Hearing how acceptance into higher education worked in different parts of the world allowed for some compare and contrast, and an audible sigh of relief. The education system I grew up with in Canada seemed relatively comfortable – no standardized exams, only high school performance, extracurricular records and references. There was plenty of opportunity to make up those grades, and no pressure to perform on one test date, a single day of paramount importance.
The Canadian system has obvious weaknesses. In fact, I’m not sure if there really is a perfect formula for admitting students. If university entrance were based solely on high school performance, then who was to say the grades were distributed fairly across all schools? Granted, some universities make admission decisions based on historical records of the students’ university performance and which high school they graduated from. Even then, these records may not be truly informative for making a fair decision. For example, when choosing a scholarship recipient between two candidates, both with perfect grade averages and similar extracurricular achievements, should the historical record influence who should be awarded? I would like to think, no.
The juxtaposition to the Canadian system would be when admission decisions are based on results from a single standardized exam. I have no doubt that those who succeed are quite brilliant and hard working. At the same time, though, a test could reveal only so much about an individual. There are also cases where students attend extracurricular classes specifically geared towards helping them excel in the national exam, thus undermining the exam objectives of evaluating the students’ learning and ability to problem solve. Not to mention, it becomes a competition of who has more resources to afford the extra help. Sympathy also goes to those who simply don’t do well on tests but are otherwise talented.
I do think the evaluation system in the States is more holistic. The admissions package usually includes different aspects of the students’ performances as well as standardized test results, thus presenting a more complete picture of the individual applicant. The statements written by the student also present a unique, more personal perspective. The geotechnical engineering program in which I’m currently enrolled also conducts an annual open house where decisions are finalized after meeting the prospective students in person.
As much as I like the admissions system in the States, I also think it has much to do with the country’s value system. The weight placed on individuality may be difficult to find in other parts of the world. Who am I to judge which is best when others accept and work with the system they have?
The problem of access to higher education seems to be diminishing with increasing globalization. Students now travel across the globe for education. Even if rejection is encountered in one system, there could be opportunity found in another. Fellowships, and inter-university relationships, present more chances, especially for those who may be socio-economically disadvantaged. The system is not perfect, but at least the trend seems to be leaning towards greater access and opportunities.