The recent announcement on changes to the SAT has sparked numerous conversations around the college admissions process. The College Board will be shifting from abstruse, recondite and arcane vocabulary words, for example, to an emphasis on greater critical thinking and real-world skills. If you're not sure whether or not this is a good idea, ask yourself whom you would rather hire: a person who knows the meaning of the word, "recondite," or a person who can code in Java.
The new adjustments to the SAT are part of a systematic change in the admissions process: an attempt to craft a system that speaks beyond mere data. While scores may remain an important component of the decision process for the immediate future, the measure of an individual's preparation and potential has begun to shift. Enthusiasm for the ability to memorize and recite is being supplemented with a focus on social engagement and real-world skills.
The College Board itself has recognized that the current SAT format has become "far too disconnected from the work of our high schools." As a result, the data collected via test scores does not provide the best information for admissions officers. David Coleman, CEO of The College Board notes that, "Admissions officers and counselors have said they find the data from admissions exams useful, but are concerned that these exams have become disconnected from the work of high school classrooms and surrounded by costly test preparation."
Fortunately, universities today have begun to embrace new ways of evaluating students -- ways that can capture the underlying essence of an applicant. Looking beyond test scores and raw metrics, universities can begin to judge applicants on other factors that genuinely predict their potential success rather than merely their capacity to select the correct answer on a standardized test.
Technologies exist for both real-time and extemporaneous video interviews, for the addition of significant supplemental application materials, and for a wider range of references and "testimonials" in support of an applicant's standard credentials. Using these technologies and strategies, a more holistic view of applicants can be formed -- generating that all-important "fit" between student and institution.
Some pundits have complained that U.S. colleges have been reduced to simple credentialing organizations -- but ironically, the trends mentioned above show that exactly the opposite phenomenon is under way. Back in the day, an elite group of socially connected individuals would attend the same schools, recite the same themes, and perhaps cruise thorough school with a "gentleman's 'C." Today, employers are (less) impressed with the pedigree of the student, and more interested in what value that student brings to the school, and ultimately to the workforce. It is precisely this enhanced focus on practicality to which college and universities are responding.
College admissions officers have an unenviable task. Each year they are expected to produce larger numbers of higher-quality applicants. Admitted students are expected to perform well, to persist through graduation, to get fantastic jobs (or slots in key graduate schools), and to remain loyal and generous alumni for life. Clearly scores and grades don't tell enough about a person to make these difficult and nuanced decisions. Students and college officials alike are therefore fortunate that current technology, such as video interviews, has afforded the opportunity to offer a more comprehensive and detailed overview of individual applicants.
Remote and video interviews have minimized the impact of geographical location, have allowed prospective students the opportunity to showcase their character and personality, and have helped more institutions make better decisions. With the College Board now... on board... I foresee further improvements ahead!