If your grades and SAT scores are less than stellar, you still have a shot at getting into Goucher College with a two-minute video.
Starting with applicants for next year's class, Goucher announced Thursday that it will give students the option of submitting a video they record in lieu of transcripts or college admission exams. Officials say the move is designed to help those who might have difficulty navigating the complexity of the college application process.
Though colleges across the country have allowed students to submit videos as a supplement to their application, Goucher officials believe the college will be the first to judge applicants primarily on the video.
"The college application process is broken," said Goucher President Jose Bowen, who started the job this summer at the private liberal arts college in Towson. "The SAT is fairly predictive on how well you'll do in school, but predictive isn't a certainty."
The change is one of the first moves by Bowen, who said he wants a more diverse applicant pool with low-income and first-generation students.
And he said he's sympathetic to students who might not show their best side on paper. The night before Bowen took the SAT, the musician stayed up until 3 a.m. playing a gig at a nightclub. He scored well below expectations on the test, he acknowledged.
Though Bowen was ultimately admitted to Stanford University after some prompting and assistance from his mother, he said, his college application experience left him unconvinced that high school grades and SAT scores are the best indicators of a student's potential for success in higher education.
In recent years, the sometimes-quirky videos submitted by students have become hits online as well as in college admissions offices. Tufts University in Massachusetts became one of the first to accept videos as supplements to applications in 2010, and many of the videos are open to a wider audience on YouTube.
In one Tufts application video posted online, a young man slowly removes layers of clothing that represent his diverse interests — a snowboarding jacket, a suit for debate club and a karate outfit. Later, he dons hospital scrubs to help explain his goal of becoming a doctor. Four years later, it has more than 10,000 views on YouTube.
In another Tufts application video, stop-motion is used to show leaves forming into an apple that the student eats. The student then plants a seed from the apple, which grows into a tree. "Knowledge comes in many forms," the student wrote on a sheet of paper shown in the video. "I devour it to grow and create new things."
The videos, proponents say, allow students to express their personality. Some college officials have complained that individual expression is being lost, especially with the growing use of the Common Application, which allows students to fill out one generic form to send to colleges.
Nina Kasniunas, an assistant professor of political science at Goucher who helped develop the video application guidelines, called the commonness of the Common Application a "drawback."
"Just give us the authentic message of who you are and why you want to come to Goucher," Kasniunas said. "We in our mind don't have any shining example of what it could be. We want to see the student as an individual speaking from the heart, the mind, the intellect about why they want to be there."
Jeremy Goldman, a school counselor at Pikesville High and president of the Maryland School Counselor Association, said the move by Goucher could attract first-generation students who typically apply to the most well-known and popular colleges. Goldman said he had not heard of any other university that uses video as a primary application method.
"Goucher is making more a brand of itself and making collegegoing students more aware of Goucher," Goldman said. "Looking more specifically at first-generation college students, that's a challenge."
Bowen said some students might not have had high school guidance counselors to push them to apply to elite schools or help them through the process. Others might own a cellphone but not a computer, making it easier to record a video rather than tap out an essay on their phone.
"I wanted to get into more conversations with students who might fit the Goucher model of being diverse learners, people who might be ambitious in diverse ways and might not be focused on taking tests but have a mission in life," Bowen said. "I'm able to understand more about you from a video than I might from just reading."
Though students may still submit a traditional application, they do not have to provide their SAT scores or grade transcripts if they go the video application route. They will also have to submit two "works of scholarship," with at least one being some form of writing.
Current students at Goucher applauded the idea.
Avery Ogden, 18, a freshman from Philadelphia, said he thought the video would give potential Goucher students a creative outlet to express themselves.
"It's an awesome way to represent who you are," Ogden said. "I know a lot of people who didn't think their SAT scores represented them."
Sara Hernon-Reeves, 20, said video applications could serve to "open up" the college admissions process from what she considers unnecessarily strict requirements.
"It shouldn't limit the kids," said the junior from Lancaster, Pa., who hated taking the SATs. "It's good that it's an option," she said of video applications.
Donche Golder, 18, a freshman from Baltimore, said he likely would have submitted his SAT scores over a video, but he likes the idea of an option.
"Personally, if it helps give people less to worry about, less stress, I don't see a downside," he said. But Golder added that video applications could make admissions more competitive if the method becomes popular.
Chris Wild, an admissions counselor at Goucher, said resilience amid challenges is the best predictor of student success in college and in life. Admissions officials can use the ups and downs of grades to determine resilience, but "from a transcript you're really inferring that story."
Goucher officials have not been reliant on test scores for several years, he said, making SAT or ACT scores optional for applicants in 2007. The standardized tests have been criticized as being racially biased or biased toward those who can afford to take preparation courses.
Wild said the group that put together the guidelines for video applications initially wanted a five-minute video, then whittled it to two minutes. Wild said the group filmed some test videos and discovered it takes a long time to come up with two minutes' worth of content. The guidelines are not final, but Wild said applicants will be instructed to answer a question along the lines of "How do you see yourself at Goucher?"
Kasniunas said officials aren't necessarily looking for creativity or quirkiness in the videos and that production values will not be a factor.
"We didn't want this to become another avenue for people with resources to hire the best people for video production," she said.
Goucher has a reputation for prizing the individuality of students and the video application could enhance that, Goldman said.
"It allows [students] to express themselves in a way that they have control over rather than fitting in a box," he said.
Bowen, who himself recorded several quirky videos to welcome students back to campus, said he thinks the medium will only become more important in the future.
"Go to any concert or any event and people are participating in a different way, and this is a hard thing for older people to understand," he said. "That is how people communicate today."
Baltimore Sun reporter Colin Campbell contributed to this article.