I received a thoughtful email with questions from an enterprise in China:
“Our organization [works] with UK universities [focusing] on key personal skills such as problem solving, teamwork, communication, improving learning style, research, and presentation. All of our programs give a structured curriculum for developing these skills, as well as a portfolio.
“. . . in China, there is a lack of ability in these kinds of personal skills among students who excel in technical subjects. . . . Therefore, we are offering these skills to students who want to . . . be noticed by universities in the US.
“We have learned that the University of Rochester, as a university attracting Chinese students, attaches importance to the overall qualities of students rather than pure academic achievement. . . .
Do you value students who are good at these kinds of skills?
What evidence do you look at to prove the students have a good skills set?
What kind of weight would you place on an international skills-based qualification?
Would our portfolio of evidence be useful for students applying to your university?”
My answer, in part (after referring him to my October 2 post for a description of the “evidence”):
“I applaud your effort to teach extra skills to potential Chinese applicants. Yet, reading for us will remain a holistic and subjective process, so no specific achievements on any number of scales will ensure a favorable admission decision. The value for us may not emerge in the portfolio; it may be interstitial, inferential, and suggestive, rather than demonstrable through scoring.
“We value the skills you teach, yet time spent ‘building skills’ could be destructive as a means toward admission here. This paradox occurs because an applicant’s deliberate effort to appeal to us (including some classroom and test efforts) might not produce better, more interesting, or more sustainable results than time invested instead in passions and enthusiasms, including ‘play.’
“The most important thing for our potential Chinese (really any) applicants to understand is that we evaluate each as an individual with idiosyncrasies and drives, rather than (just) as an ordered set of achievers on some finite number of scales. Don’t show us merely what you can do; show us what you love doing. There’s a difference. Our evaluation process lets us understand what will continue to motivate each student after he or she arrives on campus.
To justify the ‘frustrating’ unpredictability, we in turn guarantee each applicant multiple reviews and scoring from different readers and from a committee of readers. Those multiple scores and recommendations become a broad objective dataset for making final decisions. Because many different readers with different biases will see the application, it is impossible to predict how the individual experiences and skill demonstrations will affect each reader’s interpretation or the result for the applicant.”