Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Would You Admit Yourself?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Would You Admit Yourself?

Article excerpt

The giggling began moments after John Dolan unveiled his plan to the university admissions staff: Each would retake the SAT test and apply to the University of Denver, just like a typical high-school applicant.

"We were laughing and saying, 'Are you kidding?' " recalls Shanna Hamblin, an assistant director of admission at DU.

But it was no joke. Mr. Dolan, vice chancellor for enrollment, wanted to sensitize the staff to the limits of student-evaluation methods like the SAT.

So Ms. Hamblin, Dolan, and 14 other staff members sharpened their No. 2 pencils. They also dug up high-school grades and assembled a "whole-person index score" of extracurriculars, from football to yearbook.

Finally, at a special meeting last month, the group evaluated each other's

Admissions officers find out if they'd get in

"applications" anonymously. One candidate had good grades and test scores. But he only played sports and worked after school - not much else. Thumbs down.

Then Dolan spoke - and the committee froze. "You just rejected me," he said.

The vice chancellor was in good company. Only eight of the 16 made the cut. And as some of DU's finest were shot down by the numbers, concerns grew that the process wasn't telling the full story.

Two young admission counselors conceded they would not have voted to admit themselves using the current criteria. Another with a PhD in English won admission from the group - but was disappointed with a low verbal SAT score. Born in Germany, she tripped over the difference between "swagger" and "strut."

Amusing, humbling, and enlightening by turns, the experiment showed that DU's evaluation system needed tweaking, "We took that goofy test and we learned a lot about what it measures and doesn't measure," Dolan says. "I was comfortable about getting in, but I did not. I had good grades and decent test scores, but what worked against me was my whole-person score."

In the end, the University of Denver is keeping the SAT. But it's adding an antidote to admission by numbers: the personal interview. "We think the SAT is useful - but we want to dilute its impact and give students a voice on their application," says Dolan, who notes that an interview would have let him explain that he attended a private boarding school and worked long hours to afford it.

Starting next January, the University of Denver will deploy an army of interviewers across 17 cities to interview an estimated 1,400 applicants for early admission. That pilot test is a huge logistical task, but not as big as the plan to interview all 5,000 two years hence.

The decision to require personal interviews runs counter to a decade-long shift in the opposite direction.

"Over the last five or 10 years, the required interview began to fade," says Marybeth Kravets, president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling in Alexandria, Va. "Many students can't get to campus, so there's a fairness issue. And with the incredible numbers of applications, it's very hard because the schools just don't have the manpower to do all those interviews."

Northwestern University in Chicago, for instance, was inundated by applications and interview requests following a 1995 Rose Bowl football appearance. It soon eliminated its requirement for "evaluative interviews" on campus.

"We were booked three to four months in advance and people were getting angry," says Carol Lunkenheimer, Northwestern's director of undergraduate admission. "Either we had to change our approach, or hire a lot more staff."

Northwestern interviews about 4,000 applicants each year using alumni. While optional, they are used to help evaluate an applicant. Similarly, at Princeton University, interviews are optional but recommended, and may be used to evaluate students, says Fred Hargadon, dean of admissions. …

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