Case Studies · 6 minute read

How Eastern Michigan University is attracting new audiences to their OT program

As Occupational Therapy programs work to increase applicant interest nationwide, EMU OT is making headway by modernizing their admissions process to make it more engaging and accessible to new audiences while increasing convenience and efficiency for their reviewers.


Reaching more applicants without overwhelming a small admissions staff and faculty.

Key outcomes

Reduced reviewer commitment from days to only 4 hours per cycle without impacting process validity.

Favourite features

  • Convenient on-demand review
  • Cost-effective set up
  • Built-in bias mitigation

Founded in 1941, Eastern Michigan University’s (EMU) Occupational Therapy (OT) program has a long-standing tradition of excellence. With consistently high pass rates on the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) examination — averaging over 99% across the past five years — and a strong history of successful alumni, the program showcases all the right numbers.  

But for EMU’s OT program, excellence goes beyond the metrics. 

“Our students most often comment on the sense of community within our program,” shared Sharon Holt, Professor and Head of the Admissions Committee at Eastern Michigan OT.  “We all work forward together.”

Wanting to continue fostering that tight-knit atmosphere drove Holt and her team to transition to a holistic admission process in 2018. The most efficient and effective way Holt found to do that was with Kira Talent.

Being proactive about diversity

As the first Occupational Therapy program in the United States to partner with Kira, EMU redefined convenience and accessibility for OT admissions. 

“Our greatest challenge in Occupational Therapy is trying to reach populations that don’t know what OT is,” Holt shared. 

“So what we’re trying to do with Kira is to modernize the admissions process and make it more engaging and accessible to new audiences.”

After all, having an equitable admissions process is only one part of increasing diversity in your program. If diverse applicants aren’t applying, those efforts are for naught. By making the admissions process more accessible, Eastern Michigan OT is able to reach a broader applicant pool. 

“We can do a lot to ensure that we’re levelling the playing field for diverse applicants in the admissions process, but we have to actually get the applicants there first,” Holt explained. “Kira is part of our efforts to go upstream and be proactive about how we’re reaching diverse applicants.”

Eliminating bias without losing insights

Prior to Kira, Eastern Michigan OT conducted on-campus interviews where applicants would sit down with two members of the faculty. Stretching across several weeks, the process was a strain on EMU’s faculty and admissions team. But for Holt, the bigger concern was the vulnerability of the interviews to admissions bias.

“It’s extremely difficult to guard against implicit biases within that kind of interview format,” she explained. “The smallest things, from what shoes the applicant is wearing, to how the reviewer poses the question, can impact both the applicant’s response as well as how it gets scored.”

In order to reduce the impact on their admissions process, Eastern Michigan OT took the interviewing component out of their admissions process. 

“We quickly realized that, while we were mitigating bias, we were losing important insights into our applicants in the process,” Holt shared. 

“By moving our interviews to Kira, we found a way that we could regain those insights, mitigate bias, and get our whole faculty involved in the admissions process.”

“With in-person interviews, there was no way to know if something external had impacted the scores,” Holt continued. “With Kira, we can easily bring in another reviewer and get a second opinion.”

Learn more about the nine most common forms of bias and how Kira helps mitigate them

Identifying the right applicants for your classroom

“We are a growth mindset program,” shared Holt. “We certainly don’t expect candidates to come in knowing everything. Everybody has the ability to grow and learn. But once in a while, you have an applicant where you know that this just isn’t the right program for them.” 

“If we can identify those applicants at the beginning of the process, we save both the applicant and the university a significant amount of time, money, and effort. That alone more than justifies the cost of Kira.”

Link sharing in Kira makes it easy for the admissions team to share a single response or an entire assessment with a new reviewer. EMU’s Occupational Therapy program uses this feature to give applicants a built-in second chance by sending any low-scoring responses for additional review. If there’s a discrepancy in scores, those get sent out for another opinion as well. 

“We want to get as many eyes on each applicant as possible, to make sure that no applicants are getting lost under one bad review,” shared Holt. 

“Because the reviewing process is so convenient in Kira, we’re able to be very thorough without it overwhelming their workload.”

Small team? Small budget? No problem! 

“We’re a small university and a small program with a limited budget and no in-house IT support to fall back on,” Holt shared. “We not only had to be smart about how we were spending, we also had to make sure that any processes we added weren’t going to overwhelm our admissions team.”

Joining forces with some of EMU’s other health sciences programs, including dietetics, orthotics and prosthetics, allowed the admissions teams to share the cost of the platform.

“Since then, our Physician’s Assistant (PA) program has joined as well,” Holt shared. “PA programs are inundated with applicants right now. I was watching them run their admissions process and couldn’t believe how much time it took them.” 

“I encouraged them to move to Kira and it changed their workload from days to hours. They can’t believe how much better it is.”

With Kira, EMU’s reviewers spend only four hours per cycle reviewing applicants.

“We tell faculty to reserve around four hours to complete their entire review. Our old process would take multiple days out of their schedules,” Holt explained. “And whether it’s at home or in the office, when they choose to schedule in their reviewing time is completely up to them.”

Holistic admissions without the hassle

“Kira has changed our perspective on the admissions process,” shared Holt. “It removes the hassle and headache for our team, it allows an applicant to really have a voice in the process, and it opens the decision up to more than just grades.”

“Kira makes holistic review possible for our small team.”

“When we first started with Kira, I worked with our faculty to create a general outline of holistic elements and practices that we wanted to incorporate and came to Kira with that list,” Holt shared. “Kira gave us a blueprint, and helped us define what we’re looking for, and create questions to identify those competencies.” 

Over the following years, Eastern Michigan OT has worked with their dedicated Client Success Manager to continuously tweak, enhance, and strengthen their interview process. 

“Every few years we go in and tweak our assessment,” Holt shared. “I’ll reach out to the whole faculty to ask if they feel like we’re getting to the heart of what it is we want to bring into the program. Do we need a change of competency? Do we need to change the rubric definitions? Do we need to change anything else?”

“Having a point person at Kira means that we have a direct line to someone whenever we have questions or issues,” she added. “At the end of the day, nobody wants more work added to their plate, and Kira ensures we don’t ever have to worry about that.” 

Discover what other schools thought of their experience with Kira Talent

“I love our process,” she continued. “We’re able to get a full picture of our applicants with more efficiency and more ease than ever before, helping us more confidently build diverse classes.”

Relieving the burdens of traditional interviews

UNMC PT discusses their new approach to interviewing in this recorded webinar.

Watch now