Beyond the Standard Essay

Scott Jaschik:

Throughout his career as a psychology scholar, Robert Sternberg has critiqued the limitations of standardized testing and looked for ways that colleges might identify valuable qualities that have little chance of showing up in an SAT or ACT score. He has argued that the right kind of essay prompts or project-oriented questions can reveal creativity, commitment to community and other qualities that might well merit admission to college — even for applicants whose test scores might be a bit lower than those of others.
When Sternberg was a dean at Tufts University, he worked with admissions officials there to create such a system, and the university has found that applicants who submitted these (optional) questions were in many cases ideal candidates for admission whose best qualities might not have been visible. Last year, Sternberg became provost of Oklahoma State University. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that his new university has just launched an experiment to apply his ideas to admissions there. Oklahoma State is currently doing a pilot test of a “Panorama” approach to admissions. (Sternberg’s original project was called Rainbow, and the Tufts program is known as Kaleidoscope.)