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Can a cell phone video get your kid into college?

September 4, 2014 at 8:46 PM EDT
Colleges and universities are getting increasingly creative with their admissions essay prompts, but a small liberal arts college has set a new precedent. In lieu of recommendation letters, extracurricular activities and test scores, Goucher College in Maryland will accept a two-minute video submission. Jeffrey Brown discusses this strategy with Jose Antonio Bowen, president, Goucher College.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So, imagine that you have two minutes to make the case for why you should be accepted to a college, and to do that, all you have to do is submit a short video you recorded on your cell phone.

That’s been unheard of until now. Today, a liberal arts college announced that it’s planning to do just that.

Jeffrey Brown has the story, and he looks at how this move fits into a changing landscape of admissions in higher education.

JEFFREY BROWN:  If you’re applying to Goucher College in Maryland, you won’t have to put together that traditional application packet. No transcripts. No recommendations. No list of extracurricular activities.

Instead, Goucher, a small liberal arts college, announced it will accept a two-minute video submission. It’s a radical change. And the school put together a video of its own to explain the thinking.

Here’s a clip.

MAN: That’s it. No test scores, no transcripts.

WOMAN: I’m more than just a number.

WOMAN: I’m more than just a number.

 MAN: I’m more than just a number.

MAN: I’m more than numbers.

MAN: At Goucher, you’re more than just a number. That’s why we have created the Goucher Video App, a brand-new and totally unique way to apply for college.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Jose Antonio Bowen is the new president of Goucher College. And he joins us now from Baltimore.

Thanks for joining us.

You have said you’re doing this in a context in which — quote — “the admissions model is broken.”  What does that mean?  Broken how? 

JOSE ANTONIO BOWEN, President, Goucher College:  Sure.

Well, the college admissions process is broken in two fundamental ways. The first is this problem that is called undermatching, so we have thousands, tens of thousands even, of high-achieving, but usually low-income, often minority students who actually have the grades and have the credentials to go to a selective liberal arts college like Goucher College.

But, instead, they don’t apply to any, not one, zero. They apply to no liberal arts colleges. They might go to community college. They might go to college — they might not go to college at all. So we’re missing potential there.

But we’re missing potential in a second way, too. So test scores and grades are predictive, and Goucher College will continue to accept those. So if you want to send us your test scores and your grades, use the Common App, we do that.

But there are students, like me, who might have had other concerns during high school. Life sometimes intervenes, and test scores are not a perfect way to predict who’s going to be successful in life. There are lots of people who don’t test well, the parents got divorced. I had a great gig the night before the SATs, and I didn’t actually realize — this is true — I didn’t actually realize the SATs were that important to the rest of my life at that point.

I thought this gig was more important. I was out until 3:00 in the morning.

JEFFREY BROWN:  They don’t tell the full story, but they certainly tell some of the story, don’t they?

There was some immediate skepticism to your move. One expert at USC said: “With a transcript, you can see the level of academic work they have taken. Without it, how do you know the capabilities a student has?”

JOSE ANTONIO BOWEN:  Well, there’s some risk in every process.

So, test scores do predict some things, and the test scores is one way to do it. But we wanted to give students an alternative, again, for students who either have the grades and — but that C freshman year bothers them and they’re not sure they can get into college.

I wanted to invite them to apply to college. For students who don’t have a great transcript, but can put together a great video and have a passion for learning, they should also have the chance to go to college. This is about finding potential. College should really be not just based upon past performance, but on future potential.

JEFFREY BROWN:  When you say — excuse me — when you say a great video, what is it — because this would be the other area of skepticism or question — what is it that you think you could actually learn in a two-minute video? 

JOSE ANTONIO BOWEN:  Well, first, let’s — you know, as a journalist, let’s not trivialize the difficulty of putting together a story in two minutes and telling it as a digital narrative.

JEFFREY BROWN:  All right, fair enough.

JOSE ANTONIO BOWEN:  So, this is now a currency that students understand.

You and I assume everybody has a laptop, everybody can write an essay for college. Well, no, actually not everyone has a laptop and not everybody had great English teachers in high school or A.P. courses at their high school, or a tutor who could help them.

But a two-minute video levels the playing field. It’s something that most 18-year-olds really do understand. They have seen lots of them. They have made some, and everybody has a phone. It’s actually pretty hard to write a college essay on a phone if the phone is the only device that you have.

But you can use the phone to make a video of yourself, and there’s a kind of authenticity. Remember that I can’t tell that you actually wrote your essay. There are plenty of tutors and teachers. And if you’re sending the same essay to dozens or even hundreds of colleges, you have probably worked on it through dozens of iterations with other people.

This is a video just for Goucher College. And I’m not giving any points for production value. I just want to see you telling me why you want to learn and why you’re a great fit for Goucher College.

JEFFREY BROWN:  I want to just try to help us fit this into the larger picture. We look at a lot of higher education issues on the program. Are there a sort of a two-tier system in which you have some schools that are overwhelmed with applications and pick very few and than many more colleges, especially liberal arts colleges that you’re familiar, including Goucher, that would have fewer applicants and pick a much higher percentage?

How of it is that — how much is that an issue for you and other colleges, and how does this move fit into that? 


So, first, it is true the Common Application has made it easier to apply to multiple colleges. You can tick a box, which means that everybody’s yield has gone down a little bit, because students are applying to more colleges.

But, at Goucher College, we have plenty of applications. We have got 8,000 applications a year for a class of 400. So there are plenty of students. And, again, we will continue to take transcripts and the Common App and all of that, but we wanted to get into a conversation with more students and different students.

Goucher is a place that values diversity of thinking in every way and we have a long tradition of that. And so I wanted to find a way to invite students who might not think they have the test scores or grades or the background for a liberal arts education to think, we really want you to apply to this and all you have to do is send us this two-minute video.

It’s the first step. It’s not the complete picture, but it is a way to say, this is good, you’re accepted to college, you can come.

JEFFREY BROWN:  All right, Jose Antonio Bowen, the president of Goucher College, thank you so much.