10 Colleges and Universities Innovating the Application Process

The seemingly endless series of college applications that awaits university-bound students can be a little overwhelming. Many colleges now use the Common Application, but the whole ordeal still requires a fair amount of tiresome repetition. Some schools, however, have adopted exciting new approaches to the application process, either to help refine their selection methodology or just break up the monotony. Here are 10 colleges and universities trying to shake up this application season (in alphabetical order):

  1. DePaul University has made a bold move in the world of college admissions -- prospective students at the Chicago, IL university can now choose whether or not to submit standardized test scores with their application. For years, a student's SAT and ACT scores were held as a make-or-break part of the college application process. DePaul administrators believe that your academic record speaks for itself, and that a simple number on a single exam might not be as important as we think. They will consider your scores though, if you submit them.
  2. George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia has taken a cue from the modern world of ubiquitous multimedia for a new feature to its undergraduate application. You may, if you choose, produce a short video essay that explains why George Mason is the right school for you and submit it for consideration by the school's admissions committee. If your submission is especially good, they might even post it online as an example for all other prospective video essayists to aspire to.
  3. Georgia Tech University has instituted an admissions innovation that focuses on college-ready high schoolers looking to get a head start on their post-secondary studies. The university's Move On When Ready program allows qualifying students to enroll in up to 12 semester hours of coursework from Georgia Tech in topics that may not be available at their high schools. The Atlanta, GA, institution also offers Early Admission procedures for students who want to bypass 12th grade and go straight to the big leagues.
  4. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has released a new upgrade to its admission process for the 2014 academic year. Known as Maker Portfolios, the new option functions as a way for young "artists, makers, and musicians" to showcase their projects and creative process alongside their academic records and letters of recommendation. MIT administrators hope that this new feature will help them get a better picture of their applicants by encouraging them to share their passions.
  5. Oregon State University requires prospective students to submit what's called an Insight Resume, through which they hope to understand each applicant's unique perspective, qualifications and talents. Applicants to OSU are given a list of six questions to answer, on topics such as their leadership contributions, creativity, community service, triumphs over adversity, and depth of knowledge in special interest areas. Prolific writers don't necessarily have the upper hand on the Insight Resume either -- responses are limited to 100 words or less.
  6. Pitzer College uses the Common Application like many other schools in the U.S., but otherwise, the Claremont, CA school ventures a ways off the beaten path. One of the more innovative parts of their unique application process is the opportunity to submit a video interview. The school encourages on-campus interviews as well, so applicants can take multiple opportunities to establish themselves as real people rather than just test scores on a spreadsheet.
  7. University of Chicago administrative personnel are accustomed to a personalized and in-depth admissions process, which helps when reviewing applicants for a school that maintains no minimum for GPA or test score figures. The university prides itself on its reputation for asking interesting, unusual and provocative essay questions to its applicants, and the list of options for 2014 are certainly in accordance with that tradition. If you apply this year, be prepared to write about the peculiar and majestic mantis shrimp, the anatomy of your favorite joke or possible ways one might legitimately compare apples and oranges.
  8. University of Washington uses a process called "holistic review" to assess prospective students. Administrators at the Seattle, WA school believe that they can best build a diverse and passionate student body if they allow the entirety of an applicant's experiences to speak towards their potential as a student. The policy seems to be working, too -- University of Washington ranks 3rd in the nation for percentage of students who continue all the way through to graduation.
  9. Wilbur Wright College in Chicago, IL makes use of a novel evaluation called the Success Navigator questionnaire to determine appropriate course placements for incoming first-year students. The questionnaire, an online assessment that takes about 20 minutes, can be used with or without standardized test scores to assess a student's academic disposition, non-cognitive skills and likelihood of degree completion. Wilbur Wright, along with other City Colleges of Chicago, has provisions for coursework acceleration for qualified students.
  10. Yale College in New Haven, CT has a special admissions program in place for students whose academic career has been interrupted for a period of five years or greater. Named for a famous inventor who applied to the university at the age of 23, the Eli Whitney Students Program aims to make Yale's legendary educational resources available to individuals who haven't had the appropriate resources available to them to take a traditional academic path. Whitney students are offered generous need-based financial aid and admitted on a "need-blind" basis, promising that no qualified applicant will be turned away because of financial hardship.

Many other colleges are also choosing to take a non-traditional approach to the college application process, so don't fear if your university of interest doesn't appear on this list. The "holistic reading" model of reviewing college applications is catching on, and that may mean fewer schools will continue basing their admissions decisions solely on test scores and standardized applications. Even though it never hurts to study hard for the SAT, it might not be a bad idea to also focus on your extracurricular passions and practice your video interview skills.

Admission and Aid, DePaul University, http://www.depaul.edu/admission-and-aid/Pages/default.aspx
Test-Optional FAQs, DePaul University, http://www.depaul.edu/admission-and-aid/Pages/test-optional-faqs.aspx
Office of Admissions, George Mason University, http://admissions.gmu.edu/
Move On When Ready, Georgia Tech University, http://www.admission.gatech.edu/MOWR
MIT Admissions, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, http://mitadmissions.org/
Portfolios & Additional Material, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, http://mitadmissions.org/apply/freshman/supplements
Office of Admissions, Oregon State University, http://oregonstate.edu/admissions/
Admission and Financial Aid, Pitzer College, https://www.pitzer.edu/admission/
Apply, The University of Chicago, https://collegeadmissions.uchicago.edu/apply/
Admission, University of Washington, http://admit.washington.edu/Admission/
What We Believe, University of Washington, http://admit.washington.edu/Admission/WhatWeBelieve
Admissions, City Colleges of Chicago - Wilbur Wright, http://www.ccc.edu/colleges/wright/departments/pages/admissions.aspx
Eli Whitney Students Program, Yale College, http://admissions.yale.edu/eli-whitney