A comprehensive, collaborative, open-source approach to revamping the way grad students are admitted to Berkeley

A sea change will take place over the next year in the way the Berkeley campus deals with the thousands of graduate student applications it receives.

The process of taking in the annual avalanche of “apps” and then reviewing and making decisions on them is complex, and has been that way for a long, long time.

The first step towards simplification — applying online — has been phased in over the last decade, going fully paperless last year in the way data from applicants, and letters from recommenders, are collected. That move has made it easier and quicker for students to apply, a laudable goal.

The other shoe that needed to drop, however, was somehow to correspondingly ease the process for the people on the receiving end, all of whom have an immense task to complete during a short time window: choosing the next crop of students and notifying all applicants whether it’s yea or nay.

“As we began to think about evolving a new admissions system,” says Moira Pérez, the Graduate Division’s chief administrative officer. “We realized we’ve never really had a clear picture of what departments do once they get these applications.”

Building a new system for the admissions process here provided a rare chance to look at, and think about, the way it actually works now. And to involve staff members in as many departments as possible in altering it.

Jazzee Meeting

Just before the fall semester began, the the Graduate Division held a workshop workshop (sponsored by the Center for Organizational and Workplace Effectiveness).

Participants from departments all over campus came and compared notes with each other, “mapping” all the steps in a combination anatomy and timeline of how a student is admitted (or not), using hundreds of stepping-stone Post-it notes that indicated what people do at what stage along the way.

“As at many other institutions, changes like this at Berkeley are often essentially top-down,” Pérez says, “but this one is client-driven, which bodes well for the success of the project. We’re basing our design of the new admissions system on what we have learned from the clients.”

What will come out of all this thought and conferring will be the new graduate application system, evolving under the project name Jazzee. With code developed at a sister campus, UC San Francisco. It will have a core application that collects most of the information most departments and programs need. It also will allow departments to create their own application pages for additional information relevant to their programs only, such as writing samples, which not all programs require. It will be easy to tailor.” The plan is for the new system to go live with the Graduate Application process in fall 2011.

  • Read the full story in UC Berkeley iNews, published by the office of the campus Chief Information Officer

Photos: Moira Pérez