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Shaking up the admissions process

In the past, a student who applied to the UW with a 3.95 grade point average (GPA) would almost assuredly be admitted, assuming they had average or above average standardized test scores.

The application of a student with a lower GPA would most likely have ended up in the pile to be comprehensively reviewed.

That may no longer be the case, according to Philip Ballinger, the UW's director of admissions.

In previous years, the UW automatically accepted the top half of its applicants based solely on grades and test scores. The other half would be reviewed by the admissions board, which considered, among other factors, the student's course load, economic background and whether or not they are a first generation college student.

Under the new system, all applications -- regardless of a student's grade point average or test scores -- will be reviewed.

The new admissions system will be used to evaluate applications for autumn quarter 2006.

The new process may make a difference to many prospective students.

Now, the high school course load of the student with the 3.95 GPA will be evaluated. If the student only completed the minimum requirements and chose to forgo taking math or Advanced Placement (AP) classes during his or her senior year, those choices will affect whether or not they are accepted to the UW, Ballinger said.

Conversely, if the student with the 3.4 GPA had gone above and beyond the requirements by taking calculus during his or her senior year, three years of a foreign language or several AP courses, the student would be considered more seriously than before, Ballinger said.

"We are less concerned with GPA and more concerned with the rigor of courses," Ballinger said. "The thing that is important for students is to use their high school years as preparation for their university studies."

While there have been reports that some are unhappy with the new admissions policies, UW administrators have been overwhelmingly positive about the new system.

By taking into account a student's multi-dimensionality and background, the admissions officials say the UW might admit students who would not have had a chance in previous years.

"Many [applicants] have faced a lot of challenges. The new admissions process will allow those who have faced a lot of challenges in their lives to get here and show us what they can do," said academic counselor Kay Balston. "They may never have had that opportunity before because of the [admissions] index they might not have been admitted at all."

The change in the admissions process began when administrators threw out the old admissions index, the numerical scale traditionally used to evaluate applicants, Ballinger said.

"This is a way for us to broaden the scope [from] the traditional numerical assessment to more of a richer, broader conception of excellence," said Christine Ingebritsen, acting dean of Undergraduate Education.

The change also aligns with the University's emphasis on accepting students based on their potential to contribute to the UW community.

"We are looking for what a student can contribute to the educational experience at the University of Washington," said Ballinger. "How they will add to the student body here and help make this a superb institution."

The new process is designed to admit students who are more prepared to enter the rigorous coursework at the institution than students in the past.

"Many of them just aren't aware of the challenges that they are going to face in an institution," Balston said. "They were very good in high school [but] the bar gets raised here and it takes time to adjust to that."

By searching for preparedness, the UW is hoping to admit students who have had to take on a lot in their lives and may be able to take on a tough course load as well, Ingebritsen said.

"If they had been involved with the community or taken time off to care for a sick friend or family member -- that may have actually [done them] damage in earlier cases," Ingebritsen said. "[By looking] at the candidate, spending more time, more eyes, more human time reviewing a person. [It] can actually create more opportunity for students who the University of Washington was not an option for."

With the more time -- and more eyes looking over each application -- comes more money the University must spend.

The admissions office will be adding three or four fulltime staff members to handle applications. In addition, they are hiring 20 graduate student readers to help tackle the approximately 16,000 applications for freshmen enrollment the UW is expecting to receive for autumn quarter.

To cover the additional expense, the UW -- as part of a statewide mandate -- is raising its application fee from $38 to $50.

Each application will be reviewed by two readers or staff members. Should discrepancies arise, a third reader will evaluate the applicant, Ballinger said. The readers will also receive substantial training from the studies of prototype applications assessed by faculty.

The readers' results will be constantly monitored, said Ballinger. Should any inconsistencies arise, the reader in question will be given additional training, he added.

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