When it comes time for applicants to complete their Kira assessment, the first thing they'll do is watch a welcome video.

Your team crafts this video and it serves many purposes. It gives you the opportunity to show off your campus, introduce applicants to members of your school/faculty, and explain the qualities that are important to your school’s culture.

Creating a compelling welcome video may seem daunting, but following the steps of a handful of our partner schools will lead you in the right direction.

University of Cincinnati - Carl H. Lindner College of Business

The University of Cincinnati is the second largest public university in Ohio. Their business school, the Carl H. Lindner College of Business, uses Kira assessments for the MS Information Systems, MS Business Analytics, and MBA Program.

Why it works:

The University of Cincinnati does an amazing job of captivating applicants by diving into information about the university, the business school, and student life beyond campus walls.

We love how they build a renewed sense of excitement in their applicants by presenting Cincinnati as a business hub filled with potential.

Most importantly, it showcases all that the university has to offer and the value a Lindner business degree will hold.

University of St.Gallen - Strategy and International Management

The University of St.Gallen is a public university in Switzerland. They use Kira to evaluate applicants for the Master of Arts in Strategy and International Management (SIM) program.

Why it works:

Nathalie Naveda, the Manager for Admissions, Recruiting, and Marketing, takes a great approach with this welcome video. She explains what sets the SIM program apart and expands on the school’s culture and values.

Her calm presence and focus on conveying helpful information creates the perfect setting for applicants to embark on their video assessment.

Watching the SIM welcome video enables applicants to confidently complete their video assessment knowing that the school genuinely wants to get to know them. After all, as Nathalie puts it best, “The only right answer is being honest and true to yourself at all times.”

Langara College

Langara College is a public college located in Vancouver, Canada. They currently use Kira for their Post-Degree Diploma Nursing Practice in Canada program, which is a program for foreign-trained nurses to become accredited to practice in Canada.

Why it works:

Langara's welcome video does a wonderful job of introducing the program staff to build a personal connection with applicants.

With a kind and collected demeanor, Myra Percy, Assistant Chair of the International Program at the Faculty of Nursing shares her professional research interests and history as a registered nurse in Canada. This creates a special experience for applicants who might not be able to visit the campus and meet the faculty before applying.

The welcome video allows applicants to learn about the specifics of the program, important pieces of campus life, and the core values that underlie the program. Overall, this video is a very thoughtful representation of the school.


HackerYou is a private career college in Toronto, Canada. They use Kira to help select students for their web-development education programs.

Why it works:

Applicants are immediately drawn in by scenes of a beautiful campus, but that's not the only appeal. This well-executed video moves beyond aesthetics and into the benefits of studying at HackerYou.

Much of the video focuses on their key appeals such as the low student-teacher ratios and one-on-one support until employment is found.

By having teachers talk about the unique features of their programs, applicants are given a strong understanding of what their future could look like if they’re admitted to HackerYou.

What do they all have in common?

Four programs from three countries, ranging from small career colleges to large universities, have all created effective welcome videos by:

As you begin crafting your welcome video, remember that it’s a tool to distinguish yourself and allow applicants to see the “real you”. An effective and impactful welcome video can set your applicants up for success as they begin their Kira assessments, and help you find the applicants who will thrive on your campus.

If you are interested in updating your welcome video, reach out to our Client Success Team at success@kiratalent.com

Applicant numbers in higher education are rising. As a result, some admissions reviewers are assessing up to 200 applications per week.

That reality, coupled with the pressure to increase cohort diversity, can result in overwhelmed reviewers who are underprepared to equitably assess applicants.

Under these conditions, it's much easier for reviewer fatigue and other forms of bias to creep into the admissions process. And when these factors tamper with decisions, well-deserving students may not be given a fair chance of getting into college.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Here are four ways you can set your reviewers up for success and help ensure equitable assessments:

1) Create rubrics to define how applicants are scored

With time restraints in place, reviewers may only spend fifteen minutes evaluating and scoring an application.

In those situations, using a thoughtful and tested rubric increases the likelihood of a fair review.

But before incorporating rubrics into your process, it’s important that you train reviewers on how to use them.

Be sure to define any subjective terms (like “strong vs. weak”) in a training guide or session so there’s consistency among reviewers.

Afterwards, you can analyze the rubric results to gain insight into the effectiveness and fairness of your evaluation criteria.

For example, if all of your first generation applicants are scoring poorly in an evaluation area, you might become aware of unintentional biases in your rubric criteria.

2) Gather more context on your applicants’ high school experience

The high school experience of an applicant is just as important as their GPA or other academic metrics.

However, information on class rank, subsidized lunches, and average income isn’t readily available.

This creates a challenge for reviewers who want to make informed admissions decisions.

Research shows that reviewers who have in-depth information on high school contexts are more likely to admit low-income applicants compared to when they don’t have this information.

So to help your team make more equitable admissions decisions, consider gathering this context for your reviewers.

Jerome Furman, a high school counselor at New York City's Eastside Community High, currently does this as part of his job. He makes sure colleges receive Eastside High's "school profile” along with each application.

This brief yet concise document helps admissions professionals understand the school’s curriculum, grading system, and demographic makeup.

3) Determine and assess for core competencies

Applicants with extensive accomplishments are impressive, but applicants who haven’t had the same opportunities deserve a fair chance as well.

To level the playing field, create an evaluation framework based on competencies rather than experiences.

For example, imagine you’re looking for global mindedness in your applicants. Using a competency rubric will allow you to evaluate for it in applicants who have studied abroad and those who have participated in a pen-pal program.

By finding more ways to screen in applicants, you'll ensure that fewer are overlooked.

Learn about how a school admitted applicants exclusively with portfolios and competencies.

4) Enlist the help of non-alumni application reviewers

Many of us love our alma mater but does this mean we should decide who gets admitted? Maybe not.

According to a recent study, alumni may evaluate applications with more bias than non-alumni.

While most likely unintentionally, alumni may admit students with the best grades to increase the prestige of their alma mater. Alumni may also favor applicants similar to themselves due to in-group bias.

If you’re looking to change the demographics of students at your school or increase diversity, consider using trained reviewers who didn't attend your school.

Continuing the momentum

With these four practices in place, you’ll most likely see an increase in the diversity of your incoming class.

However, remember that the work doesn’t stop there.

While increasing diversity is important, it can backfire if your school isn’t prepared to support incoming students.

Depending on who you admit, it might be beneficial to increase student supports in the financial aid department, demographic-specific offices on campus, or supports for first-generation students.

After all, retaining a diverse group of students capable of thriving at your school is just as important as admitting them in the first place.

This is part 3 of a 3 part series – check out part 1 here and part 2 here.

Students produce an incredible amount of data that schools can access quite easily.

In addition to grades, race, gender, and employment outcomes, a growing number of schools are tracking which competencies their students are developing through Co-Curricular Record/Transcript (CCR/T) data.

Learn more about creating a CCR/T on your campus.

While there’s little information on how they’re using this data, there are many innovative ways that different offices across campus could use it to better support students.

1. Admissions Offices

Human resource teams have been using competencies to hire applicants for decades. However, it’s just now becoming typical for higher education to do the same.

Schools are progressively finding that using competency-based assessments in admissions can help identify best-fit students.

So when determining which students to accept to your school, consider evaluating them through a competency framework.

This will help you narrow down the most important qualities of your students and create more structure to assess subjective criteria, like letters of recommendation or admissions essays.

Although there are many ways to determine which competencies you want to assess at admissions, there are benefits to relying on CCR/T data.

It provides hard evidence into which competencies your current students are developing, and informs your understanding of the type of student that could be successful at your school.

Case Study

You work in admissions at a large undergraduate school that measures student success by the percentage of students who complete their degree in four years.

Over the past few years, students have been taking longer to complete their degrees.

While this could be attributed to many factors, your admissions team is tasked with finding “better fit” students who are more likely to graduate in four years.

How Co-Curricular Record/Transcript data can help:

Gather a list of students who have successfully completed their degree in four years and analyze their CCR/T data for commonalities.

Look specifically at the competencies they developed on campus, then consider assessing for these competencies at admissions. This may increase the likelihood of admitting other applicants who’ll graduate in four years

2. Career Centers

Campus career centers have the responsibility of helping students prepare for, and find jobs after graduation.

Some of the companies they apply to may use competency-based hiring.

This practice of assessing candidates, not only for their degree subject or previous experience but for their possession of certain competencies, has been shown to decrease turnover and increase diversity.

Since your students may be hired based on competencies, it’s beneficial to help them think about how they can develop and articulate their personal competencies.

Case Study

A second-year, graphic design student comes to a resume workshop. Because they lack work experience, they’re unsure of how to stand out from other applicants.

How Co-Curricular Record/Transcript data can help:

Potentially, encourage students to create a competency-based resume to better demonstrate their development in these important competencies.

3. Centers for Community Engagement

Service learning or community engagement offices can consult CCR/T data to connect students with experiences that best suit their skill set.

This approach can mutually benefit your students and the partner organizations that your team works with.

Case Study

A community partner reaches out and is looking for a student volunteer to organize their adult literacy programming.

Because this is a leadership role, they’re looking for a student who has experience with leading teams and with effective intercultural communication.

How Co-Curricular Record/Transcript data can help:

CCR/T data will show your team which students have the skills that the partner organization is looking for.

With that in mind, you could require that students submit their CCR/T when applying for this volunteer position.

Or, if you have the resources, your team could do targeted outreach. This means pulling the CCR/Ts for the students on your mailing list, and only sending this opportunity out to those who are qualified.

Taking either approach will create a more efficient process for both you and the applicants.

What will you do with Co-Curricular Record/Transcript data to support students?

CCR/T data is vast and varied, but it provides an unparalleled look into who your students are, the skills they possess, and the skills they could develop.

Finding innovative ways to use CCR/T data on-campus will enhance your students' experiences and provide them with more ways to develop the competencies important to their future.

Does your school have a CCR/T? How do you utilize this data to support your current and future students? Comment below to share your experience.

In October 2018, a group of registrars and academics from the Association of American Universities gathered at the University of Toronto to discuss the future of the academic transcript.

The classic academic transcript provides an official record of each student’s course titles and grades. However, the benefit of the limited information on the traditional transcript is being questioned with course titles like, “Popular Potter, Gothic Horror, and Gal Pals: Women and Friendship.”

The group found that for the academic transcript to continue to be a helpful tool for students, more information is necessary on the content of the courses and the learning outcomes.

Bloomberg found that between 2000 and 2012, the demand for soft skills grew faster than technical skills. As the traditional transcript is being re-worked, how can students keep a record of the soft skills they developed in post-secondary?

Co-Curricular Programming and Tracking

Until we have an academic transcript that encompasses the students’ learning and development inside and outside of the classroom, a Co-Curricular Record/Transcript (CCR/T) will allow your students - and your administration – to better understand the soft skills that are developed on your campus.

Richard Levin, U of T’s executive director of enrolment services and registrar, said “they are enthusiastic about having the current transcript supplemented by a co-curricular record that documents their involvement in activities like clubs and volunteer work.”

CACUSS, the Canadian professional association for student affairs and services professionals, defines the CCR/T as a “program [that] provides an official document validating a student’s achievement and involvement through a specific post-secondary institution’s defined Co-Curricular programming.”

Kim Elias, who has completed research on the Co-Curricular Record/Transcript, found that only four percent of polled employers indicated that applicants are excellent at describing the soft skills that they developed outside of the classroom.

“If a student is a residence don, there is valuable learning and skills developed through that experience. However, if an employer does not know what a don is, and the student does not effectively articulate the skills developed through that experience, then the value is lost, and the assumption is that the student does not possess those skills,” says Elias.

History of the Co-Curricular Record/Transcript (CCR/T)

The Co-Curricular Record/Transcript has had many identities over the past thirty years: It is also known as the co-curricular transcript, experiences transcript, or as far back as its inception in the 1980s, the student development transcript (Ohochukwu 47). Regardless of its name, all of these terms represent how institutions of higher education have been tracking student involvement on-campus for over 30 years.

Starting with the name “Co-Curricular”, this programming and documentation allows your school to emphasize the importance that activities outside of the classroom can have on your students’ learning and development. Using the prefix “co” puts these activities on the same level of academics - not just something “extra” that they take part in, which is the connotation when called “extra-curricular activities”.

The CCR/T not only provides students with an official institutional document similar to an academic transcript, it provides a description of that activity, the specific role that the student held, and the competencies that the student developed through their participation.

Here's an example from the University of Guelph-Humber:

An example of an official co-curricular record from University of Guelph-Humber

The American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) found that in 2018 only four percent of surveyed schools have a CCR/T.

However, as was revealed in their qualitative data, some CCR/T are not issued through the transcript office so the respondents may not be aware that their institution issues CCR/T or the details of the process.

North of the border, more than 50 schools in Canada have a CCR/T resulting in a new wave of students finishing their studies with two official transcripts – one for academics and one for co-curricular programming.

As we embark on an exciting journey to update the academic transcript, introducing a CCR/T will allow your students to understand their soft-skill development and help them relay this information to future employers.

Read Part 2: How To Gather and Utilize Data from the Co-Curricular Record/Transcript Next

This is part 2 of a 3 part series - check out part 1 here and learn about the history of the CCR/T.

Does your school have a Co-Curricular Record/Transcript?

If not, you may want to consider implementing one. Check out CACUSS’ tips on starting a CCR/T at your school.

A CCR/T is not only beneficial to your students by helping them recognize and reflect on the skills they have developed, which can help in their job search after graduation, but it can also provide invaluable insight to your institution.

See more: The University of Toronto and other schools work to re-invent the academic transcript to encompass all learning on campus.

Here’s how you can use CCR/T data to enhance practices in academics and student services:

Investigate the most (and least) developed competencies on your campus

Implementing a CCR/T will require that you attach competencies, learning outcomes, or soft skills with the co-curricular programming that you offer on campus. Although time consuming, this will allow your institution to report on the most and least developed competencies throughout your student body.

Once you’ve collected at least one year of data, it can be used in comparison with your school or specific faculties mission or vision statements.

Case Study:

You are a school of global affairs and you expect your students to develop cultural awareness while in your program, but CCR/T data shows that only a small percentage of students are gaining this competency through co-curricular programming. You can use this information to inform decisions to enhance global affairs competency development in the classroom, create additional co-curricular programming for this competency, or increase efforts to grow the number of students participating in existing programming.

The CCR/T data allows you to see how your students are developing the competencies most important to your program.

Do you work in a professional faculty?

Many professional accreditation bodies have competencies that members are expected to possess to be accredited in that institution.

Here are a few examples:

While many of these competencies may be developed in your in-class programming, you can use CCR/T data to see if your students are developing these competencies outside of the classroom as well. This data could inform not only updates to your co-curricular programming but also updates to academic courses and intended learning outcomes.

Work Cross-Collaboratively Between Student Services and Academics

Institutions of higher education are investing more time and energy into developing the “student experience.” Many of your student service colleagues have gone through rigorous training to learn how to best support students through post-secondary.

The CCR/T allows for more cross-collaboration between academic and student service practitioners. As soft-skills are surpassing technical skills in workplace necessities, more than ever students need equal support from inside the classroom, and outside the classroom development.

Imagine that your CCR/T data shows that students are not developing their presentation/facilitation skills in their co-curricular activities, but you know that this is an important skill to be developed for the workforce. Knowing this information, you can connect with professors to understand the development of these skills in the classroom and give your students services team more insight into what types of programming you should focus on increasing.

After Graduation

Globally we are seeing more focus on how to equip our students with the necessary skills for the workforce.

The Province of Ontario has a mandate to increase work-integrated learning opportunities, and ensure that students are equipped with the skills necessary for the changing workforce. They have a focus on how to close the gap in skills and competencies “by finding ways to teach and recognize the skills that students learn, such as teamwork, problem solving and entrepreneurial spirit…”

South of the border, the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that recent graduates from post-secondary were lacking the necessary workplace skills like critical thinking and communication.

Understanding your CCR/T data will allow you to see how many of your students are developing the necessary skills and competencies for the workforce, and will inform your teams to better establish programming for students to continue to develop these skills and have prosperous careers after graduation.

Read Part 3: Using Co-Curricular Record/Transcript Data to Support Students Next

Globalization, internationalization, and higher education

In 1975 there were 40 million post-secondary students, and by 2007 it more than tripled to 150 million students worldwide. Much of the growth in the global student population over the past four decades is from blossoming higher education systems in developing countries.

Alongside the increase in the number of students around the world, we are also seeing an increase in the number of students studying at a university outside their home country. It is predicted that by 2025 there will be 8 million students who study abroad (OECD). “This mobility has oscillated from a mostly unilateral East-to-West stream to become much more reciprocal,” (QS Intelligence Unit 3). As we enter the next decade we can expect to see a more equal distribution of international students around the world.

International students are frequently caught at the meeting point of multiple economic, social, and academic agendas. When international applicants apply to your programs they are embarking on a complicated social, financial, and cultural journey.

As we see institutions receiving and admitting more international applicants than ever before, admissions teams may need to update their evaluation processes to take into account different education systems, cultures, and expectations of institutions of higher education.

The impact on applicants

The traditional trope of an international student at a western institution is a rich foreigner who is able to pay their way through school without financial assistance. In many countries in order to qualify for a study permit, international applicants need to provide “proof of funds” that they can pay tuition without financial assistance.

However, as education researchers Caldwell and Hyams-Ssekasi found in their 2016 research, applicants are actually sourcing this money from family, friends, or loans in their home country. By making their bank account appear that they have enough money to pay for their tuition and fees, institutions mistakenly believe these students require no financial assistance.

Because international students typically do not have loans from their host country, many institutions do not know that they need financial assistance, or that their students may need more help in securing work and gaining an income while studying in a new country.

The application process to post-secondary institutions also causes immense anxiety to international applicants. Unfortunately, the support that universities provide to international students normally begins either at the point of admission or at the point of arrival to the university. Because of the stress that this process causes international students, the benefits substantially outweigh the costs of creating a pre-application support or programming for international applicants.

Creating a more global application process

When international students complete a standard online application for university, they are automatically disadvantaged as the reviewers assessing the applications are unlikely to be from the same cultural background. In order to fully understand and assess international applicants, we must first start by giving them a platform to adequately represent themselves.

To enhance the international applicant experience we must begin by recognizing that international students are not a homogeneous group and while we can cater some of our services to them, the international student population is made up a diverse group of people who each have unique perspectives and needs.

For more on this, read:

Engaging Chinese international undergraduate students in the American university by Heidi Ross and Yaijing Chen (2015)

International Student Expectations: Career Opportunities and Employability by Per A. Nilsson and Nannette Ripmeester (2016)

Helping the Transition: Mentorship to Support International Students in Canada by Clint Thomson and Victoria M. Esses (2016)

Leaving Home: The Challenges of Black-African International Students Prior to Studying Overseas by Elizabeth Frances Caldwell and Denis Hyams-Ssekasi (2016)

You cannot talk with all of the strangers in a pub’: a longitudinal study of international postgraduate students’ social ties at a British university by Alina Schartner (2014)

Competency-based admissions and portfolios for international applicants

Competency-based admissions is a growing body of knowledge surrounding how we evaluate applications to post-secondary. It looks to evaluate the actual skills that the applicant has acquired at that point in their education, not just understand the courses that they took or the extracurriculars that they were involved in.

Assessing an application for GPA and test scores before looking at supplemental application materials may not account for the potential and capability of your international applicants. While grades are an important equalizer amongst applicants, comparing educational systems to determine grade equivalencies is a challenging task.

Domestic applicants frequently require conversions between state or provincial grading systems, but with international applicants this can become more challenging. Admissions teams do not only need to understand the rating scale and curriculum where applicants are located but also take into account the culture of the education system that the applicant is applying from.

Using competency-based admissions to level the playing field

Competency-based admissions provides a way to navigate different education systems by trying to understand what students actually learned in their education journey, rather than trying to create equivalencies.

Kwantlen Polytechnic University located in British Columbia, Canada has an education incubator called Kwantlen Educational Policy Incubator (KEPI). Part of KEPI’s research examines how to streamline processes between elementary, secondary and post-secondary institutions.

“The government of British Columbia is in the process of revamping its educational curriculum away from grades, focusing instead on core competencies including communication, thinking, as well as personal and social competency,” said Dr. David Burns, who leads the study, in an interview earlier this year.

The Mastermind Europe project found the way around determining grade equivalencies was to not ask “‘Does this student have a bachelor’s which is sufficiently identical to our own preceding bachelor’s’ but instead ask ‘Does this student have what it takes to be successful in our programme?’” (Kouwenaar, p. 131, 2015).

Competency-based admissions helps your team see the applicant as an individual, and when it comes to international applicants, it gives you so much more than a data point of a standardized test or an attempt at grade and curriculum equivalencies.

Understanding an applicant’s story

Understanding who the actual human being that will be joining your incoming class is potentially even more important than their skills and abilities in any one subject area.

Because international applicants are most likely coming from a culture different from that of your university, you are immediately confronted with a challenge in understanding cultural differences the moment that you open their application.

By recognizing that international applicants are not a homogeneous group it can be challenging to create adequate resources and supports that will benefit all international students. With this in mind, I believe that the best way to allow applicants to better express themselves is to give them the opportunity to do so!

We are seeing more and more institutions implementing holistic admissions and allowing students to provide evidence of who they are, their past successes and future potential.

One way to do this is by introducing video assessments into your application process. By giving international applicants a chance to verbally represent themselves, you get an inside look that would typically only be given to applicants that could come to an on-campus visit, or through complicated Skype interview scheduling. Yes, you can use Kira Talent to do this!

Besides video assessments, schools are using portfolios. Similar to the “locker” feature on the Coalition Application, these portfolios allow applicants to share different sides of themselves with your admissions team.

KEPI has a specific research project called The Surrey Portfolio Pathway Partnership (S3P).

“The Surrey Portfolio Pathway Partnership, or S3P, is intended to create a pathway through which students from the Surrey School District can be admitted to KPU with their portfolios, which are designed to show a more complete picture of each and every individual's skills and abilities than are traditional letter grades,” says KEPI.

These portfolios can be used to demonstrate academic competence, but can also be used to demonstrate personal characteristics, traits, and skills.

The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business - Bachelor of Business Administration implemented a portfolio component to their admissions process. To complete an application to Ross, applicants would need to write a 500-word admissions essay, and upload an “artifact”, which is meant to be ”a document or artifact that represents something significant about your life to show your learning in action.”

This addition to the application process allows applicants to speak about something that is deeply important to them through their artifact upload. It gives applicants the opportunity to express themselves to the admissions committee in a genuine way.

As the world of university admissions continues to globalize at a high rate, admissions teams need to be innovative in their evaluation practices.

Competency-based admissions, or enhancing your holistic admissions process, is certainly one way to do so.

Learn how to attract, admit and retain students through student development theory and competency-based admissions.

The purpose of admissions is to process applications and admit applicants in the hopes that they will become students. But how do the criteria these future students are evaluated against align with student success and retention?

Student Development Theory

Student Development Theory researches why students succeed during their time in post-secondary. It is a growing body of knowledge that informs many student service professionals and student support offices. 

The Major Players

Astin’s Theory of Involvement

Being involved on campus gives students higher rates of success in college or university. Astin determined that a student’s development was directly related to the quantity and quality of student involvement.

“Student involvement refers to the amount of physical and psychological energy that the student devotes to the academic experience,” (Astin p. 297 1984).

Following Astin’s Theory of Involvement admissions team would need to recruit applicants based on their likelihood to become involved on-campus. This would lead to looking for certain competencies in students, including motivation, time management, and leadership.

How competency-based admissions can help admit involved students following Astin’s Theory of Involvement

The following ideas will help you determine how to revamp your competency-based admissions processes to include Astin’s Theory of Involvement.

  1. Work with student service teams to determine which types of students are currently most likely to be engaged on-campus.
    1. The co-curricular activities office may have data on which students are most involved in your programming.
  2. Create new programming to engage students that are not currently involved outside of the classroom.
    1. Create student supports and programming for your incoming class before they arrive on campus. 
  3. Ensure that the students you are admitting have ways to get involved on-campus.
    1. Take their interests and aspirations into account at the admissions stage. For example, 
      1. If you admit 200 applicants who were Editor-In-Chief of their high school newspaper, but your school only has one student publication with a staff of 20, you may be already disengaging students at the admissions stage.

Tinto’s Theory of Student Departure

Tinto’s Theory of Student Departure investigates student retention. He believes that students leave their studies before graduating because of the interactions they have with the university. These interactions can fall into four different categories: academic, social, intellectual integration, or a weak commitment to college or university.

Tinto recognizes that all students come to campus with specific characteristics, backgrounds, passions, and expectations. He also recognizes that every institution has unique characteristics and finding a good “fit” between applicants and institutions is key to student retention.

While the admissions teams duties may end at finding good “fit” applicants, he also believes that it is the institution's responsibility to provide opportunities for students to integrate socially, intellectually, and to succeed academically,.

Read: New Stanford Research Looks at How Cultural Differences Could Impact Applicant “Fit”

The link between admissions teams and student services is key to student retention.

How competency-based admissions can help retain students following Tinto’s Theory of Student Departure

Read 3 steps that your team can take to implement Tinto’s Theory of Student Departure into your competency-based admissions processes.

  1. Determine the General Academic Competencies that your applicants need to succeed academically with your faculty.
    1. Work with faculty to determine what really is expected of students in their first-year classes. This can include skills they absolutely need to successfully complete and be engaged in their courses.
  2. Determine (Inter)Personal Competencies and Traits with your student services staff.
    1. Student services staff have the most insight into what programming is offered on-campus outside of the classroom. Determine which types of students they can support, through offices existing programming and offices.
  3. Determine Subject-Related Knowledge & Skills with the faculty or program directors of the specific programs that applicants are applying to. Or even bring in current students or alumni!
    1. Speak with current students or alumni about what specific knowledge they needed when they entered the program. This can help to determine the competencies to assess applicants on during admissions.


Sanford’s Theory of Challenge and Support

Sanford’s Theory of Challenge and Support investigates how to keep students engaged during their time at college or university. If they have too much challenge and not enough support, they could “retreat”, which can lead to apprehension and unproductive stress.

Similarly, if a student has too much support but not enough challenge, they can become stagnant.

The objective is to provide the adequate amount of challenge and support to lead to “maximum growth”.

Admissions teams are looking for students who will engage with their school at this cross-section of support and challenge to allow maximum growth for all students.

When a student reaches maximum growth they are less likely to transfer or drop-out. This increases the school’s completion rates, which in turn recruiters can use to attract applicants to their school.

How to use competency-based admissions to help ensure students reach maximum growth

Below are two examples of how to assess for competencies during the admissions process.

Example 1

A bustling city campus that does not have that many student clubs, where students do not have a dedicated academic or co-curricular counselor. Mostly a commuter school.

Potential Competencies: global mindedness to navigate the diversity of the city and the student body, motivation to seek out new opportunities because there is not going to be someone supporting them through every step, and strong communication skills to be able to explain what they want to learn and accomplish while a student at your institution.

If you were to admit students without the above competencies, they could potentially feel too challenged at your institution because they were expecting additional support. This could lead to disengagement and potential departure before degree completion.

Example 2

A small liberal arts school located in a rural town where the average class size is 10 and students regularly meet with a counselor to ensure that they are not only successful in school but they are successful outside of the classroom. Students complete volunteer work for reduced tuition fees.

Potential Competencies: volunteerism as all students have to help out in the school community as part of their graduation requirements, engagement as all students are an instrumental part of the school community, and empathy as the small student body means that successful students will have to be able to get along with a close-knit group of students.

If you were to admit students without the above competencies, they could feel overwhelmed by the interconnectedness of campus. This could lead to disengagement and potential departure before degree completion.

Moving Forward

Some schools and admissions teams may view competency-based admissions as an interesting idea, but they are not willing to take the plunge to utilize it to its fullest extent.

Through leaning on theories that already mold our education systems, you are better able to introduce a new practice into your admissions processes with proven results.

While the above tips will take many stakeholders and potentially years to fully introduce into your practices, it will allow you to better understand your institution, which types of programming you should offer for students to succeed, and which types of competencies successful students need to possess to become engaged students and alumni of your institution.

College admissions is an incredibly emotional time for high school students. I remember mustering the courage to ask my creative writing teacher for a letter of recommendation, trying to express my passion and purpose in a series of 500-word admissions essays, and spending Saturdays during my junior year at the local library studying for the ACT.

My college applications – busting at the seams as I tried to tie my entire existence up into a curated portfolio of who I was – were sent out globally. They made their way to large international universities, small liberal arts colleges that operated on farms, safety and reach state schools, and the Ivy Leagues.

Each application held with it a possibility of a different life.

My heart broke as some of those dreams shattered with rejections, and it swelled as acceptances rolled in.

When I look back at it, I am amazed not only how seriously I took the process, but how much I trusted it. 

I pictured a renowned professor, literally in an ivory tower, reading my application and exclaiming “This is just who we need,” as he sipped his coffee and cracked the spines on new theories.

Connection to Admissions

However, this is not always how it works. Thousands and thousands of applicants come through the door every year. These students are from around the world, from varying education systems, and from unique backgrounds. Admissions teams are tasked with evaluating all of them and deciding who will be the best fit at your institution.

Research shows that holistic admissions is on the rise globally. This shift in higher education means that every year admissions teams are receiving more materials to review for each applicant. But what should you do with all of this new information?

Enter Competency-Based Admissions (CBA)

Competency-based admissions is a framework for evaluating applications. It is a method to complete a holistic evaluation of your applicants.

But what is it exactly? What types of competencies should you evaluate your applicants for?

The great news is that you can choose what’s best for your program.

Kees Kouwenaar, Project Coordinator at Mastermind Europe, a global project investigating competency-based admissions based in the EU, and Senior Advisor International Strategy at VU Amsterdam, indicates three different types of competencies that can help guide your processes. These types of competencies are derived from the research of Mastermind Europe, a global project investigating competency-based admissions in the EU.

Admissions teams may use all three, or they might choose one or two that they think will help give them a better understanding of who their applicants are, says Mastermind Europe.

Subject-Related Knowledge & Skills (SRKS)

SRKS competencies assess the specific knowledge that your applicants would need to succeed in your program. This is more useful in graduate programs or direct entry undergraduate programs (i.e. business, engineering, etc.).

SRKS competencies go above and beyond the general academic competencies that your students would need to possess. These are the specialized skills that differentiate the students in your program from the students in a different faculty.

General Academic Competencies (GAC)

No matter if you coordinate undergraduate or graduate admissions, you cannot forget about standard reading, writing, and arithmetic. GAC competencies evaluate if applicants to your program possess the necessary basic skills to succeed at your school.

Assessing general academic competencies outside of transcripts will allow you to widen your applicant pool to more non-traditional students.

The University of Wisconsin implemented competency-based admissions in the 1990s. 

Students apply by sending their transcripts, their ACT scores, and a Standard Report Profile. Teachers complete the Standard Report Profile by indicating a student's mastery of skills not reflected in their transcript.

Competency-based admissions gave students from all schools the opportunity to demonstrate their competence in necessary skills needed for admissions. This attempt to make education more “equitable” worked. 

By giving applicants more opportunities to showcase their general academic skills, competency-based admissions opened the door to university for many more Wisconsin residents.

Personal Competencies and Traits (PCT)

Personal competencies and traits are the soft skills or characteristics that successful students in your program possess. Some of the most common personal competencies and traits that admissions teams assess for using the Kira platform are Self-Awareness, Motivation, Global Mindedness, and Communication.

Learn how evaluating personal competencies and traits helped shape HEC Montreal’s admissions practices.

These types of competencies you most typically find evidence for in the supplemental application materials.

How to get started

Moving towards a competency-based admissions strategy will take some time and planning with your team. First, determine which types of competencies you are looking to assess in your applicants. Second, determine how you are going to assess them in the application materials.

Depending on your school, the three types of competency-based assessment may be beneficial in different ways.

Personal Competencies and Traits

School profile: A medium-sized university that is trying to better accept students who will be retained and become involved on campus. Trying to build up their on-campus involvement with their students.

Competency solution: Investigating PCT will allow your admissions teams to understand which applicants have the characteristics or soft skills that will allow them to graduate and become involved on campus. Measuring skills like motivation and leadership allow you to find students who are going to actively participate in campus culture and stay engaged in the classroom.

General Academic Competencies

School profile: A large public college that is trying to serve more diverse students, but finds that applicants do not always have the prerequisites that they need to be admitted.

Competency solution: Evaluating for GAC will allow you to see how your applicants have developed the necessary competence in your core courses without them having taken those courses. Consider having students submit a portfolio and reference letters that show how they have learned the prerequisite courses through their other work or learning opportunities. Check out PLAR as it is operated through the Ontario government to learn more or our recent interview with Dr. David Burns who is working to expand competency-based admissions at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

Subject-Related Knowledge and Skills

School profile: A large research university in an international city with a large number of international applicants for their graduate programs.

Competency solution: Trying to understand degree equivalencies across the world can be challenging for graduate programs that have a high number of international applicants. Consider having them submit materials related to the necessary subject-related knowledge and skills for admission to your specialized program.

Competency-based admissions creates a framework for holistic admissions. Evaluating competencies makes it easier for applicants to get credit for their life experiences and previous work and education. In addition, it allows schools to admit the best applicants regardless of their home country or previous degree.

Through competency-based admissions, you will have a more well-rounded class, diversity in thought, and life experiences in your classrooms.