Colleges admit students with strong analytical skills, but may reject creative, wise and community-minded students who’d also do well, argues psychologist Robert Sternberg. After trying his ideas as a dean at Tufts, which attracts very well-qualified students, Sternberg became provost at Oklahoma State, which takes 70 to 75 percent of applicants. The university is testing new essay prompts to identify applicants with hard-to-measure qualities, reports Inside Higher Ed.
Oklahoma State accepts students with a 1090 SAT (without the writing test) or a 3.0 grade point average and top-third-of-the-class ranking. Students with lower grades and scores can get in by doing well on an essay question, which might ask about their goals or special interests.
The university is asking current freshmen to answer questions Sternberg developed. Several will be chosen for next year’s applications. For example:
“Music spans time and culture. Explain how the lyrics of one of your favorite songs define you or your cultural experience.”
“If you were able to open a local charity of your choice, what type of charity would it be, how would you draw people to your cause, and whom would it benefit?”
“Today’s movies often feature superheroes and the supernatural. If you could have one superpower, what would it be, and how would you use it? Who would be your archenemy, and what would be his or her superpower?”
“Roughly 99 percent” of admitted applicants have qualified on some combination of grades and test scores, Sternberg says. “Who believes, really, that ACTs and high school grades are going to predict who will become the positive active citizens and leaders of tomorrow?”
I do. The combination of high school grades and test scores predicts who’ll complete a college degree, which predicts active citizenship, such as voting and volunteering.
A good writer can express creativity and devotion to community service — maybe even wisdom — by writing about goals and interests. Just because the question is boring doesn’t mean the answer has to be. A bad writer won’t do any better because he knows a lot about comic superheroes. I suspect few C+ students with mediocre ACT or SAT scores can write a good essay on any topic.
But it’s an experiment. Maybe Oklahoma State will find hidden gems in its applicant pool by tweaking the essay prompts.