ over the last
two years has been admitted using comprehensive,” Murray.
Murray personally supports using comprehensive review in UC
“I can’t emphasize enough that making decisions
about who to admit solely based on SAT scores would be a terrible
mistake. Students are people, not numbers, and deserve to be
treated as such,” he said.