Video applications skyrocket university admissions

Goucher College’s innovative video application process has proven to be a major success. What are their best practices and what kind of students did they attract?

video-admissions-work-311Does your institution think video admissions are just a flash in the pan gimmick? Well, it might be time to reconsider that stance. One of the first colleges to utilize video submissions as a decisive factor in their admissions process has just completed their risky experiment; and according to not only student feedback but hard data, it was an innovation that paid off big-time.

Launched last September, Baltimore, Maryland-based Goucher College became the nation’s first college to offer self-produced video as the crux of their admission decision through their Goucher Video App. For students applying via the GVA, all they needed to submit was the two-minute video, a brief application form, a signed statement of academic integrity, and two works of scholarship.

“We wanted to do something bold…and find a different way to access a student’s potential to achieve in college,” said Christopher Wild, an admissions counselor and project manager who  worked with the GVA from its inception to reviewing the applications. “Video is a great way to get to know students and learn who they are in a way that is comfortable for their generation.”

The project was envisioned by new President José Antonio Bowen as an alternative admissions process that would focus on potential and negate socioeconomic inequities that often perpetuate the traditional system of test scores. And, while it was predicted that the application would likely attract many prospective students thanks to its technological innovation and new focus on student potential vs. GPA, Goucher found the response to be better than anticipated.

By the December 1 deadline, 64 video applications were submitted by students from over 60 high schools in 20 states across the nation and the students who applied via the Goucher Video App represented almost 30 intended majors that extended beyond traditional Arts & Humanities majors; including communications, biology, pre-med, business management, and international studies. These applications helped make up the highest number of Early Action applications in Goucher’s history.

“We took a risk with the Goucher Video App, and we are optimistic it is paying off,” said Bowen. “At the very least, we have introduced a bold new idea that distinguishes Goucher, and we have helped start an important discussion about repairing the broken college admissions process. We also have attracted an impressive number of students with high potential and an ability to thrive at our college.”

(Next page: Goucher’s recommended best practices)

Involve everyone

The Goucher Video App is the result of a wide effort at Goucher that included help from admissions officers, faculty, communications officials, and beyond. This wide range of officials developed the process  from its conception to committee reviews.

“For any institutions considering using video applications, involve your faculty!” advised Wild. “In reviewing the submitted academic documents, faculty provided us big time insight in determining the students that have what it takes, and helped give insight into what the application should be [in the first place].”

Have a clear prompt

Wild noted that the best videos were highly effective in their simplicity, as the majority of the students did a great job authoritatively detailing who they are and why they envisioned themselves fitting in at Goucher–requirements for the video application. According to Goucher, this clear prompt was vital in ensuring the videos remained focused, authentic and institution-specific, and didn’t simply turn into a series of random-spoken college essays.

“We have been so impressed by the thoughtful, compelling stories prospective students told through their video applications,” said Wild. “One student wrote a song, others got behind their cameras and told about themselves, some narrated over images, and another wrote a poem,” said Wild. “I was amazed by how real it was.”

Encourage diversity

One important success of the GVA was  that 52 percent of video applicants identify themselves as students of color, compared to only 42 percent who applied via the Common or Universal College applications. African Americans made up 39 percent of video applicants, which is more than double the 18 percent among non-GVA applicants. The GVA was not created to specifically target students of color, but Goucher correctly anticipated that it would appeal to students from these diverse backgrounds.

Know what you want to measure

Though academic credentials were not required, the experiment worked for a liberal arts college like Goucher. Admissions was able to ensure that students had the ability to analyze/synthesize information, as well as craft and defend a thesis, thanks to the required graded writing assignment and an additional piece that students were “proud of” from high school. Additionally, transcripts were required from the 24 GVA applicants applying for financial aid, and their academic qualifications were found to be in line with students who applied using test scores, with average GPAs of 3.11 and 3.18 respectively.

About 75 percent of the 64 video applicants will be admitted to Goucher, which compares to 72 percent of students who applied using traditional pathways. The 14 video applicants who were rejected will still receive an opportunity to submit their high school transcript, school counselor recommendation, and other supporting materials before a final decision is made.

Know your limits

“It’s a very time intensive process to watch 64 two-minute videos and review written work that can be anywhere from 2-12 pages,” Wild added. “Certainly, we may provide a formula for other schools to use, but our version of the video application is suited to our smaller environment because we have the time and ability to work through the applications. But all types of institutions…could consider alternative styles of applications.”

For the most part, Wild felt the process went smoothly for its first run. Officials from the Office of Admissions had trouble viewing submissions from two students due to technical difficulties such as PC/Mac file confusion, but are working with those students to access the videos and other admissions materials. In the future, Wild notes that Goucher will be more clear when it comes to file types/sizes.

“I definitely don’t see [the video applications] going away next year,” said Wild. “We’ll make tweaks and see how that goes, and we’ll see how well students perform in the classroom…that will be the true test in seeing how well the GVA was able to assess student potential. We look forward to seeing how admitted video applicants will enliven and enrich our campus community.”

Admitted students will be notified by February 1 and must commit to attending Goucher by May 1.

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