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The "Write" Idea

The "Write" IdeaStudents applying to Tufts University have an opportunity to showcase their ability, through a new supplemental application that is designed to go beyond standardized test scores and academic records in measuring aspects of intelligence.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [03.09.07] At the beginning of every year, a flood of applications arrives at Tufts, driving admissions counselors behind closed doors to sort through thousands of essays submitted by prospective students. As Tufts continues to attract a highly qualified crop of students from high schools around the world, the task of wading through the stack can be daunting, if not a bit repetitive. "We read the same essays over and over, and they all say the same thing," Tufts' Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Lee Coffin recently told National Public Radio's Morning Edition. "The voice is what's missing."

According to NPR, it's a question facing colleges and universities around the country: how do you differentiate between applicants who, on paper, look much the same with excellent standardized test scores and grades, positive recommendations and a laundry list of extra-curricular activities? The news organization reported that it's tough to sort through what Coffin described as "the qualified muddle."

Rather than rely solely on traditional measures, Tufts is trying a new approach designed to uncover "creativity, practicality, analytical skills and a certain kind of wisdom that's different from book smarts."

"What if instead of writing an essay, students were asked to draw a picture? Or write a short story, about, say, 'The Disappearing Professor' or 'The End of MTV'?" NPR reported. These are some of the elements included in a new, optional supplement to Tufts' traditional application, which officials like Coffin are hoping provides 'better clues about who students really are'," reported NPR.

"Our argument is that the problem has not been lack of creativity in students but lack of creativity in the college admissions process," Robert Sternberg, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts, told the news organization.

Sternberg, a psychologist whose research focuses on creativity, intelligence and learning, was instrumental in developing the components of the supplemental application, which are designed to predict success in college, measure different aspects of intelligence and "assess leadership potential," according to NPR.

"Sure, we want kids who are good in academics," Sternberg told the news organization. But he added that Tufts hopes to admit students who will also make the world "a different place."

So far, Tufts officials believe the university's admissions pilot program is off to a good start. Coffin recalled one applicant's response to a prompt to write a short story entitled "Confessions of a Middle-School Bully."

"It was witty, it was well-informed, it was smart, and that was all you needed to know about this kid," Coffin told NPR, adding that the student was admitted to the university early decision. Tufts is hoping to catch a glimpse of that kind of ability in other applicants, as well.

According to NPR, Tufts plans to track students "to see if those who write great essays do, in fact, turn out to be leaders." While some colleges and universities have been using non-traditional essay questions for years, the news organization reported that Tufts will be the first to "use the questions as a kind of scientific metric to gauge such intangibles as leadership."

Other institutions are eager to see if Tufts succeeds, according to NPR. Marilee Jones, dean of admissions at MIT, will be watching particularly closely.

Jones told NPR that with typical applications, students can appear to be "highly distinguished, but utterly lacking in joy." She explained that after students complete a traditional application, there are lingering questions, like "Is there some other way that we can find the essence of the human? Who is this being here?"

With its new optional application, that is exactly what Tufts hopes to determine.


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