At Goucher College, Applicants Who Send Videos Need Not Send Grades

Starting this fall, applicants to Goucher College may submit a self-produced video instead of test scores, high-school transcripts, and recommendations. With the Goucher Video App, announced on Thursday, the liberal-arts college in Towson, Md., becomes the first institution to offer an application option in which a videotaped response will be the primary factor in admissions evaluations.

“Students are more than just numbers,” says Christopher Wild, an admissions counselor at Goucher. “We’ve always taken that approach, and this is another step in solidifying it further.”

In recent years, several institutions—including Tufts and George Mason Universities and St. Mary’s College of Maryland—have given students the option of expressing their interests, talents, and goals (quirks, too) through short, homemade videos as part of their applications. Goucher has taken the idea a step further by allowing those who submit videos to largely forgo the traditional admissions requirements.

A video explaining the Goucher Video App begins with Raekwon Walker, a Goucher student, tearing a high-school transcript in two.

“Tell us about yourself, tell us you how you’d fit in at Goucher …,” José Antonio Bowen, the college’s president, says in the video. ”We want to know what you want to do with you life, what you want out of college.”

Goucher made the submission of ACT and SAT scores optional for all applicants seven years ago. Now the Goucher Video App essentially makes the college grades-optional as well as test-optional.

“It’s definitely a step into kind of a no man’s land,” Mr. Wild says. “Going without a transcript, we’re not going to know what their high-school preparation looked like.”

Yet Goucher officials hope the option will broaden the applicant pool, attracting more students whose grades might undersell their potential. They also believe the option will appeal to high-achieving, creative students who feel boxed in by conventional applications. And, of course, the strategy could help the institution expands its applicant pool and improve its “yield” (the percentage of accepted students who enroll).

Still, one might ask if Goucher will be depriving itself of essential information—or inviting a flood of weak students unlikely to succeed on the campus.

Mr. Wild doesn’t think so. “It’s not going to appeal to students who have low GPAs because they’re lazy,” he says. “If a student is just using this as a back door for getting into Goucher, we’re going to be able to tell that.”

Using a smartphone or webcam to record themselves, applicants will be instructed to describe—in no more than two minutes—how they see themselves at Goucher. They will then upload their videos through Goucher’s SlideRoom site.

Their responses will be evaluated by an admissions officer and a faculty member. Each will rate the student on 1-to-5 scale (“absent” to “extraordinary”) in each of three categories: content and thoughtfulness; structure and organization; and clarity and effectiveness. (Production value won’t matter, Mr. Wild says.) The admissions committee also will review each video submission.

Students who use the Goucher Video App also must complete a short application form, sign a statement of academic integrity, and submit two scholastic works (including a graded writing assignment) by the college’s December 1 early-action deadline. (Those applying for merit scholarships will have to send transcripts.)

Mr. Wild hopes admissions officers will gain better insights into applicants through the videos—somewhere in between an essay response and a face-to-face interview. ”It’s a high-tech way,” he says, “of going old school.”

It’s also a high-tech way of going without old-school requirements. At colleges that conduct holistic reviews of applicants, admissions officials consider a student’s grades—and the courses he or she has taken—essential information that helps them “contextualize” each application.

“This is certainly a new wrinkle, in that it’s a drastic reduction of requirements,” David A. Hawkins, director of public policy and research at the National Association for College Admission Counseling, writes in an email. ”From my view, it seems that the conventional wisdom in admission is that ‘more information is better.’”

Then again, circumstances vary from campus to campus. Many smaller colleges, Mr. Hawkins writes, see a need to “differentiate themselves for recruiting and sustainability purposes.”

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