What if applying to college wasn’t a drawn-out nightmare? What if schools considered applicants based on more than just their GPA and SAT scores? What if the application process was actually, well … enjoyable?
In a handful of universities across the country, Kira Academic is making that possible.
“We noticed there’s a huge gap in how schools were admitting students as opposed to how companies hire talent,” says Emilie Cushman, co-founder of Kira Academic, a three-year-old offshoot of the hiring consultancy Kira Talent.
Schools like Yale University, the University of Cambridge, and the University of Notre Dame have already signed on.
For Cushman, the parallels between job applications and college applications are self-evident. Gatekeepers need to see the whole package to know who’s a good fit, and today’s videochatting technology is too useful to rely just on paper applications alone.
If a student applies to a school that uses Kira’s services, he or she will see a number of unique screening tools.
At the start of the process, they will click on a link that brings up a welcome video from the school. After a practice interview to get them used to the format, the web cam will turn on and they will have 20 to 30 seconds to answer live questions from an admissions officer. Cushman says earlier this year colleges also started having the option to use timed written responses, either in addition to the video or in its place.
Lastly, the student circles back to the main application page to submit the Kira portion as a whole package.
Later on, reviewers can add comments to a person’s application to collaborate on the decision-making.
Unlike ordinary entrance essays, which anyone can outsource to a wordsmithy friend or relative, on-the-fly Q&A sessions force kids’ actual abilities and personalities to shine through.
“When you’re reading some of these application essays, they sound like Pulitzer Prize-winning essays,” Cushman says. “So whether it’s international or local applicants, there’s this fear around applications not being very authentic anymore.”
Reviewers aren’t perfect either. Colleges have gotten considerable flak for prioritising applicants who hail from exotic countries or fill certain demographic boxes, even if they don’t stack up in academics.
This year alone, Kira Academic has sat in on more than a dozen review sessions in the US and Canada, though Cushman couldn’t reveal which schools specifically. The same biases keep popping up.
“You’d hear all of these comments that were not very relevant to how people would actually perform once they get into the program,” Cushman says.
The joke around the office was that admissions were starting to look more like the scouting process in “Moneyball,” in which baseball players were judged on their jawline rather than their batting average, than thoughtful consideration of who was going to excel.
With Kira’s services, more transparency ends up being a win-win.
Bruce Delmonico, assistant dean and director of admissions at Yale University, says using Kira Academic has allowed the college’s existing method to become even more robust.
“We’ve always used a holistic review in evaluating candidates,” Delmonico tells Tech Insider. “Video questions provide an additional dimension, which is of great value in getting a full sense of an applicant.”
That bodes well for students, too, as the paper-only application can leave out many shining qualities that still make someone a valuable student, even if they can’t be measured in a test.
That’s not to say the most plugged-in generation doesn’t still get the jitters when going on camera. It is the rest of their lives on the line, after all.
“They tell us that they approach them with some degree of nervousness, and they feel as though they didn’t do well,” Delmonico says, “but they actually are quite good at answering the questions.”
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