11/05/2013 05:56 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Why the College Application Process Needs an Upgrade

What if you applied for a job and were told, "Sorry, your zip code, previous salary, and shoe size make you ineligible for this position?" You'd be angry, right? In many respects, a similar scenario plays out each year for tens of thousands of college applicants.

As a nation, we have decided that we are going to pursue "universal college enrollment," yet we haven't truly understood the logistical implications of this policy for either students or for their favored colleges. Specifically, the college application process is mired in a 19-century view of individuals. Too often, we regard the growing pool of college aspirants as little more than the sum of their test scores and letter grades. In fairness to these students, shouldn't we allow them to craft applications that truly reflect their personalities? In addition to providing reviewers with a better sense of which applicants would offer the best institutional fit, allowing greater creativity and spontaneity would alleviate boredom and stress on reviewer and applicant alike. Yet we continue to adhere to an application process that emphasizes documentation and rote recitation rather than one that showcases the true talents of each individual applicant. Enough is enough; the student selection process needs an upgrade.

Simply put, the application process, as it currently stands, lacks the ease and simplicity that technology has afforded the rest of the world. Students today are accustomed to auto-fill biographic fields, instantaneous sharing of their thoughts, photos, and videos, single-click payment, and crowd-sourced reviews and updates. Working through a college application must feel to them like hitting a brick wall; the equivalent of hauling manila folders out of a dusty filing cabinet in an ancient library. Then, rather than personalizing their applications, students recite their grades...their test scores....their number of extracurricular infinitum. While I'm certain that most colleges are interested in seeing the individual beneath the numbers, antiquated application systems are a barrier to accomplishing this laudable goal. With ever-growing numbers of students submitting applications to a larger number of schools each year, the process need not be overwhelmingly time consuming. By using cloud-based storage, integrating key components of application and review, and supporting customizable data sharing, colleges can support students' self- expression, and help to create an application that reflects the unique personality and characteristics of each individual.

In a world where technology has simplified everything from ordering pizza to paying bills, it seems ironic that the same advances have yet to penetrate the college admissions process. In part, this phenomenon is a legacy of the underlying notion that admissions reviewers must select from a relatively narrow band of applications represented by pre-defined SAT scores and GPAs. This legacy then extends to the mounds of paper and other physical media that reviewers are often forced to wade through. Essays, recommendation letters -- and certainly personal interviews -- can help to supplement this process and differentiate between potential students with identical credentials. But wouldn't it be better if applicants could more readily showcase themselves and their work via multimedia attachments that could be easily and efficiently reviewed. Wouldn't a modern system increase an applicant's opportunity to interview, despite geographic locations?

As it stands, the application process fails both prospective students and schools by limiting opportunities to showcase individuality and character. It's time to rethink this process. Students, faced with growing competition, should be allowed to better define themselves. Schools should be able to choose the best candidates based on their individual merit, not simply on static numbers and statistics that tell only a portion of story.