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Maryland School Shreds The Old Rules Of Applying To College


Goucher College, just outside of Baltimore, is a well-regarded liberal arts college. So it was a surprise to see a video that Goucher's admissions office recently posted on its website. A young man holds up a high school transcript right in front of the camera, then rips it up.


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

SIMON: Instead, the young man explains, students applying to Goucher College can submit a two-minute video. What? No SATs, no grades. Is this liberal arts or unbridled nonsense? Jose Bowen is the new president of Goucher. He appears in the video. Thanks so much for being with us.

JOSE BOWEN: Well, thank you. I got your attention I guess.

SIMON: Well, you sure did. No common applications, no grades, no essay. Two samples of work from high school and a two-minute video. How do you know if a student is a good bet for Goucher?

BOWEN: Well, one of those is a writing sample. And the truth is, we don't know. This is something of an experiment. But we got here by looking at research that tells us that the college application system is largely broken. And that while it does recognize lots of talent, it also recognizes lots of privilege, and it misses lots of talent. Tens of thousands of high school seniors a year actually have the transcripts and the grades and the SAT scores to get into a liberal arts college like Goucher College. And they don't apply because they don't understand the system. They're worried about a single B on their transcript, you know, junior year. And so we wanted to extend an invitation for students to talk to us in a language they understand and start a conversation.

SIMON: Parents and students - but principally parents I suspect - grouch about the complexity of college applications. Do you have any concern that you're appealing to students who think college is - that think life - success in life is nothing more than pushing the record button on their cell phone camera?

BOWEN: It's certainly possible. I mean, there's noise in every system. There's bias in every system. So, you know, the current system with test bubbles and transcripts favors a certain type of student and a certain type of background. And sure, there will be students who try to abuse every system or, you know, send us a lousy, two-minute video and they won't get in. But we've put the rubric online. We've tried to be very clear. The point of this was to be simple and transparent. We're looking for content - what do you have to say? What's the structure? Did you think about the sequence and how you're going to say it? And was it effective? And there are no points for production value.

SIMON: Yeah. You're not looking for Spielberg but sincerity.

BOWEN: We are. We're looking for authenticity. We're looking for directness. We are looking for potential wherever it occurs. You know, it's funny, the other analogy, which I've got to be careful of is "American Idol." Right. On the one hand, you may hate the process, but at the end of the day, Kelly Clarkson can sing.

SIMON: Jose Bowen is the president of Goucher College in Towson, MD. Mr. President, thanks very much for speaking with us.

BOWEN: Thanks very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.