Continuing my discussion of admissions in higher ed, I think the best change schools could make if they’re looking to improve their admissions process is to evaluate according to their definition of success. Based on how they admit people, it appears that colleges care most about their students’ GPAs. And schools are in fact quite good at selecting who will get a high GPA at the end of their first year. However, is a successful student one that gets good first-year grades? Based on their mottos and mission statements, the schools themselves would disagree.
School mission statements tend to revolve around a few key themes, especially: innovation, scholarship, outreach, and diversity. See my first blog post for examples of two mission statements, both of which feature these tenets. Of these, only scholarship is related to grades. Innovation, outreach, and diversity can easily be achieved with a sub-par GPA, and are probably easier to accomplish at the expense of the GPA. By touting these themes in their mission statements, schools are proclaiming them as having value. If schools are to tout these themes in their mission statements, then they should recruit a student body that exemplifies these characteristics.
If schools were to redefine their view of student success based on their values, then they would have to modify how they evaluate applicants accordingly. Empirical studies would need to be done to properly determine which factors best predict this new set of success outcomes, but high school GPA which receives a lot if not the most attention now might no longer be the best predictor. Instead, application components like the personal essay, service record, and extracurricular activities might need more weighting in admissions decisions. The application might need to change, too, to collect more appropriate information about the applicants. Schools and students would face many challenges in redoing this process, but the results could justify the required effort. Society might even benefit from these changes if students are consequently encouraged to engage in their communities and aid more.