Sep 29, 2014

Colleges are thinking outside the box

Goucher College
Maybe they’re rebelling against the death of ‘holistic’ admissions and the baffling role technology now plays in the admissions process, or perhaps they’re reacting to demographic realities suggesting a diminished domestic applicant pool and consumer complaints about price. 

Regardless of reasoning, admissions offices are looking for more creative ways to assess high school performance and admit applicants to their campuses.

In the past year, no less than 14 colleges have announced new policies designed to reduce the role of standardized testing in the admissions process and joined the FairTest list of test-optional/test-flexible colleges.

Others are using upgraded application software to provide for the submission of resumes or graded papers to supplement more traditionally required documents.  And many are asking for creative responses to imaginative essay prompts.

Three colleges have taken the process to a whole new level by looking for ways to get at an applicant’s less “measurable” qualities:

Bard College
In 2013, Bard College introduced something really new in admissions:  The Bard Entrance Examination.  This application option is designed to give motivated students an alternative to the traditional admission process by allowing juniors and seniors to complete an online test consisting of four essays, chosen from among 21 questions.  The suggested length for each of the four essays is 2,500 words, with the exception of the math questions and the question that asks for a musical composition.

For the record, all the information needed to answer the questions is on the examination platform.  But applicants may bring in other resources as long as they are properly cited.  It’s not so much about what you already know as how you demonstrate “close reading, critical thinking, and the interpret problems.”

Free to all, the exam became available on June 2 and is due on November 1, with notification of results by the end of December. Candidates scoring B+ or higher will receive an offer of admission.

Bennington College
Already a member of the Common Application, Bennington College recently introduced an alternative application option for students applying for fall 2015.  The “Dimensional Application” requires students to “demonstrate a record of academic achievement, a capacity for growth, contributions to their classrooms and communities, and the ability to articulate original ideas or insights” in any way they choose.  In other words, Bennington is asking applicants to create an individual application through which they will decide what materials best represent their academic achievements and how they will contribute to the college community.

And students can choose just about anything to include with their application.  They can submit more traditional materials such as a high school transcript, standardized test scores or recommendations OR they can submit other work they feel demonstrates academic ability.  There is no suggested format, only the call “to be bold” and to “bring your own dimension to the college application.”

A panel of faculty members and Bennington alumni will be in charge of reviewing applications submitted this way.  They will be looking for evidence that the applicant is creative, inventive, and motivated and has both written and computational abilities along with other competencies considered central to a Bennington education.

Students who wish to apply using this option should contact Bennington College’s admissions office at 800.833.6845 or

Goucher College
While still accepting both the Universal College Application and the Common App, Goucher has upped the ante by introducing the “Goucher Video App” to provide another opportunity for students show “what makes them unique, why they would flourish at Goucher, and how they will fit into our community of learners.” 

Although other colleges including Hampshire and George Mason are inviting videos, Goucher goes a step further by allowing a two-minute video to substitute for traditional requirements such as test scores, transcripts and essays.  Applicants will be required to submit two pieces of work from high school (one a graded paper), but the video alone will provide the main basis for the admissions decision.

Guidelines for format and contents are provided on the Goucher website.  Videos will not be evaluated on “production quality,” but rather on “the thoughtfulness of the response.” Flashy special effects will not trump your ability to provide a sincere connection between you and Goucher College.

Video App submissions are due by December 1, and notifications mail on February 1.  And really, you don’t have to submit a transcript—check out the video!

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