“I already knew we had an amazing group of students, but I hadn’t appreciated how talented nearly the entire applicant pool is,” says Professor David Oppenheimer, the committee’s faculty chair. “Many of the personal essays are deeply moving, hilariously funny, or keenly insightful. The diversity of life experience and professional accomplishments is stunning.”
Seven committee teams—each with a faculty member and two students—review and select part of the incoming class. Their work peaks in a six-week period during which every team reviews about 150 applications that have made the initial cut. Admissions Dean Edward Tom oversees the intricate process.
“Ed is an exquisite facilitator with absolute command of his field, but he values the participation of faculty and students in admissions,” says Professor Elisabeth Semel, an Admissions Committee member for two years. “He and his staff ensure that we understand that process and how it coheres with the law school’s public teaching, service, and research missions.”
Oppenheimer notes that nearly every application he reads from that group “is from someone I’d be happy to have in my classes.”
“But we can only say ‘yes’ to approximately one in three,” he adds.
Passed in 1996, California’s Proposition 209 bars affirmative action in admissions decisions, but the committee does consider race-neutral factors that enrich experiential, class, and intellectual diversity. Oppenheimer says those factors include whether applicants are the first in their families to attend college or graduate school, come from low-income families, or have surmounted significant disadvantages.
“Ed is committed to diversity as an educational value, which helps us maximize opportunities for candidates,” Semel says. “However, he believes that the committee’s job is only half-finished when we admit students—in no small part because we are competing with other top schools that may have more financial carrots to offer.”