Tuesday, February 28, 2017
Last updated: 1 year ago

How UBC reads and grades broad-based admissions applications

UBC applications readers are looking for a pile of information about you. Photo Kai Jacobson/The Ubyssey

UBC applications readers are looking for a pile of information about you. Photo Kai Jacobson/The Ubyssey

UBC is releasing more information about how they use their broad-based admissions system to admit students — and according to undergraduate admissions director Andrew Arida, a 99 per cent average may not be enough to get in anymore.

2012 marked the first year that all new students were admitted based on not just their grades, but also a written “personal profile.” The intent was to admit well-rounded students with the propensity to get involved on campus, rather than grade-grinders.

The average grades of accepted students didn’t go down, though; it is 89 per cent, the same as it was in 2011. The university is now willing to shed a little more light into how that personal profile data is used, but most of the process remains opaque.

“It was getting to the point where the lines in the sand were arbitrary, and we want the lines in the sand to be more meaningful,” said Arida. “If you have very high grades, odds are you’re going to get in, because it’s a balance between the two. A student with a grade of 80 per cent would need a stellar profile to gain admission. By the same token, a student with a 100 per cent average would need a terrible profile to not get in. Obviously, most students end up somewhere in the middle.”

UBC’s Vancouver campus received 19,404 direct applications last year. Each faculty eyeballs their own minimum cutoff average, according to Arida, and all applicants with an average above that number have their personal profiles read by two reviewers. The university does random checks to ensure applicants’ responses about leadership and work experience are truthful.

The profiles are scored, and if the two readers disagree significantly, a third or even a fourth read may be needed to come to a consensus. The readers are recruited from staff, faculty and alumni in ratios that vary from faculty to faculty. For instance, according to Arida, the Faculty of Arts has more faculty reading applications, while the School of Kinesiology relies heavily on alumni. The Faculty of Arts puts by far the most weight into the personal profile, according to Arida. 

The process has only been around for one year, and the kinks are still being worked out. 

For example, the length of time it takes to review written applications has posed a challenge. “For most people, it’s additional work,” said Arida. “It’s not like we had the extra time before [and] this is just something else we have to do, so workload is an issue.”

And because the new format requires applicants to do more than just plug in high school grades, more people put off submitting their applications until the last minute. In 2011, only 15 per cent of UBC applications were received in the last 10 days before the deadline. In 2012 this number shot up to 55 per cent, and UBC’s online application system crashed on the last day. The university had to extend the deadline to accommodate the snag.

For the class starting in 2013, decisions about scholarships, as well as admissions, are being made based on personal profiles. Students who want to be considered for scholarships needed to have their applications completed by Dec. 10, 2012, so that UBC could assess their applications earlier and alleviate some of the strain on the system.

UBC is not the first school to use broad-based admissions to attract a more diverse incoming class. The University of Oregon was one of the first to use broad-based admissions, and they based their approach on research by William Sedlacek, a professor at the University of Maryland.

Oregon’s process, which was introduced in 2004, was designed to attract students that show potential to be successful in first year, despite their less-than-stellar academic performance in high school.

Twelve per cent of UBC’s incoming class for 2013-14 would not have been admitted based on the previous admissions system.

The personal profile is a series of short-answer questions designed to assess students based on Sedlacek’s research. A typical question might be, “Explain how you responded to a significant challenge that you have encountered and what you learned in the process.”

The responses are graded to determine a student’s self-concept, how well they can navigate a system and their level of dedication to leadership and community service. These “non-cognitive variables” have been shown to predict success in university courses.

But AMS VP Academic Kiran Mahal wonders whether this attitude adjustment at the admissions office is reflected in the rest of the university.

“We’re sending a pretty strong signal that UBC wants to know more about you as an individual. But I haven’t seen a significant amount of change in the rest of the university processes,… about what that means that we have more well-rounded students,” she said. “Are we starting to recognize people for more than grades? Are we starting to emphasize extracurricular involvement and pursuing personal interests while in university?”

High school grades are still the best predictor of success. However, according to Arida, they can only predict 30 per cent of the variation between students’ grades in first year.

“The remaining 70 per cent is everything from how long is your commute, did you have enough coffee before your exam, did your girlfriend break up with you the night before an exam — those are all things that can affect your grade that have nothing to do with your high school grades,” said Arida. 

“Admissions is a social science, not an exact science. It’s human behaviour and it’s tough to predict.”

  • Name

    Great idea, this should reduce the number of no-lives on campus

  • disqus_E92RgeGU9H

    Bad idea. Why should people who don’t feel at all interested in joining every club available be excluded? inevitably these applications are assisted by school counsellors and parents, and probably dont at all reflect how the person will actually do in school. The previous comment suggests there will be fewer “no-lives” on campus. I wonder who feels they get to decide the criteria for “having a life”?

  • mtgowns

    The problem is that the broad-based questions will be “figured out” and people will start getting accepted based on what kind of people were helping them prepare their application.

    I’m not too hot about “fact checking” being done at random, either – applicants who think they don’t have a good chance to get in through their merits can embellish their answers at will. At worse, they will be turned down from an university they had little to no chance of being accepted into.

    At the very least, grades can’t lie. They’re there for anyone to see. And while I don’t fancy myself as a “grade grinder”, I can at least tell that people with high grades are either intelligent or capable of putting sufficient time and effort to succeed in school (maybe both!). On the other hand, you can’t tell if broad-based candidates are really well-rounded or if they’re full of waste matter (either through lying or getting someone else to fill the application)

    • Qin

      Grades “can’t” lie? I guess you don’t know anyone who re-took exams during high school.

  • Qin

    A fundamental issue with only using grades is that grades from BC high schools are highly unreliable. It doesn’t seem to be a coincidence that the broad-based admissions process rolled out after the province decided that many grade 12 courses will no longer require their students to write the provincial exams to pass.

    Afterwards, teachers decided that there are no longer penalties associated with grade inflation. A province-wide exam system standardizes a student’s scores and keeps teachers honest. UBC can look at the discrepancy between different school’s provincial exam averages as a proxy to detect grade inflation. However, without provincial exams, grades have become unreliable.

    In addition, unlike US colleges where students usually apply with their SATs and AP/IB grades, There is absolutely no standardized method to measure the academic abilities of students from different schools or even different classes in the same school!

    To those who are saying that a broad-based admission system is “unfair”. An automatic admission system based on submitted grades is equally unfair. If I got 90% in an “honours” Math 12 class, how can you compare that with a 95% in a regular Math 12 class at a different school?

    Furthermore, a lot of students can game their GPA especially since UBC only looks at your top four grades. It encourages students to focus only on the four courses required to get into UBC and ignore the rest (or takes courses like PE and Career Planning).

    I suspect that a broad-based admission system actually allows UBC to look at which courses a student actually took and improve their analysis of a student’s academic ability. It’s not just about clubs and volunteering.

  • common sense

    I would NOT want a doctor who only knows 82% of his/her stuff, but volunteered at soccer camps (extra curricular/leadership skills/community service) and can play soccer really well. I would want a doctor who knows his/her stuff 100%. I wouldn’t care if he/she can play soccer.

    This “well-rounded” notion is getting ridiculous. Who cares if an engineer can do ballet? Can the engineer build a bridge that won’t collapse on me?

    Please get those top 100% students back.