Practical Alternatives to Using Primarily “Numbers” for Admission Decisions

Elizabeth R. Crais, Ph.D.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The members of the Admissions Committee at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as many of their counterparts at other universities, have struggled with how best to go about selecting candidates for admission into the Graduate Program in Speech and Hearing Sciences.  As Grade Point Averages have continued to climb and with growing concerns about using the Graduate Record Examination scores as one of only a few defining criteria, our Admissions Committee began to seek alternatives.  The following review sheet for reviewing applicants was developed by committee members in an attempt to add more “qualitative variables” to our decision-making process.  Our process in using the sheet is as follows.  The background information of the applicant is added to the form before the committee reviews the student’s file.  Specifically, our Graduate School has written a computer program to format this information for us from the student’s application materials and we download the information onto the sheets.  Two committee members review each student’s materials and make a recommendation to the full committee who meet one entire day at the end of February.
The form focuses on background information (undergraduate institution, GPA, GRE scores, Res = residency status, IS = in-state, OS= out-of-state) as well as to what degree the prerequisites (ASHA guidelines in the Basic and Minor Areas) have been taken.  If students have not completed the prerequisites, a decision is made as to whether to admit them without the prerequisites or to send them a “special letter” letting them know of our interest in them, but also recommending they take the prerequisites and reapply next year.  Each year in order to add some diversity to our program we may take 2-3 nontraditional students who do not have a background in speech and hearing.  These students are accepted with the understanding that it will take them longer to complete their degree (2  to 3 years) and they will need to work in the prerequisite courses throughout their first year.  The committee compiles a list of these “three year” students and we choose the top 2-3.  The remaining nontraditional applicants receive the “special letter.”

The middle section of the form is for rating and commenting on the letters of recommendation.  The recommendation form from our Graduate School asks the recommender to rank the applicant against other students they have known in comparable fields into the top 2%,10%, 25%, 50%, or to select “no basis for judgment.”  As each letter is read by a committee member, the ranking is noted on the form, along with any exceptional comments from the recommender (e.g., “This is one of the best students I’ve had in 20 years of teaching,”  “This student has not had very successful relationships with other students”), and an overall rating is given by the committee member.  The overall rating represents the recommender’s status (professor versus friend of the family), the quality of the letter written, and the level of regard the recommender has for the applicant.

The last third of the form is reserved for additional accomplishments of the applicant.  The first column is devoted to honors such as Dean’s List, Honor Societies, and scholarships received.  The middle column focuses on extra-curricular activities such as participation in the NSSHLA student organization, athletics, and volunteer activities.  Typically reviewers write in a brief abbreviated list of the applicant’s volunteer activities so that both quantity and quality can be taken into account.  The third column acknowledges related work experiences (e.g., teaching preschool children, working in a group home, working in a summer camp for children/adults with special needs).  All these kinds of “qualitative” information can be especially helpful when the review sheets of two students look very similar in numerical data and the committee is struggling with which one to admit.  The second sheet allows the reviewer to document the ASHA prerequisite courses in the Basic Area.

Through the use of a multi-faceted review form that encourages attention to a variety of factors, our Admissions Committee has felt that the process has become more thorough and valid compared with one that may focus primarily on “numbers.”  We hope that others may find it useful as well.
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