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Students must endure the college admissions process to gain access to higher education and all of the associated opportunities, benefits, and accolades. Yet, in so many ways, this process feels like a black box, leaving students feeling vulnerable rather than excited by their next steps.

So what happens in the admissions process and how can we ensure that integrity plays a central role? Let’s start by unpacking the ins-and-outs of college admissions.

In an article on “The New Era of College Admissions” from, the following admission committees goals were noted:

  • To screen and enroll the exact amount of students.
  • To stay within budget.
  • To increase racial and ethnic diversity.
  • To enroll as many students from as many states possible.
  • To enroll lower-income students to increase access to higher education.
  • To enroll higher-income students to meet the college’s financial bottom line.
  • To raise standardized test scores, and thus improve selectivity rankings.
  • To enroll international students. But also to NOT enroll TOO many international students.
  • To find student-athletes to boost sports teams.
  • To enroll more female STEM majors.

These are some of the criteria for which deans, directors of admissions, and selection committees screen tens of thousands of student applications. They’re admirable goals, ones we want admissions officers to achieve. And there are many ways these goals can be accomplished.

So how do they do it?

Diversity, as an admissions term, addresses race, gender, socioeconomics, geography, and first-generation college students, among other criteria. The College Board’s case studies on Innovative Practices of Interest on Campus examines six higher education institutions, their individual admissions goals, and their ensuing approaches to admission. In each of these cases, campuses have been able to increase diversity and increase student retention.

The varying approaches, all of which target diversity, include:

  1. Assessing applicants through similarity clusters.
  2. Supplementing applications with in-person interviews and video responses from students.
  3. Addressing mandated race-blind admissions by considering non-race-based diversity criteria such as socioeconomic barriers, first-generation students, single parent status, and school size.
  4. Adopting holistic assessment scoring, and including non-academic success factors such as leadership, service, and perseverance, exhibited through extracurricular activities, into an applicant’s score.
  5. Providing institutional support to students once on campus in order to improve retention of historically underrepresented student populations

These are not the only initiatives in higher education, which is moving forward with many innovative tools and solutions.

Changes are afoot in assessing students on more than just their test scores. The holistic process is a step forward in increasing diversity—which results in diverse ideas and complex academic discourse. It’s heartening to see that admissions are going beyond pure quantitative evaluation and doing so in more innovative ways.

But a holistic process also leaves certain parts of the application process at risk for side-doors and short-cuts. These non-academic, “non-traditional,” and holistic factors are most often reflected in extracurricular activities, non-academic achievements, and best addressed in the college application essay.

For instance, if an institution is screening for grit and resilience in their applicant pool—how better to find out than asking students to write an essay about a time in their life when they failed and had to learn from failure? These contextual qualities are, outside of an in-person interview, hard to assess without an essay response.

And if application essays are holding more weight in a holistic process—how can we ensure their authenticity, when these essays are written without proctoring, thus vulnerable to ghostwriting or “hands-on” help? Who’s to say the college application was written by the student? Or if the contents thereof are at all accurate? It’s clearly easy enough, with the right amount of money, to fake an athletic narrative or cheat on standardized tests, let alone outsource a college application essay.

As Cath Ellis states, “Students figure out a new way to cheat. We figure out a new way to catch them. So they figure out a new way to cheat.” When the landscape for dishonesty is evolving, how do we shore up a holistic admissions process, one that is laudable and worthy of upholding? iThenticate is one tool that ensures integrity in student applications so that we don’t have to revert back to purely quantitative-based admissions.

It goes without saying that students who are admitted should reflect school values of integrity and honesty and uphold them, not only on campus but as a lifelong representative of their institution. So the selection process is crucial to a higher education institution’s culture and ongoing integrity.

It’s important to keep all aspects of the admissions process honest, whether by institutions recognizing short cuts and mitigating them or by adopting tools to deter dishonesty.

The screening process is an important one—not just for students but for the institution. Who are you allowing entrance to your legacy? And what innovations are you adopting?

Want to uphold academic integrity in your admissions process? Learn more about iThenticate.