Felipe Chiriboga: To find the best students, GW should consider MOOC performance

“This is for the few who will change the game and affect the lives of everyone.”

That’s the type of student GW is looking for – at least, that’s according to a video on its admissions website. Not unlike other schools, GW likes to brag that it only accepts the best and the brightest – and just a few weeks ago, the Class of 2019 found out that they fit the bill.

But college admissions has been the subject of criticism, especially when it comes to using standardized tests – like the SATs and ACTs – as important factors in the process. But success on the SATs is often determined by parental income, and standardized tests are not necessarily the best measures of a student’s ability to perform in college.

Instead, GW should rework its application process to factor in a student’s performance in free massive open online courses. Because MOOCs are designed by college professors and based on college courses, high schoolers can take them to show their mastery of a topic before ever enrolling.

By considering students who have succeeded in MOOCs – whether those offered by GW or by another college – the University will be able to admit talented students from a larger pool and more diverse backgrounds, with perhaps a higher capacity to stand out in college.

Of course, online classes are different from traditional ones. But MOOCs give a more tangible idea of how a prospective student will fare in a real college course, since standardized tests measure what students have learned in high school rather than evaluating how they handle new, more advanced information.

The University can weigh MOOCs more heavily without abandoning old admissions practices. A student’s performance in a MOOC could simply be complementary to his or her scores in AP or IB courses and on standardized tests.

This idea is not without precedent: Colleges across the country have started offering MOOCs and are looking for ways to incorporate them into the admissions process. Elite colleges like MIT and Harvard have begun using MOOCs to reach high school students and have even admitted some based on their results.

University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar told me that admissions decisions are made based on the entire application packet, including components like grades, test scores and letters of recommendation, but she declined to comment on whether or not MOOC grades are specifically taken into account.

GW launched its first MOOC last fall and has started offering more – which gives prospective students an opportunity to show initiative by trying them out. The University should encourage prospective students to take the free online classes it already offers, which cover topics like aerodynamics, numerical methods and, soon, the Federal Reserve. Not only will this give an indication of who are the most passionate students during the admissions process, but it will also boost the numbers of people enrolled in the University’s existing MOOCs.

Taking MOOCs into consideration will also provide greater opportunities for under-privileged students. High school students from affluent families can afford tutoring and extra help when preparing for the SATs – a luxury that gives them a leg up when college application season comes around. MOOCs, on the other hand, simply require an Internet connection.

A problem with this initiative, however, is the low completion rate of MOOCs. It’s estimated that less than 10 percent of registered students complete the courses. But if high school students knew their scores could impact admissions decisions, they might be more likely to follow through.

It’s also unclear how many high schoolers have enrolled in MOOCs, and that number is likely low. However, high school teachers have started to use these free online courses to supplement their own lessons – a strategy that might not only inspire students to enroll in MOOCs, but can also help students complete them.

Success in a college-level online course not only shows intellectual proficiency, but also perseverance, self-motivation, and organizational and time management skills – which we have all found to be very useful in college.

Taking college-level courses as a high school student shows initiative and determination – and that’s the kind of student GW should be chasing.

Felipe Chiriboga, a sophomore double-majoring in economics and philosophy, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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