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University of California: Pioneer of “Test-blind” Admissions

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By Tina Wu | Senior Admissions Counselor, Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions

The University of California (UC) schools are regarded as some of the US’s best public universities. Last May, the UC regents voted to eliminate the ACT/ SAT requirement, saying that these tests were unfairly biased against students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. How did this decision change the landscape for admissions to the UC schools?

Why get rid of standardized admission tests?

For years, professionals have debated that standardized testing widened inequality in college admissions – students from certain socio-economic groups have less access to tutoring support, thereby achieving lower test scores when compared to their peers.

Fundamentally, there is a difference between UC and other private universities’ testing policies. Most private universities chose to be “test-optional,” welcoming students to submit an SAT or ACT score if they could sit and achieve a good score for the exam. Yet, UC went “test-blind,” which meant the admission officers would not consider students’ test scores if submitted.

Since running a test-blind policy, the 9 University of California campus saw a record-breaking year of applications — more than 200,000 applicants competed for about 46,000 spots. Some campuses saw an even more drastic increase – UCLA had 140,000 freshmen applicants this cycle, marking a 28% increase from last year.  

How are the UCs evaluating college applications?

Different from other private universities, UC schools do not accept letters of recommendation nor conduct any interviews. Losing standardized testing as one of its factors for admission considerations, how do the admission officers decide who gets in?

The answer is simple: they decide based on what’s in students’ applications. The UC application asks students to self-report their courses, grades, activities, awards, and achievements. Students are also asked to write four 350-words essays (there are eight essay prompts to choose from!). In the limited space available on the UC application portal, students need to show who they inside and outside of the classrooms, their dreams and aspirations, and ultimately convince the admission officers that they deserve that precious spot at that UC campus in the Fall.

Without the standardized test scores to evaluate applicants, the UC essays really matter! Writing a 350-words essay is arguably more difficult than writing a 650-words (or longer) essay- students need to put thoughts on how to shape their story arcs and what details to include in their stories.

How did our students get offers from the UC schools?

Despite the stiff competition this year, more than one of our students received offers from all 9 campuses – UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, UC Davis, UC Irvine, UC Riverside, UC Santa Cruz, and UC Merced. How did they achieve such outstanding results?

Together with their counselors, our students spent a lot of time and effort crafting profiles and essays showing their unique personalities and evidence of empathy, resilience, passion, and creativity. Ultimately, they were able to convince admission officers that they are the right fit and have the potential to succeed if given a chance to study at that particular UC campus!

Kaplan_Tina

Ms. Tina Wu

Senior Admissions Counselor

Member of IECA & NACAC

M.B.A., Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST)

BSc. In Accounting and Finance, New York University – Stern School of Business

  • A passionate mentor to students
  • Emphasis on understanding and developing her students’ strengths, positioning their potential to admissions office in the best possible light
  • Over 10 years of experience in helping students gain admissions to top boarding schools and colleges in the U.S.
  • Matriculation includes: Cornell University, University of Michigan, NYU, University of Virginia, UCLA and UC Berkeley

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