Lately, we’ve been hearing a lot of buzz about new approaches to higher education admissions processes. One of the latest trends is a holistic review approach, designed to evaluate the student’s personality as well as intellect. In the medical school admissions arena, a few schools are admitting a select number of students from the humanities instead of pre-medical pipelines. And now, Bard College offers a path to admission based solely on the submittal of four 2,500 word research essays.
According to the Bard College website,
“The examination enables motivated students to gain admission through an essay test, engaging applicants in a process that more closely mirrors actual college coursework. The examination is composed of essay questions in three categories: Social Science, History, and Philosophy; Arts and Literature; and Science and Mathematics. Applicants are required to complete four of 21 questions.”
The students who opt to write four essays will be exempt from the traditional review process wherein they are evaluated based on GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and letters of recommendation, among other factors. Theoretically, under the new method of admission, a student with terrible grades and no SAT could prove themselves worthy of BARD admissions by achieving the equivalent of a B+ on each essay.
“It’s kind of declaring war on the whole rigmarole of college admissions and the failure to foreground the curriculum and learning,” Leon Botstein, Bard’s President of 38 years, said in an interview cited by the New York Times. He adds that the legacy system of admissions is “loaded with a lot of nonsense that has nothing to do with learning,” and labelled the essay approach as “return to basics, to common sense” and added, “You ask the young person: are they prepared to do university-level work?”
Applicants will have 16 prompts to choose from, ranging in topics from Philosophy to Mathematics to Literature. Bard will also provide source materials on those 16 topics, including a Nobel speech, a UN Charter, and research publications. This will ensure a level playing field for students who may not have access to these relevant materials through their high school curricula or local libraries, but students are not limited to the source materials provided. The admissions office assures students, “this is not a test of what you already know; rather it is an opportunity to demonstrate close reading, critical thinking, and the ability to interpret problems. It is an effort to connect testing to learning.”
At first blush, this route to admission might seem like a soft option, but further investigation reveals that it is anything but. Although the essay prompts and source material are provided, the topics for discussion are intellectually challenging even for college students. As an example, here is one essay prompt provided in the new Bard application:
In the Analects, Confucius identifies the cardinal virtue of ren (variously translated as goodness, humanity, benevolence) with many different attitudes and behaviors. Yet Confucius also says, “There is one thread that runs through my doctrines.“ Commentators differ about what that one thread is. What, in your opinion, could that one thread be? How does that one thread tie together the wide range of moral values that Confucius celebrates in the Analects? Support your answer by interpreting specific passages from the text.
Implementing a daring new admissions process is a daunting task for admissions departments. Building an entirely separate process and pipeline for essay applications could definitely be an overwhelming situation for admissions staff and participating faculty graders. When new departmental workflows are rolled out in higher education admissions, it is best to consult with admissions systems experts to ensure a smooth transition. A software such as AMP paperless admissions is the perfect go-to for building new admissions systems. With AMP, there are no two admissions systems that are the same. Their team of developers are always building new admissions systems to suit their client’s needs, whether it be an entirely new process like essay admissions or building the software to adhere to a legacy admissions process.
What does your school think of the new essay applications at BARD College?