Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 20, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

UC ADMISSIONS....We've been having a minor kerfuffle here lately about admissions standards for the two flagship UC campuses, Berkeley and UCLA. The chairman of the UC Board of Regents started it by pointing out that thousands of students with high SAT scores were rejected by the two schools while hundreds with low SAT scores were admitted. Was this part of a plot to reject high scoring whites and admit low scoring blacks?

I don't know. But today the LA Times ran a long article about students who were "baffled" by their rejection despite having high SAT scores. The article itself was fairly uninteresting, but it did include this table, which shows the rejection rate of kids with SATs over 1400 at Berkeley by ethnic group:

Applied

Rejected

% Rejected

Asian American

5,898

2,616

44%

African American

124

54

44%

Latino

417

169

41%

Native American

44

20

45%

White

4,985

2,435

49%

International

895

610

68%

Other

130

62

48%

Unknown

1,439

621

43%

Total

13,932

6,587

47%

The obvious conclusion is that having a high SAT score just doesn't guarantee you admission to Berkeley, regardless of your race. Nearly half of all high scoring students are rejected, and the rejection rates are pretty similar for all ethnic groups. (UCLA shows the same pattern, although the rejection rates are a bit lower across the board.)

Basically, lots and lots of kids with high SAT scores get rejected because there are just too many kids with high SAT scores these days, and the difference between a score of 1350 and 1450 is probably pretty meaningless. In fact, the emphasis that the critics place on SATs is puzzling: if SAT scores were all that mattered, then we'd hardly need admissions officers at all. But that's never been the case, and that's especially true at UC, whose chancellor has been a persistent critic of the SAT for quite a while.

One final note: don't feel too sorry for the rejectees. Many of them end up at first-rate private universities, and the ones who don't most often end up at schools like UCLA or UC San Diego, which are absolutely top notch schools, even if UCSD isn't as well known as the flagship campuses. (I didn't even apply to Berkeley or UCLA myself. I applied to UCSD instead because its reputation was so good.) In the end, these kids are all doing OK.

Kevin Drum 11:49 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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