New trend sees admissions uncovering what’s behind a student’s GPA

For admissions officers, the need to uncover the personality behind the GPA is likely to assume even greater importance as more and more schools emphasize teamwork and collaboration.

GPA-admissions-videoDoes your institution’s CRM track “demonstrated interest”? What about “empathy” and “conscientiousness”?

In college admissions offices, the CRM is king. Over the past decade, the sophistication of systems such as TargetX, SlateCRM, and Hobsons has increased exponentially, giving schools the ability to slice and dice student data and interact with prospects in a highly personalized fashion. Today, these same CRMs are also playing a major part in tracking what admission officers call “demonstrated interest”—how serious a student is about attending a particular college.

“In the last 15 years or so, demonstrated interest has played a growing role in the selective-admission process,” said Jennifer Scott, who served as associate dean of admissions at the College of William and Mary until 2012 and is now director of college counseling at Norfolk Academy, a private day school in southeastern Virginia. “CRMs allow colleges to track very, very carefully the degree to which prospects are engaged and purposeful about their involvement with their schools.”

Such data points—along with standardized test scores—make it possible for admissions officers to identify those applicants who are not only likely to attend their school but who can cope with the coursework, too. But the responsibilities of admissions officers extend far beyond these basic goals.

“If we just took everybody who had fantastic SAT scores and GPAs, it’d be a really boring place,” recalled Scott of her tenure at William and Mary. “We were eager to know if a kid was going to be a great roommate and a great lab partner. What kinds of conversations is he going to start in the sunken garden? You can discern a lot from the personality you hear in writing and the interviews, but any component that adds to that texture is welcome.”

Today, according to Scott, an increasing number of applications are incorporating what she termed “portfolio content,” consisting of anything from a video clip to a blog or a collection of writing samples. “Schools that admit 30 percent of applicants or fewer are finding hair-shaving differentiations between candidates,” she explained. “Any tool that adds an additional layer of personal quality to the application and makes it more three-dimensional is fantastic.”

(Next page: Uncovering the personality behind the GPA with technology)

Video to boost admissions

Goucher College, a liberal arts college in Baltimore, has probably invested more heavily in this concept than any other school. (Read: “Video applications skyrocket university admissions.”)

Starting last September, it gave applicants the option to submit a self-produced, two-minute video in lieu of the Common Application or the Universal College Application. In addition to the video, students simply need to complete a brief digital application, and provide two works of scholarship and a signed statement of academic integrity. “Video is a great way to get to know students and learn who they are in a way that is comfortable for their generation,” said Christopher Wild, an admissions counselor at Goucher.

By the December 2014 deadline, the college had received 64 video applications (GVAs) out of a total of approximately 3,500. Goucher plans to offer the video option again in 2015, while monitoring how last year’s crop of video applicants fare at the school. “We’ll see how well students perform in the classroom,” said Wild. “That will be the true test in seeing how well the GVA was able to assess student potential.”

Video to reveal what’s behind the GPA

Entrepreneurs are also betting that video can help schools gain a fuller picture of prospective students than traditional applications. Kira Academic is a video admissions platform that is currently employed by 40 colleges and universities, including the MBA programs at Kellogg, Stanford, and Yale. The product helps schools conduct video interviews with students via computer. “We feed in alongside the CRMs to help schools use more than grades and an essay to determine if students are right for their programs,” said Craig Morantz, CEO of Kira Academic. “We do this by giving them a three-dimensional view of the applicant.”

Participating schools set the parameters for these video interviews. In a typical scenario, though, students might be faced with anywhere from three to six questions, with 60-90 seconds to answer each. The system is automated, so colleges do not need to provide an interviewer.

“We want to give schools a real view of how an applicant thinks, so applicants don’t see the questions ahead of time,” said Morantz, who noted that a randomized question bank ensures interviewees are asked different questions. “Just like a real interview, we don’t want them practicing.”

By forcing prospective students to think and speak on the fly, Morantz believes schools see a side of applicants that they might otherwise miss. “A traditional application shows you cognitive skills, but you don’t see important competencies like intrapersonal skills, empathy, conscientiousness,” he noted. “With the video interview, schools get a holistic view of the applicant. They uncover a personality.”

(Next page: The growing need to reveal more than a GPA)

What’s behind the GPA a growing need

The need to uncover the personality behind the GPA is likely to assume even greater importance as more and more schools emphasize teamwork and collaboration. It’s a message that Morantz is hearing from business schools, nursing schools, and engineering programs, among others.

“Engineering schools are saying, ‘We’ve got students with a 99 percent average who we don’t want in the program after year one because they’re not collaborative. They’re book smart, but they are not able to work in a team environment.’”

Incorporating video into an already-complex application process does pose challenges, though, not least because of the time admission officers must spend reviewing the videos. Based on Goucher’s first-year experience with its GVAs, the time demands are not insignificant. “Our version of the video application is suited to our smaller environment because we have the time and ability to work through the applications,” said Wild, adding that larger schools may not have that luxury.

Whether it’s video or some other portfolio content, there does appear to be a clear trend away from standardized benchmarks. According to FairTest, an organization opposed to the current system of standardized testing, more than 800 four-year colleges are now “test-optional” or “test-flexible,” meaning they do not automatically require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores.

“There will likely be more schools that entertain ideas like video admissions, especially as more and more schools become test-optional,” said Scott. ” I wouldn’t predict that everyone’s going to be doing video profiles, but to have companies that are focused on saying to students, ‘Let me help you show colleges why you’re a good fit outside all the numbers,’ is great.”

Andrew Barbour is an editorial freelancer with eCampus News.

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