Transcript-Free Admissions

Goucher College creates a new option in which applicants will be evaluated on the basis of a two-minute video.

September 4, 2014
Screen shot from Goucher's video about its new admissions option

Can an applicant explain why he or she would thrive at a given college in two minutes? If the applicant wants to enroll at Goucher College, that is pretty much all it will take under a new admissions option being announced today. Applicants can now submit a two-minute video instead of all the traditional requirements, such as test scores, transcripts and essays.

"There's a lot of concern that the college application model is broken -- I use the word 'insane' sometimes," José Antonio Bowen, Goucher's president, said in an interview.

Podcast With Goucher President

José Antonio Bowen, Goucher's president, will discuss the college's new admissions option on "This Week," Inside Higher Ed's free online news podcast, on Friday. Sign up here for notification of new editions of "This Week."

Asked why the college would make such a radical shift, Bowen spoke of the way scores on the standardized SAT and ACT exams correlate with family wealth, and noted that essays can reflect the ideas of parents or writers for hire. But Goucher has been test-optional since 2007.

Most colleges that eliminate SAT or ACT requirements cite research that the best predictor of college success is grades in college preparatory courses in high school. So why eliminate the transcript requirement in favor of a two-minute video?

"There are a lot of students out there [for whom] the transcript doesn't look the way they want it to look," Bowen said. "They were totally focused on music or drama or the soccer team, and so for whatever reason, they have a smudge or two on their transcripts." He added that while transcripts may predict academic success in college, that's not all that matters. "They are predictors of how well you will do in school, not how well you will do in life." Bowen said he believes many people are unfairly judged based on less-than-perfect grades and test scores, and sense that they won't be admitted to a good college -- despite their many abilities.

Goucher is not being subtle about its willingness to consider students without any transcript. A video the college is releasing on the new option opens with a transcript being ripped up.

Many colleges accept or even encourage applicants to send videos on top of more traditional materials, but Goucher believes it is the first to offer an option based almost entirely on a short video. Applicants will also be required to submit two pieces of work from high school. But the college said that the video alone would make up "the crux" of decisions.

Bowen said applicants will be judged on the substance of their videos, not the production value. He said it would be possible for a student to make a video on a smartphone. "We're going to release the rubric, so there will be no secret way of evaluating these," Bowen said. "We are being very clear. We are looking for authenticity. What's the substance? Are you thoughtful in the way you articulate that story? ... You will get no points for having fancy lighting or multi-camera angles."

Many open admissions colleges of course may not require standardized tests or transcripts, but Goucher -- while not very competitive -- is not open admissions. In the last three years it has admitted 72 or 73 percent of applicants. Entering class size at the liberal arts college has been stable in the low 400s.

Scott Sibley, a professor of chemistry and chair of the faculty at Goucher, said via email that the faculty was consulted on the idea and played a role in developing the specifics of the plan. He said that "most faculty here are quite comfortable to have this as an alternative application process."

Some admissions experts -- while stressing that they hadn't yet been able to study Goucher's approach -- said they were surprised by the idea of going transcript-free.

Jerome A. Lucido, executive director of the University of Southern California Center for Enrollment Research, Policy, and Practice, said that most admissions officers find the transcript to be key to understanding applicants. "You can see the level of academic work they have taken, the extent to which they have challenged themselves, the curriculum at their high school," he said. Without a transcript, he asked, "How do you know what capabilities a student has?"

Wayne Camara, senior vice president for research at ACT, said that there are many factors beyond academic ability on which colleges may opt to make admissions decisions. "But clearly we know if a college is concerned about the success of students academically, or the success in persistence to graduation, standardized indicators are not only valid but fair, and that includes the transcript." A transcript, he said, is a key way to evaluate the rigor of courses and how a student fared in high school.

"No matter what we say about high school grades, a high school transcript and GPA captures a whole range of courses," Camara said. "Any one course can be unreliable, but a transcript is likely to have four math teachers, four English teachers" and so forth, he said. "You can get a lot of information."

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Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

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