May 2, 2011


Provost: Admissions is an art as well as a science

The admission process, at Emory and other schools, has long been viewed as a science based on test scores, GPAs, class rankings and the like. In his annual spring address,  Provost Earl Lewis suggested that Emory's admission process could be more like an art, thereby resulting in a more vibrant, diverse community of students.

"As long as we have the right to shape a class, we should not shrink from that responsibility. We should own it with great vigor," said Lewis during his April 28 talk on "Shaping a Class in the 21st Century: Considerations at the Undergraduate, Graduate and Professional Levels."

And what might that vigor entail? Perhaps a more proactive and creative approach to determining which prospective students might add the most to the Emory community.

"If we admit only in the normal way, we may overdetermine a profile," he said. "So, we may end up with a lot of students who want to take a physics class, fewer students who might want to take a literature class, and perhaps no students who end up in the visual arts department."

Continuing with his example, Lewis suggested a new tactic might be seeking out the most accomplished visual arts student in a high school regardless of his or her class ranking.

"Does it matter if they are number 20 from in their high school if they are the top visual arts student?" Lewis asked. "These are the questions we should be wrestling with as we move forward to make sure that we are creating the community of scholars that we seek. 'Shaping' a class means we get to shape it."

Lewis did not limit his remarks to the undergraduate experience. He addressed graduate and professional school admissions, too, and offered innovative ideas about how the University might look beyond conventional student measures in the future.

"As we ponder what needs to be done, we should constantly ask, what constitutes 'qualified?' Is the best student the one with the highest test scores or highest GPA?" he asked, adding that studies show such quantitative measures are not always the best predictors of student success.

"How do we begin to look at things like creativity, perseverance, the ability to work in teams, or even the courage to admit 'I don't know?' Because oftentimes, it's the ability to say 'I don't know' that leads to a line of inquiry that results in new discoveries and new areas of productivity."  

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