St.Gallen University’s Strategy and International Management (SIM) is a top-tier and internationally renowned management program in Switzerland.
Students get the balance of an international experience at a reputable business school alongside the relaxed atmosphere of living and learning in a small Swiss college town. The course work is collaborative among the program's small cohort of 50-60 students, and the students complete a SIM-In-Practice component, which includes an international internship and a social project abroad.
What makes SIM unique, in the words of the program's Admissions Manager Nathalie Naveda, is the “community spirit” of the program and its students. With that in mind, it seemed like a mismatch that the school's admissions decisions were based heavily on grades and test scores.
In 2016, the program overhauled its existing admissions process.
Why would a reputable and successful program make such a drastic change to their process?
For St.Gallen, the choice to redesign admissions came down to staying true to the program’s mission and vision.
“We were no longer able to assess talent in the right way. We wanted to start assessing for potential, not just past achievements,” said Naveda.
“Assessing applicants with documents became a paradox compared to what we were looking for in applicants.”
Enter: A more holistic admissions process
The SIM directorship and program management team knew the types of students they wanted to enroll, so they decided to take ownership of their assessment and build a holistic application to find the best candidates in their applicant pool.
“If we can teach it, then students can learn it, but we need to know students have that ability to master it,” Naveda said. “We needed to contextualize everything that came on paper and create a personal connection.”
In order to create a personal, yet scalable, experience for SIM, St.Gallen sought out Kira’s admissions software. Using Kira, the SIM program introduces itself with a branded assessment portal and welcome video, and get a chance to hear from each applicant first-hand about why they wanted to come to St.Gallen and to gauge their potential.
St.Gallen SIM creates a consistent and fair experience
At St.Gallen, fairness is top priority through the entire application process. In SIM’s new admissions process, each applicant is invited to take a timed video assessment using Kira. The technology is reliable anywhere around the world, and given the assessment is conducted asychronously, students can put their best foot forward at a time and place that’s comfortable for them.
Each applicant's file is assessed by a mix of internal and external reviewers, carefully selected by the SIM Admissions Committee. Each reviewer then evaluates applications separately to avoid groupthink bias.
“We aim to ensure our reviewer pool is diverse: Beyond nationalities, gender, and educational background, we also look for different ways of thinking – cognitive diversity – such as different approaches and attitudes, all within the program’s vision and mission, to help avoid personal biases,” said Naveda.
An open dialogue for applicant feedback
Currently, St.Gallen SIM students compete for anywhere between 40-60 spots in the program, and Naveda is careful to clarify there is no formal cut off.
“Every single exceptional applicant should always have a chance to get in. We aim not to go over 60, but we won’t deny an outstanding applicant to keep that class size,” she says.
One of the results of changing the admissions process that Naveda is most excited about is the ability to give applicant feedback.
“This year, we were able to give relevant feedback to most candidates, aimed at their own growth and development, which is pretty much in line with the values our program stands for,” she said. “It became a more meaningful process and it felt like everybody had a chance.”
The right students find their place at St.Gallen SIM
Since reforming its admissions process, which included adding Kira, the communication between the school and prospective students has been smoother and more deliberate than previous years.
Students are better informed and have less questions than they had in previous years as they learned more about the program through the process.
“In admissions, it’s not only us selecting our students, it’s also them selecting us,” said Naveda.
“Now, we have coherence between our mission and vision and our admissions process.”
Once assessments are completed, Naveda sends applicants a reassuring message, which for some students is a first communication touchpoint on their path to enrollment.
“We always had a very good yield rate,” said Naveda. “So, we were pleasantly surprised to also witness a small improvement in our already good retention rates since changing our process.”
This fall, St.Gallen SIM welcomed the first class enrolled using the new broad-based admissions process to campus: 58 wonderful and energetic students, representing 28 different nationalities, and a 50/50 gender ratio. And the SIM team welcomed them with arms wide open.
Thanks to Nathalie Naveda for sharing her experience revising admissions at St.Gallen SIM.