US college offers video application option

By Scott Jaschik, for Inside Higher Ed

September 8, 2014

Can an applicant explain in two minutes why he or she would thrive at a given college? If the applicant wants to enrol at Goucher College, that is pretty much all it will take under a new admissions option that has been announced. Applicants can now submit a two-minute video instead of all the traditional requirements, such as test scores, school reports (known as transcripts) and essays.

“There’s a lot of concern that the college application model is broken – I use the word ‘insane’ sometimes,” José Antonio Bowen, Goucher’s president, said in an interview with Inside Higher Ed.

Asked why the college would make such a radical shift, Dr Bowen spoke of the way scores on the standardised SAT and ACT exams correlate with family wealth, and noted that essays can reflect the ideas of parents or writers for hire. But Goucher has been test-optional since 2007.

Most colleges that eliminate SAT or ACT requirements cite research that indicates that the best predictor of college success is grades in college preparatory courses in high school. So why eliminate the transcript requirement in favour of a two-minute video?

“There are a lot of students out there [for whom] the transcript doesn’t look the way they want it to look,” Dr Bowen said. “They were totally focused on music or drama or the soccer team, and so for whatever reason, they have a smudge or two on their transcripts.” He added that while transcripts may predict academic success in college, thatis not all that matters. “They are predictors of how well you will do in school, not how well you will do in life.”

Dr Bowen said he believes that many people are unfairly judged based on less-than-perfect grades and test scores, and sense that they won’t be admitted to a good college, despite their many abilities.

Goucher is not being subtle about its willingness to consider students without any transcript. A video the college is releasing on the new option opens with a transcript being ripped up.

Many colleges accept or even encourage applicants to send videos on top of more traditional materials, but Goucher believes that it is the first to offer an option based almost entirely on a short video. Applicants will also be required to submit two pieces of work from high school. But the college said that the video alone would make up “the crux” of decisions.

Bowen said that applicants will be judged on the substance of their videos, not the production value. He said that it would be possible for a student to make a video on a smartphone. “We’re going to release the rubric, so there will be no secret way of evaluating these,” Dr Bowen said. “We are being very clear. We are looking for authenticity. What’s the substance? Are you thoughtful in the way you articulate that story?…You will get no points for having fancy lighting or multi-camera angles.”

Many open admissions colleges may not require standardised tests or transcripts, but Goucher – while not very competitive – is not open admissions. In the past three years it has admitted 72 or 73 per cent of applicants. Entering class size at the liberal arts college has been stable in the low 400s.

Scott Sibley, a professor of chemistry and chair of the faculty at Goucher, said via email that the faculty was consulted on the idea and played a role in developing the specifics of the plan. He said that “most faculty here are quite comfortable to have this as an alternative application process”.

Some admissions experts – while stressing that they hadn’t yet been able to study Goucher’s approach – said that they were surprised by the idea of going transcript-free.

Jerome A. Lucido, executive director of the University of Southern California Center for Enrollment Research, Policy, and Practice, said that most admissions officers find the transcript to be key to understanding applicants. “You can see the level of academic work they have taken, the extent to which they have challenged themselves, the curriculum at their high school,” he said. Without a transcript, he asked, “how do you know what capabilities a student has?”

Wayne Camara, senior vice-president for research at ACT, said that there are many factors beyond academic ability on which colleges may opt to make admissions decisions. “But clearly we know if a college is concerned about the success of students academically, or the success in persistence to graduation, standardised indicators are not only valid but fair, and that includes the transcript.” A transcript, he said, is a key way to evaluate the rigor of courses and how a student fared in high school.

“No matter what we say about high school grades, a high school transcript and [grade point average] captures a whole range of courses,” he said. “Any one course can be unreliable, but a transcript is likely to have four math teachers, four English teachers” and so forth, he said. “You can get a lot of information.”

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