Out With the SAT and In With Really, Really Hard Essays at Bard

Apr 11, 2014 4:30pm
HT bard college jef 140411 16x9 608 Out With the SAT and In With Really, Really Hard Essays at Bard

Ward Manor House at Bard College. (Ben Ramirez/Wikipedia)

The SATs are so early 2000s.

This year, Bard College in New York allowed applicants to skip the headache of standardized tests altogether and instead write four high level academic essays. The task must have been daunting, because out of the 7,000 applicants only 400 students  logged in to look at the questions, and only 50 applied by writing the essays.

Seventeen of the essayists were accepted into Bard’s 2018 class under the new system, according to Mark Primoff, director of communications at the school.The school’s total freshman class totals 500.

One sample question asked applicants to consider Immanuel Kant’s ethical theory the “Critique of Practical Reason,” and Benjamin Constant’s response to Kant’s “murderer at the door problem,” a philosophical sticky wicket.

Another asked for the applicant to create a musical composition for a new national anthem with lyrics from the Declaration of Independence, and a third asked for consideration of the relationship of truth and beauty in poetry.

This, for some applicants, is far preferable to sentence completions and analogies.

“It’s not for everybody, but it’s good to offer options. And it’s actually a different option, not just another fill-in-the-bubbles test,” Primoff said, noting that the college’s president, Leon Botstsein, has made it a part of his mission at the school to move admissions decisions away from the admissions tests offered by the College Board.

“”We thought it was a real merit based indicator of these students’ ability coming into college,” Primoff said.

Faculty members read the essays instead of admissions counselors, a break from the way most colleges handle applicants’ essays, Primoff explained. The teachers, he said, were excited to have a hand in choosing the students they’d be teaching in a few months.

Primoff said that the college spoke with many applicants and heard that they had enjoyed the challenge of the essays, he said. And the faculty enjoyed reading them.

“Some of the work was extraordinarily good. It’s hard in the thinking person’s way, and any student that passes is already a very accomplished thinker and writer and that is far more indicative of college success than an SAT score or grade point average,” he said.

 

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