Goucher College Video Application: Forget Transcripts, Just Send a Selfie

Goucher College, a small liberal arts college in Towson, Maryland, recently made headlines touting their move to allow short videos instead of transcripts and other traditional college application materials. The college argues that tests and transcripts reduce a student to a number. By removing these obstacles, Goucher hopes to broaden its applicant pool especially with creative students that dislike the high-stakes testing environment. While there are some potential pitfalls here, what are the arguments in favor of Goucher’s use of a video instead of traditional application materials?

Goucher’s move is not without critics. Brian Rosenberg, president of Macalester College, wrote in an essay for the Chronicle of Higher Education that, “The notion that an applicant’s entire set of academic and personal accomplishments can be replaced by a two-minute video ‘selfie’ is both absurd and dangerous.” Furthermore, he suggests that if Goucher really believes this argument that they should get rid of their own grades and transcripts as well.

He has some valid points.

In fact, I think most in higher education disagree with Goucher’s decision.

What are the arguments in favor?

1. Transcripts aren’t important.

What does the high school record really tell us? It shows the courses a student takes and the grades they made. This information often lacks sufficient context. How many AP classes does a school offer? What is the quality of the teachers at the school? Many schools do not even report class rank these days. How much information do we lose from not having transcripts?

2. The current K-12 high-stakes testing environment hurts creative students.

Goucher and Rosenberg would both probably agree that the decision to use a college video application is a bit of a slap to the current K-12 system. The Goucher argument is that creative types chafe at a system that privileges filling in bubbles and memorizing facts. They aren’t allowed to express themselves. A college video application allows them to break out of the mold and show what they are capable of producing. A high school transcript, they suggest, is a poor measure of this type of student’s ability to thrive at Goucher College.

3. A college video application helps even the playing field for low income and minority students.

We know that test scores favor upper income students. Goucher College has been test optional for several years. There is a great variation in high school quality and resources. We also know those high schools with more low income children have fewer resources. Yet, nearly everyone today has a cell phone with video capability. Allowing students to film a selfie video helps those that the tests and transcripts might hinder. Goucher’s move helps students often left behind in the current educational climate.

Shrewd Marketing Move?

In addition to these arguments, many (myself included) cynically view the move by Goucher to start relying on a college video application has a public relations and marketing move. I suspect that Goucher has gotten more free press in the last two weeks that it got during all of last year. And maybe more than the past several years combined.

Goucher also has a new president, Jose Bowen (formerly dean of SMU’s arts school). The college video application is quite a splash for a new president to make in his first few weeks on campus. Judging by Bowen’s work at SMU, there will be more of these types of initiatives to come.

Whether a shrewd marketing move or an attempt to expand access to higher education, Goucher College has made news in recent weeks. I appreciate that Goucher has changed the conversation and led to a discussion about the usefulness of application materials.

If you’ll excuse me, I need to go write a letter of recommendation for a former student. Can we next talk about selfie letters of recommendation?

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