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Learning Curve

A new way to apply to college: video

Amy Scott Sep 5, 2014
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The postcard-perfect campus of Goucher College, in Baltimore, Maryland, might seem out-of-reach to students from low-income families, or those with iffy grades on their transcripts. New president José Antonio Bowen wants to change that.

“There are tens of thousands of high school seniors each year that do not apply to any selective liberal arts college, like Goucher College,” he says, “despite the fact that they have great SATs and they have transcripts and they would get in.”

To attract more of those students, Goucher introduced a new way to apply to the college — by making a video. On the college’s website, a clip explaining the concept shows a student tearing up a transcript.

“That’s it,” he says. “No test scores, no transcripts.”

Here’s how their new system works: Students fill out a brief application, send two samples of their work from high school and submit a short video introducing themselves. Production value doesn’t matter, Bowen says.

“You can use your phone, you can tell us who you are, and be admitted to college,” he says. “That’s a simple, straightforward message that I hope will resonate with lots of 18-year-olds.”

Colleges are in fierce competition for those 18-year-olds. After a big boom, the number of high school seniors is shrinking in the Midwest and Northeast.

“The demographics are getting more challenging,” says David Strauss, a higher education consultant with Art & Science Group. Students and families are worried about costs, and many are questioning the value of a liberal arts degree. “All of this adds up to a need for institutions to compete ever more effectively against each other for the students they need,” he says.

Goucher isn’t the only school experimenting with alternatives to the traditional application. Last year Bard College introduced an essay-only admissions exam, meant to attract talented students whose grades or test scores might not reflect their potential. Just 40 out of 6,000 applicants went that route, but nearly half of them got in.

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