On September 4, Goucher College launched the Goucher Video Application, which will allow the future Class of 2019 to send a two-minute video describing how they see themselves flourishing at the college. Rather than asking for grades or test scores, students will only be required to submit two pieces of high school work: a graded essay and a second piece of work of the student’s choosing: an art project, short story, lab report or dance performance.
The essay will assess a potential student’s writing ability to see if they can craft and defend a thesis, and whether or not their writing skills are up to the Goucher’s standards. The second piece of work will be analyzed by a staff member who is a professional in that area; a student who sends in a short story, for example, will have their work analyzed by somebody in the English department, while a student who sends in a copy of a lab report will have their work looked over by somebody from the Chemistry department.
“We’ve always taken a holistic to approach to the way we review applications… So this is another way for the college to commit themselves to taking that holistic approach,” Admissions Counselor Chris Wild said. Wild helped to spearhead the campaign, which was created by President Jose Bowen. “The key for us was to ensure this is an accessible application. As much as it is about reaching students, it’s also about accessibility to higher education…So we wanted to be very, very, very clear that the video itself was not about production quality.”
The videos will be judged on three factors by a committee of staff members: Content and thoughtfulness, structure and organization, and clarity and effectiveness. The first section is worth ten points, while the second two are worth five points each. While the videos will not be judged on production values, there are still a few guidelines that need to be followed. The video must be no more two minutes long and begin with the student standing in front of the camera stating their name and where they are from. Students must describe how they see themselves thriving at Goucher College. The videos must then be uploaded to Goucher’s Slideroom.com site where they will be evaluated once all materials are submitted.
The new application is the creation of President Jose Bowen who introduced it as a way to demystify the college application process, as well as to make it more accessible to a greater variety of students. “We know that video is an incredibly popular and important new form of communication. Students may feel more comfortable with this but it’s also something students will need to do in the future,” Bowen said in a video explaining the new application. “We’re doing this because higher education should be about potential and not about privilege.”
Bowen hopes that the Video Application will appeal to students from lower-income families who may not have been given the same opportunities during childhood and may not know about selective liberal arts schools like Goucher. He cited a statistic that said students whose families are in the bottom quartile for household income only have an 8% chance of graduating from college, while somebody from the top quartile has a 73% chance of graduating.
He also discussed research done by Stanford professor, Caroline Hoxby. Hoxby’s research revealed that every year there are thirty to forty thousand high school seniors who have the grades and/or the test scores to get into college, even a selective liberal arts one like Goucher, who do not apply anywhere. This is because they do not know about colleges like Goucher, or believe they cannot afford them or they apply to community colleges, or colleges with open enrollment
Bowen also believes that the Video Application will appeal to students who have the grades to get into college, but may think otherwise. “They don’t understand how to look at a transcript,” he said, “I know that if you have a C in algebra, it’s one C and it’s not a big deal. When we unrolled the Video App, we got letter after letter after letter from high school teachers saying ‘I have students who don’t understand that a B in my class doesn’t mean they can’t go to college.’”
Wild, on the hand, believes that the Video Application will appeal to “more creative students,” who will use the Video as a way to exhibit their artistic abilities, or to students who are better orators than essay writers.
Both believe that the new application will help students confused by the process and will help even out the playing field between students from different economic classes. Students who may have not been given equal opportunities during their lifetime and might have been given certain advantages would be relatively indistinguishable if they both sent in a Video Application.
“We’re not lowering standards. We’re making it easier to apply. We’re making it easier to start a conversation,” Bowen said during an interview. He cited his own experience as a high school senior, where he was given an application to the local city college, which was open enrollment, despite being the valedictorian of his class. It was only because his mother decided to go the school, yell at the admissions counselor and grab the first application she saw and made him fill it out.
Many students don’t have parents like Bowen and so, wouldn’t even have the opportunity he did. Another reason that these students may not apply to schools, especially ones like Goucher is that they believe they can’t afford it. Sixty percent of American citizens don’t know that private schools offer financial aid, and therefore don’t apply.
Students who apply via the Video Application are still eligible for both need-based and merit-based scholarships. Students who want a need based scholarships will need to fill out all the necessary forms in order to be eligible. Students who want to receive merit-based scholarships will need to submit their transcripts, but their admittance to Goucher will not be based on those grades.
The reactions from the press and general public have been mixed; one Twitter user by the handle @Josh_Hylton21 wrote, “I don’t know what or where you are Goucher College but you caught my attention.” Some news sources like The Baltimore Sun have lauded Goucher for creating a “novel way for cell-phone savvy teenagers” to apply to college,” while others have criticized it, calling it the “Selfie-Video” and have compared it to the application video Elle Woods made in the movie Legally Blonde.
Many who have criticized the Video Application are especially concerned that Goucher won’t be able to properly assess the videos, and will end up admitting unqualified students therefore lowering the quality and standards of the school. Some have pointed out the opening to the video announcement, where a student tears up a high school transcript, may send the wrong message.
“We probably could have chosen a different image. But it generated a lot of publicity; some of it negative, some of it positive. If we had taken a gentler approach, we might not have gotten that attention,” Bowen said.
The responses from Goucher faculty have been mainly positive. Several faculty members who helped with the creation of the Video Application have posted videos on the Goucher website showing their support including Nina Kasinunas, Scott Sibley, and Eric Singer.
“I’m really excited about Goucher’s Video Application. We’re a liberal arts college here at Goucher. We emphasize the whole student…It makes perfect sense to me that we should allow them an alternative to use a video to apply for college,” said Dr. Nina Kasinunas, from the Political Science department.
“We want students who are strong, obviously, but many students at Goucher have strong second interests…During the video the student can talk about how they’ll fit in as whole person here. I think that’s something we’re looking forward to seeing the video,” said Dr. Scott Sibley, a Chemistry professor.
Many of the concerns about the new application within the school appeared to come from students. Sophomore transfer student Noah Kahan said, “If you don’t require transcripts and you ask people to take videos. It makes it so that you may be getting less intelligent people than if you actually asked for a transcript. It might lower the school’s level of rigor.”
Other students voiced their concerns during the open-forum assembly held on September 17. They expressed concern that the application would admit students who weren’t academically prepared for Goucher and would lower the value of their degrees.
Some also expressed that they felt the Video Application was simply a way to increase enrollment and recognition of the school, and that it appeared to be more of a publicity stunt than anything else.
Bowen admitted there were some drawbacks to the Video Application during a live-stream information session that was also held on September 17. “We’re trying something new. One of the pitfalls is that we can see people. There’s a potential bias in the system. You can’t unsee a glitzy video,” he said.
During an interview, he emphasized that the launch of the Application wasn’t a way to increase enrollment and that it has the potential to change the college admissions process forever. “If it works, and…it’s easy to identify potential. If I am able to say these five students are going to succeed here and those five students all graduate then every school in the country will do this.”
Eleven students have already started the process but have not sent in their videos yet. Accepted students who decide to enroll may be asked for their transcripts so that they can be tracked alongside their peers who applied in the traditional manner. It will be impossible to tell how well the Video Application works until the students accepted through the Application have been at Goucher for at least a year. Either way, Bowen believes the Application is a good risk to take; “More ideas are killed by doubt than failure,” he said, “You don’t not do something because it might fail.”