Setting New Standards: How Weill Cornell Uses Data to Keep Pace with Evolving Admissions Trends

As 2019 unfolds, it’s clear that the ongoing Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard lawsuit has the potential to reshape affirmative action — and may become more important for U.S. higher education institutions than the multiple rulings in Fisher v. University of Texas.

Of course, this is unfolding at a time when many programs are placing more emphasis on “holistic admissions” policies designed to look beyond the metrics traditionally used to assess applicants, such as standardized test scores. To gain insight into how using new sources of data can bolster the admissions process, Liaison recently spoke with Matt Cipriano, associate director of enrollment and education operations, at Weill Cornell Medicine Graduate School of Medical Sciences.

Liaison: Can you tell us more about how you see the Harvard lawsuit affecting admissions at your institution and beyond?

Matt Cipriano (MC), Weill Cornell Medicine Graduate School of Medical Sciences: The basis of the Harvard lawsuit is that admissions policies are allowed to consider the race of applicants — especially underrepresented applicants — and consider that as a plus. When we eliminate these pluses in terms of race it standardizes how we look at all applications, but it doesn’t take into account the implicit biases that are in place when you only look at standardized test results.

If schools have a cutoff score for their admissions processes and they do not take race or ethnicity into account, that is going to affect the composition of the student body they are recruiting and what their incoming income classes will look like.

Liaison: What are you doing at Weill Cornell now regarding standardized tests? Overall, what do you see as the role of standardized tests in higher education admissions processes in the next couple of years?

MC: My program required the GRE until last year. We did not use cutoff scores, but we certainly took scores into consideration in respect to the whole application. This year, Weill Cornell waived the GRE as a requirement for four out of our five programs.

There have been research studies that show a very low correlation between graduate student success and GRE success. For women and underrepresented students, there is often a negative correlation. Taking that into account, we made the GRE optional and have really focused on a holistic admissions practice in reviewing the entirety of the application. We now put much more weight on student research experience, for example, which is one of the factors that can help show the potential for success in graduate school. We give a lot of consideration to the length of time and quality of students’ previous experiences as well as to other aspects of the applications, such as letters of recommendation, especially from research mentors. We try to get a sense of what the applicants have done and whether that will help them be successful students at Weill Cornell, as opposed to simply looking at how they scored on a standardized test.

Liaison: Weill Cornell uses Liaison’s Centralized Application Services (CASsTM) to help streamline and enhance admissions processes. How does that allow you to use new sources of data to look beyond standardized test results?

MC: As I mentioned, research experience is something we look at closely. With CASs, students are able to enter their research experiences, capturing both the type of work and research they’ve participated in as well as how many hours per week. The CASs then total the research hours so we have a quantifiable number to consider. Utilizing these types of data points has really played a much larger and more important role this year.

With CASs, we can also mine data to compare current applicants to applicants from previous years. For example, although we dropped the GRE as a requirement this year, we are able to still cross compare data from year-to-year. Also, we’ve been using CAS since before we started looking more closely at research experience, but we’re still able to go back into those older applications and pull that data. We can still compare previous classes to incoming classes.

Liaison: Do Liaison’s CAS technology and related services facilitate a holistic approach to admissions?

MC: They really do. The way information is displayed in our CASs makes it easy to use. There’s no weight put on anything unless you choose to assign values to different categories on the application in order to review it based on your own school’s or program’s criteria. That’s not something we do here. We look at the application in its entirety. With CASs, the different sections of the application are really easy to review quickly and at a glance. Or, if you want to do a more thorough review, you can very easily download the entire application as a PDF to really do a deep dive into it. All the information is there. With the tools available, it’s very easy to look at an application and make an initial decision on it.

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