Case Studies · 6 minute read

Menlo School replaces prepared writing submissions with a dynamic new assessment

Wanting to gain more authentic insight into prospective family value alignment, the Menlo School reimagined their admissions process and achieved a record high yield.


Accurately assessing applicant family value alignment for a growing volume of applications.

Key outcomes

Completed 1000+ interviews without overwhelming the enrollment team, ultimately achieving a record high yield.

Favourite features

  • Randomized Question Bank
  • Defined Rubrics and Rating Scales
  • Integrated Marketing Videos

For over 100 years, Menlo School has built a reputation for academic excellence and a commitment to fostering an enriching environment for their students. Nestled in the heart of Silicon Valley, Menlo offers its students a wealth of opportunity from creative arts programs, to athletics, to advanced academic courses. 

For Menlo, finding the families who will thrive in this tight knit school community is a critical part of ensuring the next century of success. 

“Before the Covid-19 pandemic, we conducted in-person interviews with the applicants and their parents and guardians,” shared Brooke Wilson, the Director of Admissions & Financial Aid at Menlo School. “But in the years since, we’ve seen such an increase in applicant volume that it became impossible to simply pick up where we had left off.” 

“It felt like we had less and less time every day but we knew the mission alignment piece was so important for our school,” Wilson continued. “We became very dependent on prepared writing in order to evaluate prospective family values but, as we all know, in admissions, prepared writing isn’t always the best gauge for authenticity and now with the rise of AI even less so.” 

“You end up with this sea of sameness where 80% percent of the written statements sound the same, and it contributes significantly to reader fatigue.”

“Families were putting a lot of work into something that wasn’t providing us with much value,” Wilson continued. “We wanted to change that.”

In 2023, Menlo School decided to take a new approach. Transitioning their student and parent interviews into Kira Talent, Menlo is strengthening their applicant yield by uncovering a more authentic view of student and family fit in the enrollment process.

Replacing the prepared writing submission

“An application to Menlo includes the typical recommendations and school records which we collect through Ravenna Admit,” Wilson shared. “Then we have an on campus visit, during which we conduct small group interviews and collect a writing sample.” 

“This year we had families complete both a prepared writing assignment and the Asynchronous Assessment in Kira,” she added. 

“Going forward, however, we're removing the prepared writing because with all the insights we get from Kira it doesn't serve a purpose anymore.”

“We had the highest yield that we've had in a long time, particularly for ninth grade,” Wilson shared. “It was a weight off my shoulders to confirm that adding this new element, which might have felt unfamiliar to people, had a positive impact.”

“Spontaneity and authenticity are the things that we feel are most important,” Wilson continued. “Being able to feel the kid's energy and see how the family interacts with each other; that’s the direction that we’re moving in with Kira.”

Finding efficiency and equity in a new assessment

“In addition to the efficiency benefits of Kira, we wanted to reduce the potential for bias in the enrollment process and give families more opportunities to shine,” Wilson explained. “We wanted to mitigate that subjectivity of the single interviewer,” she continued. “There's a lot riding on that interview for our candidates and we really wanted to make sure that we had more eyes, opinions, and perspectives on each student.”

“When we were in file review with the enrollment committee, there were many moments where all of the three of us may have had a different interpretation of the same response,” Wilson shared. “With Kira, we could easily pull up the videos together, watch them again, and then have a really in-depth and thoughtful discussion about what we'd seen.”

“Some people might think that having the video element would create more bias in the process, but I found it was actually the opposite,” continued Wilson. 

“When you're reading a one-dimensional paper file and you see the student's race or ethnicity, gender identity, family work history or education background, that information could unconsciously play a role in a reader's perception. Seeing the student and their family in their Kira video adds dimension and humanity.”

Emphasizing prospective family values alignment

“We did a lot of front-loading of information in preparation for the Kira assessment,” Wilson shared. “We also offered on-campus days where families with less access could use our computers and our quiet space to complete their Kira assessment.”

“We want to make sure that families feel connected and supported throughout the admissions process,” she explained. “One of the advantages of Kira is the opportunity to reintroduce yourself.” 

“Many of our families are applying to several schools, and it’s easy for them to get inundated with information. When they've been to a million campus visits, it all starts to sound the same.”

“The videos built into the Kira experience let families see our faces again and give us a chance to reconnect and reiterate the purpose and intention behind the assessment,” Wilson shared.

“We tell them what we value at Menlo: we value mistakes. We value you being authentic,” Wilson recalled. “We're not giving them the open house or preview day talk all over again, we're telling them how we want them to approach the Kira process and that lines up directly with how we would want them to approach being a student or a family at the school.”

“Kira has helped us to better identify true mission alignment,” she continued. “The proof was in the excitement of our staff and faculty when they met the families at our welcome events this year and told me ‘Gosh, they really get it!’”

Creating a completely custom assessment for students and parents

“The customizations available in Kira made it possible for us to create the experience we wanted for our applicant families,” Wilson shared. “We worked with our teachers to create a bank of questions that were developmentally appropriate for each grade level, and the Kira team helped us build those in the assessment.”

“For the parents’ interview, many of the questions we created were situational,” Wilson shared. “We gave them a short window of prep time to collect their thoughts and then they recorded their response. No pausing, no retakes, just like a real conversation. Kira removes the opportunity for them to deliberate over every word, or to try and say what they think we want them to say. Instead, they told us what they would actually do.”

“You could feel that authenticity through the video.”

“For each response, Kira helped us create defined rubrics that highlighted what we were specifically looking to evaluate, which our reviewers could reference as they were scoring that individual question,” she continued. “It removes the personal interpretation of what’s ‘Good’ or ‘Excellent’. Instead, reviewers are scoring based on where the response fell on the rubric that the team set together.”

Setting a new standard for private and independent enrollment

“My hope is that these kinds of assessments become the new standard,” Wilson shared. “In general, schools and admissions offices tend to be conservative when it comes to change, and many are afraid to experiment with their admissions process.”

“While I agree that there's no reason to change things for the sake of change, it’s important to be open to change when it’s more effective and to know when to let things go.”

“This year we kept the prepared writing because it was scary to let it go,” she continued. 

“But bringing Kira into our admissions process was an incredible discovery for us and I believe it’s an important step for the future of private and independent school admissions.”

Making More Confident Enrollment Decisions

Watch this 60 min webinar with the Menlo School to learn how Kira is helping them better assess student and family fit.

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