Column, Opinions

Colleges Need to Change Their Idea of Success

The measurement of intelligence should be based on one’s abilities to problem solve and think strategically about the future. Those two skills cannot be recognized in a GPA or standardized test score—they’re developed through practice and focus on work ethic. Institutions looking for students with high cognitive capacities need to break through the classic barriers of standardized metrics and adopt new ways of evaluating candidates and institutions. 

During the pandemic, controversy surrounding standardized assessments sparked when many high school students were unable to take the SAT and ACT because of COVID-19 protocols. Those affected were given leniency when applying to colleges because of the unprecedented events that the pandemic brought on. Schools like Boston College offered a test-optional application, allowing students to submit their applications without any scores on standardized tests.

By removing test scores as a major factor in admissions, applicants got more room to highlight other qualifications like extracurriculars and sports. This change exposed the benefits of holistically evaluating young learners.

Try viewing a university within the same parameters as a firm or large corporation—the connections between hiring staff and admitting students are clear. The National Association of Colleges and Employers reported that the number of employers requiring a minimum GPA dropped by 50 percent between 2019 and 2023. Employers around the world are searching for new metrics to understand how capable a candidate is. 

Only 13 percent of U.S. adults and 11 percent of C-level executives believe that college graduates are fully prepared for work. Statistics reveal that the average GPA has jumped dramatically from the 1990s to now, increasing the likelihood that a candidate will be qualified by this standard. This means that the quantity of students with high-level GPA qualifications exceeds the amount of available positions for a company looking to hire. 

Jamie Dimon, one of the world’s most successful bankers, even criticizes universities today for measuring their success through graduation rate rather than the quality of jobs their graduates receive after their time at that specific institution.

Colleges must remodel their admissions models by considering all factors of student potential. I am not arguing that the traditional standardized tests and grading scales should be thrown out, but it would be extremely beneficial for academic institutions to advertise metrics besides the classic ones like acceptance rates. That metric can be easily manipulated and has been by universities and colleges to earn a higher status in the universal rankings of colleges. 

If you evaluate a school like Northeastern, its low acceptance rate of 6.8 percent makes it appear to be one of the best institutions in the country, yet it ranks at number 53 in the U.S. News and World Report’s rankings. Northeastern changed its status by removing the essay section from its application and making the application process as simple as a few clicks, incentivizing more high school students to apply.

This is just one example of how statistics can be manipulated to alter the evaluation of a school or a student. More emphasis should be placed on the quality of jobs of recent graduates, alumni networks, and other factors that ensure the longevity of a school’s success. A 2022 report revealed that 49 percent of recent graduates do not believe they are qualified for the job market. Most colleges fail to prepare students with the soft skills they need to compete in the post-grad world. 

Measuring soft skills is a challenge admissions teams around the world should investigate to improve the probability of a possible accepted applicant succeeding in their respective school. These skills could be measured through cognitive games, interviews, more specific essay questions, or other tests to judge a candidate more effectively. 

There is no perfect system, but there is always room for improvement. Expecting an admissions team not to have flaws is impractical, but mitigating those inefficiencies is a realistic possibility. There are many ways to evaluate institutions and candidates. Improving those metrics, standards, and perceptions is an attainable goal that should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind when applying to schools and considering accepting a student.  

April 7, 2024