For both parents and students, the University of Washington’s admissions decisions can be something of a mystery.
During a UW Board of Regents meeting Thursday, admissions director Philip Ballinger tried to demystify the process by walking the regents through some of the criteria that he and his staff use to read freshman applications — more than 31,000 this year.
First, some background: The UW once used an admissions index that took only a student’s grade-point average and standardized test scores into account. In June 2005, it switched to a holistic method, which looks at all the different things that go into a student’s education: Difficulty of classes taken, availability of difficult classes, activities both during and after school, the quality of the school itself, its number of low-income students and the student’s own background, including whether his or her parents went to college and their income level.
Ballinger said the admissions office pays attention to nuances hidden in a student’s transcript. The office also takes a close look at the senior year schedule for evidence that appplicants are continuing to challenge themselves. And students who do well even though they’re in a high-poverty school also get a closer look.
Ballinger then had the regents read the condensed applications of three students who actually applied to the UW, and decide which one they would admit:
- A boy with a 3.54 GPA, 1700 on the SAT, a transcript that included two Advanced Placement (AP) classes, and activities that included work experience and several years on the school soccer team. The student didn’t take many classes in his senior year, and took no math that year. His school offered a substantial number of AP classes, and 20 percent of students were on free- and reduced-price lunch. Both parents had college degrees.
- A girl with a 3.72 GPA, 1910 on the SAT, extensive activities in student government and several years on the crew team. She took challenging classes through her high school career, but she didn’t take any math her senior year. She took three AP classes, although her school offered a substantial number of them. She came from a high-performing school, and the number of students on free- and reduced-price lunch was low. Both parents had college degrees.
- A girl with a 3.71 GPA, 1540 on the SAT and several years of involvement in a youth group, student government and three sports. She took three AP classes — almost all that her school offered — and finished her senior year with a full schedule, including a class in calculus. Her family’s income was low, 85 percent of the students at the school were on free- and reduced-price lunch, and her parents did not go to college.
All of the regents picked the last student — the one with the lowest SAT, at the poorest school. But of the three, she was also the only one who took the most challenging classes in her senior year, and also wrote the most personal and thoughtful essay.
“I made it too easy for you guys,” Ballinger said. In fact, the girl with the lowest SAT was admitted to the UW. She’s doing well, and her overall GPA during her first two quarters was 3.29.