The old standby that killer test scores and a 4.7 GPA is a red carpet into any college in the world hardly abides nowadays. For better or for worse, colleges consider a swarm of additional factors: teacher recommendations, personal essays, extracurriculars, volunteer work, daddies in high places -- you know the list.
To help faculty and administrators sift through the gobs of application information they face each year, legendary interaction designer Golan Levin developed an evaluation program called Admitulator for Carnegie Mellon University's art school. Admitulator lets users vet the applicant pool according to metrics they favor.
Say a professor wants well-rounded students; she might give more weight to recommendations and community service. That'll produce rankings of all the applications that can then be compared to those of an administrator who thinks grades and test scores are the best means of assessment. The totally incoming class can thus be balanced out, according to the overall student mix the officials favor. Preferences are shown in the piechart below.
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A companion program randomly assigns professors to applicants' portfolios, so that no two students are evaluated by the same group. That ensures fairness in the admissions process by eliminating "grouping effects" -- what happens when a panel of preternaturally grumpy professors, say, hand out a cluster of low marks.
Obviously, Admitulator is deeply subjective -- and the numeric rankings of such things like community service can't be perfect. So Levin warns that it shouldn't be used alone. "The highly-quantitative Admitulator is insufficient for use as the sole tool for making admissions decisions, but it is helpful," he writes on his Web site. "Ideally, it is used in tandem with database systems that can retrieve and display the applicants' qualitative data..."