When recruiting students for graduate degrees, it’s no longer optional to enroll globally-minded and culturally-aware applicants. As students evolve their education, their ability to understand and adapt to environments and cultures outside of their own is essential.

Unfortunately, the way many schools have been assessing this trait is ineffective.

Often, schools consider ‘travel experience,’ ‘places lived,’ and ‘languages learned’ as their evaluation for ‘global-mindedness.’

“Oh, she went on an exchange to France for a year.”
“Wow, he learned three languages.”
“Goodness, she grew up in Shanghai.”

Students who have had the opportunity to spend more time globetrotting, naturally, have a history of scoring higher in their application review. Not only do they have plenty of fodder for essays and interview questions, but they can also fill their resume with unique international experience.

And, don’t get us wrong, there is nothing bad about these experiences.

However, when admissions teams have not considered an alternative way to assess global-mindedness, then this, as a measure of success in admissions, is inherently biased.

Not all of your applicants will have been able to travel, work, or study abroad, because of family commitments, disabilities, or financial restraints. Some of your applicants likely have had limited opportunity to leave their hometown for these very same reasons.

These are the hidden gems you could be missing out on enrolling.

A student who is globally-minded does not need to have traveled the world or picked up multiple languages. A student, no matter where they are, needs to be able to display how they’ve embraced, adapted to, and explored new environments and experiences, even if they haven’t had the chance to go abroad.

So how do you assess globally-minded students in a non-biased way?

1. Ask your applicants about which global experiences they would like to have (and why)

As discussed above, asking about past international experience creates bias by assuming all applicants have had equal opportunity. Instead of asking questions such as, “Tell us about an experience abroad. What did you learn?” try asking questions like these:

  • If you could travel anywhere to live, work or study, where would you choose and why?
  • If you could choose to live in any city in the world after graduation, where would it be? Why?
  • What culture, other than your own, would you most like to experience? How will you make this happen?

Asking questions in this manner provides your applicants the opportunity to tell you about other places, cultures, and global experiences they are interested in sharing. Detailed and thoughtful answers will show you that your applicants are globally-minded in their passions and ambitions, which makes them more likely to succeed in a diverse classroom.

Tip: If you prefer to give your applicants a chance to talk about past experiences they’ve had, make sure to prepare the question such that it is inclusive. Try something like:

  • Tell us about an experience living, traveling, studying or working abroad. What was this experience like? If you haven’t had this experience yet, where would you like to go and why?

2. Ask your applicants about past experiences they have working with differently-minded individuals

One important reason graduate level programs cite for the requirement of ‘global-mindedness’ in their applicants is the observation that individuals who possess this competency tend to experience less cultural shock in diverse classrooms and new environments. Culture shock is defined as:

“The feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, the way of life, or set of attitudes.”

An applicant who feels disorientation or in the worst case, discomfort, when working with or empathizing with individuals from diverse backgrounds (whether cultural, educational, professional, etc.) may have difficulty communicating and collaborating with their new peers in your program.

A great way to assess for this facet of global-mindedness in your applicants is to ask questions regarding experiences in which they worked with others with different backgrounds or perspectives than their own.

This approach does not introduce bias as one doesn’t need to have had international experience to have encountered differently-minded individuals.

In the traditional sense, 'different-minded' is an adjective used to describe one or more persons who have a distinct opinion or opinions.

Consider the statement: "Most Londoners dislike the rainy climate of London." In this example, within the group called 'Londoners,' some 'different-minded' individuals prefer the rainy climate. What's important to note in this example is that the 'different-minded' individuals within the group 'Londoners' are not considered with any special/additional context - we expect them to be otherwise the same as all other Londoners.

For admissions teams to take into account the global sense of 'different-minded,' they must consider the context of an individual's background or experiences, which may be contributing factors to that individual's 'different-mindedness'. This could include anything ranging from where they grew up and their socioeconomic background, to factors such as race, gender, age, etc.

You are looking for individuals who can be comfortable when faced with the opinions, beliefs, or cultural norms of those whose backgrounds and experiences differ from their own.

Try questions such as:

  • Describe a time when you had to understand the perspective of a differently-minded individual to collaborate efficiently with them. How did you accomplish this?
  • Recall an experience working with a team of like-minded individuals and an experience working on a team with very different opinions. Which was more successful? Why?
  • Tell me a time when you had to mitigate a disagreement between two very differently-minded people. How did you do this?

3. Ask your applicants about major world news or global events

Another effective way you can gauge your applicant’s level of global-mindedness is by asking them to discuss their thoughts on recent major world news stories and global events.

In this time of ever-growing interconnectedness, even applicants living in the far corners of the planet have access to almost any information they want, via the internet.

You don’t need to worry about introducing bias to your admissions process as anybody who can get online to apply is also able to get online and engage with current events.

Make sure to ask questions about stories or events that are internationally significant so that it is reasonable to expect your applicants to know of them.  Here are some examples from recent world news stories:

  • Samsung released their Galaxy Note7 in 2016, only to discover the phone had serious and dangerous malfunctions when brought on flights. In your opinion, how did Samsung handle this crisis? What did they do well or how could they have improved?
  • In your opinion, what are some of the possible negative long-term effects of the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom?

Or, take the approach of asking the applicant to talk about news in a more general sense, such as identifying an important news story and explaining why it resonates with them.

  • Questions around both media legitimacy and media literacy as of late with concerns of 'fake news' filling Facebook feeds. What are your thoughts on ‘fake news’? How to do you verify or vet your news?
  • What would you say is the most important issue for business leaders to be thinking about in the last year? Why did you choose this issue?

What’s important to note for this type of question is that you aren’t looking for a right or wrong answer. As a general rule, questions like these leave room for a vast spectrum of opinions and are not likely to have any simple or ‘correct’ answers. What you are looking for, and should be sure to define on your evaluation rubric, are things such as:

  • Applicant shows knowledge and interest in world issues
  • Applicant is able to identify the global impact of major news or events
  • Applicant offers objective and unbiased opinions on the cause, impact, and solution to global issues

There is no question that global-mindedness is becoming an increasingly important and sought-after trait in graduate school applicants, ranging from health to medicine, to law and business, to liberal arts and public policy.

From being comfortable working anywhere and with anyone, to uniting diverse groups and negotiating complex conflicts, this skill goes a long way in a small world.