The college admissions process has been evolving over the past several years as education professionals seek to bridge the gap between the competency-based learning that schools crave, and the expert ability for students to articulate and cultivate their authentic profiles that admissions looks for. The pandemic has kicked this process into overdrive, shining a light onto the value Mastery Transcript brings to the admissions process for all parties. In our most recent Talkback session, we heard from leaders in the college admissions process about their experiences with Mastery Transcript and how it can play a role in improving the admissions process for learners, families and schools.
The Mastery Transcript is a great fit for holistic admissions processes, especially in a COVID-19 world where everyone has needed to become more flexible. It captures the entire learning journey–in goals and strengths instead of scores and assessments–and gives students the tools to tell their stories in an authentic way. Our esteemed panel expounded on the Mastery Transcript and its fit into an adaptive admissions process at a time when “achievement” is being redefined.
Regional Recruitment Coordinator for the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor within the Office of Undergraduate Admissions
Director of the Pivotal Network and Professor of Biology at
Senior Assistant Director of Application Processing and Review for the
University of Vermont
KT – The University of Michigan receives a large volume of applications. Last year we received over 60,000 undergraduate applications. But even though our process is stringent, it’s also holistic, complex and very in depth. We look at transcripts, activities, recommendation letters and more. We rely upon a wealth of information to get to know the applicant as a student and individual. As admissions officers, we are trained to understand the context of each individual student using various tools since not all schools provide us with the same measures. Mastery Transcript isn’t a foreign concept to us because we’re already familiar with using different kinds of transcripts to evaluate students and we never penalize anyone coming from different backgrounds and educational environments. Don’t think that just because your transcript or situation is different that you’re not a good fit. Consider the entirety of what you bring to the table and find a way to present that.
AA – This summer, our school did a training on how to look at different students from different learning environments. What is the student bringing and how do they fit into the program they’re applying to? One of the most valuable things you can do is present a story that articulates why you’d be a good fit for the school. Show what you bring to our university as a learner, a future alumni, an athlete, a community member, etc.
HE – Georgetown is a unique school where we invite the faculty to be a part of the admissions process. In fact, we even have other non-admissions staff and even students involved in the admissions process for a true holistic review of applicants. We’re looking for individuals who really fit into the Georgetown family in multiple dimensions. We like to learn about how individuals are as learners and that doesn’t necessarily equate to what grades or test scores they achieved. Traditional transcripts and admissions processes don’t capture this well which is why we favor tools like Mastery Transcript that paint a deeper, broader picture of the individual.
KT – I’ve found that Mastery Transcript gives a good visual representation of a student’s work as well as articulating their voice. It gives a more in depth view of individual assignments and projects and provides dimension to the applicant. Mastery Transcript gives deeper and broader context of an applicant than a traditional transcript.
AA – Traditional transcripts are limited. If students have the ability to share more detail about assignments or projects we can get insight into passions or how they see the world which can give us, as admissions professionals, an idea of where they might fit within our community.
HE – One of the things we ask students to do in higher education is to know and pursue their passions. Mastery Transcript not only gives us a sense about who the students are and what they’re passionate about, but also lets them explore and understand these things for themselves.
KT – If you’re interested in a particular school, I suggest looking at its insight questions before applying. Those questions tell you what the institution values in its community and its applicants and will give you an idea of whether you’ll be a good fit. Ideally your transcript will align with the school’s insight questions as well.
AA – One of the very first things we do is determine if you meet basic entrance requirements. Are you ready to be successful here? Of course we look at the courses you take. We also look at your school profile. It’s the foundational piece to get an understanding of what was offered and give context to what a student had available to them for learning opportunities. This gives the first baseline to determine if the student is meeting or exceeding entrance requirements. From there we look deeper into fit.
HE – We also do a first read to make sure that every student who comes to Georgetown will be successful here. But we also know that scores and grades don’t tell the whole story and we know they don’t necessarily correlate with success. They tell you that the student knows the rules of the game and can succeed at the game, but that’s different from a student who can succeed intellectually in a classroom. The ability to recognize your strengths and areas where you have room to grow is a strong indicator of potential success. The ability to know and leverage your strength but also to be honest about where you need to grow. To see them not as a gap or failing, but as a potential. That’s one of the strengths of Mastery Transcript, as it designates these areas as opportunities, not shortcomings.
KT – The ability to be flexible has probably been the biggest lesson learned by all. To be test optional and overall flexible, we’ve learned that it won’t make or break the system. If anything, it’s empowered us to make decisions based on other data points like those provided by tools such as Mastery Transcript. I also feel that we’ve become keenly aware of the digital divide as we’ve come in contact with students from various backgrounds.
AA – Some really positive things have come out of this experience, one of the biggest is learning how many things we’re able to accomplish virtually. This has given us the ability to start accessing information about students and students about colleges earlier. The in-person aspect isn’t going to go away, but it is more challenging than ever. The addition of more virtual opportunities has opened greater access to all.
HE – For many, physically touring multiple campuses is a luxury. Virtual tours open options to students who may not have been able to engage otherwise. Students who get multiple acceptance offers are also finding virtual open houses of value when it comes to attending multiple events to inform their final decisions.
KT – During the course of the pandemic many schools transitioned to pass/fail grading systems which put traditional transcripts at a disadvantage when it came to communicating their strengths. Mastery Transcript students had very unique stories and captured their strengths in ways a traditional transcript could not.
AA – While this isn’t necessarily about the transcript, I thought it important to mention. This year we saw many students include essays or supplemental information about how they took jobs so that vulnerable members of their families could stay home during the pandemic. While this had nothing to do with their academic journey directly, it did show a great deal about their character, values and personal resilience. Mastery Transcript allows a student to showcase non-academic learning experiences like these that give insight into more than just classroom learning.
HE – Most K-12 institutions don’t really address the question of who a student is as a learner in their transcripts which is something Georgetown values greatly. This is why we rely heavily on letters of recommendation to evaluate character and learning styles as they’re often the only insight we really get. Mastery Transcript allows students to join their teachers in telling the story of who they are as learners, something we don’t typically get access to.
Mastery Learning is the key to unlocking learners’ potential. It gives youth structure, coaching and space to reflect on and revise their own work, and have a say in what and how they are learning. As the world continues to adopt a more pliable and human-based approach to education and the college admissions process, we think Mastery Transcript will be adopted more widely as a valued tool to more accurately evaluate potential candidates for the incoming classes at campuses around the globe.