* Editor’s note: The print version of this story has a misinterpretation of statistics from the Los Angeles Times story. This version has been adjusted.
Recently, my family and I went on a tour of UC Berkeley. This is what you do when your child is a junior in high school; you take college tours of places your student might be interested in attending.
The tour itself was only so-so — my husband and I were surprised at how little our college tour guide knew about simple questions from the crowd — but both our sons thought the place was great. So, good, we told ourselves, if they continue their good grades, involvement in a variety of activities and sports and do well on tests, they have a decent shot of attending a wonderful university close to home.
Hmmm, I foolishly wondered, why are there so many people from the East Coast — and a few from countries beyond North America — on this tour?
The first indication that I might need to seriously lower my expectations came after reading a Los Angeles Times story (April 14, “California students feel UC admission squeeze” by Larry Gordon and Carla Rivera, which can be read in its entirety at http://tinyurl.com/mqmhwkn).
Loaded with reasons to rile up the average middle-class Californian family, this story includes upsetting info such as:
Six of UC’s nine undergraduate campuses accepted a smaller number of California students than last year even though the number of applicants rose. Competition was fiercest at UCLA, where only 16.3 percent of state students were admitted, down from 17.4 percent last year, and at UC Berkeley, where 18.8 percent were accepted, compared with 21.4 percent last year.
So the movement toward fewer Californians is certainly disturbing. But wait, Davis families, it gets so much worse.
I am now hearing of and reading about the movement toward fewer students from “competitive” high schools being admitted. Translation, kids from Davis High School appear to have been admitted at a far lower rate than in recent years. And, conversely, more kids from “less-competitive” schools are snagging those spots.
This information started to trickle in anecdotally from friends with kids applying to college. I heard about a couple of DHS boys who had 4.5 GPAs, varsity sports, high test scores, etc., not being admitted to UCLA. Not even being wait-listed.
Well, I didn’t really know these boys, so I rationalized that maybe each had something horrible in his file. Maybe a murder, or a few stints in rehab … anything to keep from believing the competition had gotten this out of hand.
As the spring progressed, I heard more and more about stellar Blue Devil students not being accepted to their top UCs; specifically UCLA, Berkeley and UC San Diego.
When talking to a friend whose daughter had everything going for her yet was still refused admission to those top three choices, it became downright depressing. That a kid works so hard doing everything right, being a perfect student and showing such readiness for the rigorous academic environment of top California schools … well, I’m disgusted on her behalf.
A broader picture has started to emerge, the more I talk to people “in the know.” The high school you apply from now has more bearing on your acceptance in the opposite way than it used to. Schools with more challenging curriculum, producing students with higher SAT scores, are now overrepresented at top UCs. Coming from a school with fewer high-achieving students means your position in the top 10 percent is easier to come by, so UCLA wants you more.
The smart Davis parent might want to get those DHS freshmen and sophomores — and those from Christian Brothers, Jesuit and St. Francis — transferred to a school with fewer kids scoring 2300s on their SATs, or having too many AP classes that resulted in scores of 5 on their tests. Pick a neighboring town, do a little research on average GPAs and test scores, and enroll your high-achiever there, where she can be in the top 1 percent.
Honestly, I’ve heard this strategy is being considered by Davis parents — the “strategy” of moving your kid to a high school where he will be less prepared to do college work so that he can go to a college where the work is being done by more out-of-state students who, presumably, did very challenging work. This is a super-great idea, said no one, ever.
If this all holds true, won’t it be interesting to see the dip that next year’s freshman profile shows? Incidentally, stats from UC Berkeley’s own website show that the average for this school-year’s freshmen was a GPA of 4.18, with a combined SAT average of 2076.
I wish I had the guts to tell my kids to not even apply to schools adopting this new admission game plan, withholding the application fee that is fueling the frenzy. “Look at us,” UCLA must be thinking, “we got more than 100,000 people to apply and pay $70 for us to say you’re not what we’re looking for because you’re from California and your school was too challenging.”
I don’t have the guts, but maybe it’s time to start looking for the lowest-performing school in South Dakota for my son’s senior year.
— Tanya Perez is an associate editor at The Enterprise. Her column publishes every other Wednesday. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @enterprisetanya