Mar2017, Opinion&Letters
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Application Switch Imperils University Values

Students applying to Quest for the 2017/2018 academic year will encounter a different application than applicants of previous years (i.e. than you). Before we make our grievances heard, here is the skinny on what has changed from when you made your plea to get into this school.

You can now apply to Quest through the Common Application. For all you folks who didn’t apply to a whole bunch of U.S. colleges back in the day, the Common App is a standardized application form used by 693 member colleges and universities in 48 different states, as well as several schools in Canada, China, and many European countries. Because the Common App is standardized, it enables students to “blast send” applications, applying to many different universities with little added effort. “The ease of using the form has led many students to decide almost on a whim to add one, two or even 10 more universities to their list,” the New York Times reported.

You do not have to use the Common App to apply to Quest. Our admissions webpage recommends it for students who are also applying to other US schools; for those who are not, Quest still offers a direct application.

Quest’s direct application and the Common App include many of same features. Whichever application students use to apply to Quest, they will still have to respond to four short-answer (25-word) questions. They will also have to write a 650-word essay that responds to one several prompts. The Common App offers five; Quest’s direct application offers three. Both applications offer one prompt asking you to reflect on a time when you had a belief or idea challenged, and one asking you to share a meaningful talent that you believe is essential to your application. The Common App has additional options about  a problem you’d like to solve, an accomplishment or event that marked your transition to adulthood, and a lesson you’ve learned from failure. Quest’s app had an additional prompt about a time when you were outside of your comfort zone.

Regardless of which route applicants choose, they will not be responding to the same essay prompts that you did, which included “Design your ideal Quest class,” “Talk about a proverb you identify with,” and “Explain what you think is the greatest concern of the 21st century.”

If they apply through the Common App, they will additionally have to write a 500-word essay explaining why they are interested in Quest. This is not required for students applying directly via Quest’s application.

Quest is also no longer requiring that applicants submit a creative project. For students who still want to, Admissions is offering ZeeMee, an online platform that allows students to create social media-esque profiles where they can post short videos, photos, descriptions of their interests, and the like.

Lastly, not all students who complete an application will be guaranteed an interview with an Admissions officer, as has been the case in the past.

 

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The removal of the creative project is our primary concern regarding these changes to the application process. The creative project gave students who did not thrive academically in high school a chance to show that they are multi-faceted people with an interest in community, art, creativity and learning. An application that does not include a creative project undermines the idea that Quest is a school for every type of passionate learner.

Director of Admissions Kristin Greene said that the creative project was removed because it unfairly privileged wealthy students. But let’s be clear: the entire education system—primary, secondary, and post-secondary—privileges wealthy students. Specifically, wealth helps students develop the kind of beefed-up resumes that universities look for (volunteer trips abroad, student council, varsity volleyball, etc.). It is unclear what removing the creative project from the application does to substantively mitigate this injustice. Sure, not everyone has the means to melt silver down into some abstract form and ship it across the country, but the depth of thought put into the projects should matter far more than the medium used to create them. Money can facilitate certain kinds of creative expression, but creativity itself is not the exclusive province of the wealthy.  

ZeeMee, the optional alternative to the creative project, has its own issues. ZeeMee’s Facebook wall-like design is not meant to accommodate projects which primarily feature large amounts of text, like a play or short story. Audio-based projects may also encounter issues, as they are easily swallowed by the mass of videos, photos and other visual content that the platform spotlights. Clearly no system is perfect, but at least the creative project did not place any restraints on how an applicant could present their work.

Next, while the the inclusion of the Common App will likely increase the overall number of applicants to Quest, the opportunity for Common App users to “blast send” applications enables them to apply to Quest as one of many colleges.  Quest’s direct, unstandardized application functioned as a kind of built-in screening process; you would not have applied to Quest unless you were pretty serious about attending, because the application was for Quest and Quest alone. This meant fewer, but more serious, applicants, hence our once famously high matriculation rates (matriculation meaning the percentage of students who accept admissions offers they are granted).

There are many reasons why a university might try to seek out more applicants using something like the Common App, one of which is recruiting more diversity. However, there are also more blatantly promotional reasons. Drawing more applications enables universities to tout lower acceptance rates (which are associated with greater prestige, e.g. Harvard), even if many of the unadmitted applicants were also unserious. In an interview with the New York Times, Kent Rinehart, dean of undergraduate admission at Marist College, said, “Colleges like to trumpet that they have record numbers of applications […] They like to turn away more students. It looks good to the alums, it looks good to the people on their campus, it looks good for rankings and ratings.

Because of the higher number of predicted applicants to Quest, the admissions team will no longer be able to make time to interview everyone. This will mean that starting next year, applicants will have to make it through an initial screening to get an interview. Efficient screening tends to be numerically biased; the simplest way of screening a large number of people is using numbers, such as GPA and test scores. We thus worry that, in practice, screening will systematically exclude a certain type of student, one who did not succeed in the traditional school system, from even getting an interview.

I, Ian, one of the authors of this article, was one of such students. I graduated high school with a 1.6 GPA and nearly 100 missed classes in my senior year. I had been working and involved in community organizing since I was 16; however, most of these gigs were informal or otherwise unfit for a professional résumé. The point is, on paper, I was a classic undesirable applicant: someone who would be, and was, screened out of most college admission selection processes.

But Quest was different. When I applied in 2013, I wasn’t required to submit all of my test scores right off the bat. For my creative project, I sent in a series of articles I wrote about Occupy Seattle, which was the main reason for many of my school absences. And during my interview, I had the opportunity to convince  my admissions counselor that I was a smart and motivated person, even if I didn’t have the grades or test scores to back it up. Anyway, long story short, it worked out, and I only have Quest’s admissions process to thank for giving me a chance when other schools wouldn’t. I worry that if I applied today, I might not have gotten that chance.

In the past, Quest has prided itself on being an unconventional school for more or less unconventional students. Our concern is that the application system Quest has switched to is no longer going to let that kind of student in. That is why we believe that Admissions should revert to its old system, require the creative project in its original form, and interview every one of a smaller, more dedicated pool of applicants.

This entry was posted in: Mar2017, Opinion&Letters

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In addition to working with the Mark this year, Val is an employee of the SRC as the communications officer and a co-organizer of the Our_Futures academic colloquia. If you talk to her in person beware her horrible puns and her strong opinions on corn.

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