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Increasing diversity in admission procedures

A diverse group of young students

Selection procedures are supposed to identify those who later have the best grades and are most successful in their careers. But what if such an approach creates a homogeneous student body that is predominantly a reflection of today’s elite?

What about people with low-SES (socio-economic status) background, from non-academic families, with migration background, non-native speakers? What about people who were not able to reveal their full potential in school, e.g. because of problems in adolescence or family problems? Do we want to leave the potential of these people undiscovered? No, we want diversity and fair opportunities. Different backgrounds and biographies enable different perspectives.

How can admissions in higher education be improved regarding diversity and fairness?

    • Using aptitude tests in which all participants have equal chances, instead of relying on high school GPA alone. Aptitude tests should be developed and evaluated according to international scientific standards. Ideally, these aptitude tests are robust to training to avoid that results depend on expensive test prep.
    • Offering different paths into the study programme by quotas. In these quotas, different (valid) selection criteria should be weighed differently. This will offer perspectives for people with different profiles and foster diversity

An example: Admission models of German universities in the field of medicine and pharmacy combine the two approaches. They create at least three quotas that promote diversity and give people a chance who did not take the standard path of excelling in high school:

First, there is a quota for the best high school GPA: 30 percent of the places are awarded exclusively to applicants with top GPA. This quota has to be used by all universities in the same way.

Second, 60 percent of the places are awarded on the basis of a selection procedure that each university designs individually (following some restrictions). Here, GPA and admission test results are combined, most often together with other criteria such as work experience, internships, voluntary work or interviews. Some universities even form sub-quotas here with greatly varying weighting, so that people with different profiles are admitted and everybody gets a fair chance.

Third, there is an additional aptitude quota for 10 percent of the study places: Here, GPA does not play any role at all, it is only the result in the admission test and/or other criteria that count.

Universities and Business Schools should at least take the first approach. It is simple, transparent, maximizes the validity of the admissions procedure and gives a chance to people who did not achieve top-GPAs at school.

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