Bard College Launches an Unconventional Application Option


Apr   2014



In an effort to give equal consideration to students who may not shine on traditional applications, Bard College recently gave students an alternative option to submit four essays chosen from 21 scholarly topics. The suggested length of each essay was 2,500 words (yielding roughly 10,000 words total) and the topic categories included social science, history, and philosophy; arts and literature; and science and mathematics.

Of the 6,980 students who applied to Bard this year (the application deadline was January 1), just 41 chose to submit the alternative application, and it’s no wonder: the prompts were intellectually challenging and required both research and critical thinking. Here are a few of the questions applicants were asked to respond to:

  • “Using the text of The Constitution of the United States and arguments written in support of the ratification contained in the Federalist Papers, discuss how, if, and why the Constitution remains an effective tool for governing the United States of America. Do you perceive a conflict between the original historical context and the realities of contemporary political life?”
  • “Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein is best known for its influence in popular culture through many film adaptations. It is in fact, however, one of the great novels of ideas. Write an essay that discusses in what sense you think it is a novel of ideas. What are its claims about human reason and human nature?”
  • “In his 1963 lecture on gravity, Richard Feynman mentions that the 'weird' behavior of Uranus led to the discovery of a new planet. More precisely, the fact that Uranus's movement did not fit what was predicted by the then-current understanding of planetary motion could be explained by the existence of a not-yet-observed planet—and the planet was then observed right where predicted. Suppose that observatories had looked at the indicated position and had not actually found the predicted planet. What then? What new questions would this outcome pose for the scientific community? How could they test other explanations for the unexpected motion of Uranus?”

Of the 41 students who submitted the essays, 17 were offered admission—an acceptance rate that was just slightly lower than the school’s overall rate.

Speaking with The New York Times, Mary Backlund, Bard’s Director of Admission, expressed satisfaction with the new application option.

“It exists as an example of the risks we’re willing to take but also the intention that the application should be about students’ capacity to think,” says Backlund.

In the college admission rat race, it’s nice to see schools like Bard taking steps to view applicants as more than just numbers like their GPAs and class rank. Perhaps more colleges and universities will follow suit in the future, but until then, check out this list of Colleges that Do Not Consider Standardized Test Scores.

What do you think of Bard’s alternative application option? Would you write four essays in lieu of submitting a traditional application? Why or why not?

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