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Kids With Good Grades — but No Hardships — Struggle to Enter College

Fall is just around the corner and many students are on their way to college. But a lot of California high school students aren’t headed to the campus they wanted to go to.

"Normally, a student with a 4.5 GPA and high test scores would get into Berkeley and UCLA but I didn't," said high school student Kyle Taylor.

Taylor might have had a better chance of being accepted at both schools if he’d suffered a gunshot wound, gone to a bad high school or was the son of divorced parents. That’s because a new University of California admissions policy called "comprehensive review" gives preference to students who have overcome personal hardships.

"I've never gone through anything really difficult, but, I mean, I don't see why that should affect how I get into college," Taylor said.

Others agreed.

"It's a crazy situation right now," said SAT prep course instructor David Benjamin. "None of the students know what to do, they don't know what counts so kids are pretty frantic at this point."

Benjamin says his SAT prep students have already been impacted. UCLA professor Matthew Malkan, who once chaired the school’s admissions board, wonders how they plan to verify "life challenges."

"That really worries me because I'm very concerned about the possibility that honest students would be penalized in favor of students that exaggerate or embellish the hardships that they went through," Malkan said.

The state admits it doesn’t have the resources to verify claims, but insists it needs more than grades and test scores to assess prospective students.

"There may be a situation where there is extreme poverty in a family and you have an individual that, despite that circumstance, has been able to achieve at the highest level in high school," said Carla Ferri, a University of California admissions official. "We take that into consideration."

UC officials say the policy levels the playing field, but critics call it a transparent attempt to get around California’s ban on affirmative action in college admissions. But the courts may get the last word, as some students who were denied admission are considering lawsuits.