Last month, Goucher College in Baltimore announced its decision to implement an alternative application process, where students may submit two pieces of work and a two-minute video instead of a high school transcript. Goucher College President José Bowen has said that this change was made in an effort to broaden the applicant base — financially and creatively — to the school. The success of students who elect these different application paths is not currently known and will be traced as they continue their college career. Several other liberal arts colleges have presented similar options. Bard College in New York has introduced an entrance exam consisting of academic essays as a substitute to the traditional transcript. Dozens of colleges like Wake Forest University and Smith College have application processes that don’t require SAT or ACT scores and allow optional videos. Though these strategies are helpful in attracting a more creative applicant base, it fails to address low socioeconomic diversity in higher education.
These nonstandard ways to apply for college benefit students who might learn and best present themselves in nontraditional fashions. The conventional college application simply requires a high school transcript, one or more personal essays and standardized test scores, sometimes with a recommended interview. Students that express themselves better visually, or through additional samples of academic writing, may be eager to opt for these alternative processes. Colleges receive a wider range of creative applicants, and potentially diversify the student body with leaders in different avenues. It appears to be a great option for economically disadvantaged students who do not perform as highly in grades and test scores due to a lack of additional educational resources. Goucher’s president suggests that the move will encourage students of lower-income areas to apply to selective schools because they can more easily represent themselves. They can “show” their story instead of telling it through current means that favor classically successful and affluent applicants.
It is well known that disparities in financial resources, and thus education, across communities place extreme obstacles on students of lower socioeconomic status as they head toward college. While Goucher’s new policy is well-intentioned, this method does not address the source of a major problem in the college application process. Widening the range of media that students may use does not account for the financial inequalities that pervade the application process each step of the way. Just as with normal applications, well-off students can hire producers or other professionals to help them create a higher quality video or academic essay. Financially privileged students will continue to have the upper hand in admissions, regardless of the manner in which they are allowed to express themselves. The measures Goucher and other colleges have taken help to even differences in learning and expression, but do not extend beyond that.
The University of Michigan currently provides programs to recruit students of lower socioeconomic status. The University’s Center for Education Outreach collaborates with schools in Michigan to provide college awareness and preparation for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Its Michigan College Advising Corps aims to increase the number of underrepresented students in higher education by hiring recent Michigan graduates to work as college advisers in a few high schools throughout the state. Michigan’s Detroit Center specifically focuses on coaching students in schools of the Detroit metropolitan area as well.
The University should consider expanding and intensifying its efforts toward poorer areas, and fully commit to the goal of spreading awareness for underprivileged students in a broader context. Comprehensive outreach that includes information about securing financial aid, supplemental after-school curriculums and positive attitudes toward higher education increases success rates of underprivileged students. If universities truly intend on opening their doors to less conventional students, they could start by aiding those of lower socioeconomic status years before applications even begin.