In lieu of crystal ball, admissions directors look to personality tests

Seek better predictors of student performance

Next year, Indiana's Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology may use a personality test as part of its admissions process, the Indianapolis Star reports.

The test determines what psychologists call "the locus of control," which measures how empowered people feel in their lives. Jim Goecker, Rose-Hulman's enrollment chief, argues that students with an external locus of control are more likely to blame their professor for problems or have a pessimistic view of the future.

On the other hand, having an internal locus of control is "really about taking advantage of opportunities," he says. Rose-Hulman currently uses the locus of control test to understand its impact on student retention and evaluate candidates for scholarships. Their data show that students who have an internal locus of control are more likely to retain and succeed, says Goeker.

Next year, Rose-Hulman is considering including the locus of control test in its admissions process. At first, the test will factor only slightly into the overall admissions formula, helping to differentiate between "perhaps a dozen equally deserving academically young men and women," Goeker explains.

The school is also looking at other personality tests, such as one that measures curiosity. Goecker argues that using personality tests in admissions is something "everyone ought to do," because it shows families a "return on investment by improving the number of students successful upon graduation."

Alternative admissions criteria gaining ground

Pam Horne, admissions director at Purdue University, says she is open to noncognitive admissions factors, such as goal orientation. However, she argues, they are difficult to measure concretely. So for now, she relies on a student's test scores and academic background—looking to essays and recommendations for a more complex view of the applicant.

Unconventional standards in college admissions are becoming more popular, especially in the last few months, according to Jeff Fuller, president of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling. Fuller cited recent decisions by Goucher College, Hampshire College, and Bard College to forgo SAT scores, transcripts, and other standard application paperwork.

Schools are getting more creative, he says, to find new reasons "to admit a student" and "find out if the student is going to be successful on campus." For instance, he argues that test-optional schools have likely found a more reliable way to predict the success of applicants on their campuses than test scores.

Goecker believes that noncognitive tests will eventually take over the admissions process: "I'm convinced this is a part of the path to the future, as far as college admissions" (Wang, Indianapolis Star, 10/26).

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