Berkeley Leadership Essay Beowulf Hero Essay
Should I value consistent excellence or better results at the end of a personal struggle? An underrepresented minority could be the phoenix, I decided. I scribbled this exchange in my notes: A reader ranks an applicant low because she sees an “overcount” in the student’s a-g courses.
We were not to hold a lack of Advanced Placement courses against applicants. She thinks the courses were miscounted or perhaps counted higher than they should have been.
A HIGHLY qualified student, with a 3.95 unweighted grade point average and 2300 on the SAT, was not among the top-ranked engineering applicants to the University of California, Berkeley. Now consider a second engineering applicant, a Mexican-American student with a moving, well-written essay but a 3.4 G. Berkeley might accept 21 percent of freshman applicants over all but only 12 percent in engineering. We were to assess each piece of information — grades, courses, standardized test scores, activities, leadership potential and character — in an additive fashion, looking for ways to advance the student to the next level, as opposed to counting any factor as a negative. Every one of our applications was scored by an experienced lead reader before being passed on to an inner committee of admissions officers for the selection phase.
He had perfect 800s on his subject tests in math and chemistry, a score of 5 on five Advanced Placement exams, musical talent and, in one of two personal statements, had written a loving tribute to his parents, who had emigrated from India. My new position required two days of intensive training at the Berkeley Alumni House as well as eight three-hour norming sessions.
In practice, holistic admissions raises many questions about who gets selected, how and why.
Why was he not top-ranked by the “world’s premier public university,” as Berkeley calls itself? There, we practiced ranking under the supervision of lead readers and admissions officers to ensure our decisions conformed to the criteria outlined by the admissions office, with the intent of giving applicants as close to equal treatment as possible. In principle, a broader examination of candidates is a great idea; some might say it is an ethical imperative to look at the “bigger picture” of an applicant’s life, as our mission was described.
Apparently, our Indian-American student needed more extracurricular activities and engineering awards to be ranked a 1. An applicant scoring a 4 or 5 was probably going to be disappointed; a 3 might be deferred to a January entry; students with a 1, 2 or 2.5 went to the top of the pile, but that didn’t mean they were in.
In norming sessions, I remember how lead readers would raise a candidate’s ranking because he or she “helped build the class.” I never quite grasped how to build a class of freshmen from California — the priority, it was explained in the first day’s pep talk — while seeming to prize the high-paying out-of-state students who are so attractive during times of a growing budget gap. (He had taken one of the expensive volunteer trips to Africa that we were told should not impress us.)Income, an optional item on the application, would appear on the very first screen we saw, along with applicant name, address and family information. The idea behind multiple readers is to prevent any single reader from making an outlier decision.
(A special team handled international applications.)In one norming session, puzzled readers questioned why a student who resembled a throng of applicants and had only a 3.5 G. We also saw the high school’s state performance ranking. Admissions officials were careful not to mention gender, ethnicity and race during our training sessions. Privately, I asked an officer point-blank: “What After the next training session, when I asked about an Asian student who I thought was a 2 but had only received a 3, the officer noted: “Oh, you’ll get a lot of them.” She said the same when I asked why a low-income student with top grades and scores, and who had served in the Israeli army, was a 3.? And some of the rankings I gave actual applicants were overturned up the reading hierarchy.
Highest attention was to be paid to the unweighted G. A., as schools in low-income neighborhoods may not offer A. Another reader sees an undercount and charges the first reader with “trying to cut this girl down.”The lead reader corrects: “We’re not here to cut down a student.” We’re here to find factors that advance the student to a higher ranking.