Bard elevates its entrance exam

New college application choice stresses essays and intellect

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Bard College has introduced a new college application option that has turned the world of higher education’s focus toward the Annandale campus.

High school juniors and seniors can now apply to Bard through an entrance examination that focuses less on SATs and grade scores and more on intellect.

Applicants must write four 2,500-word essays from 21 options divided among the three categories: social science, history, and philosophy; arts and literature; and science and mathematics.

The assignments, designed by Bard faculty members, professors and alumni, are intended to mirror the intellectual and theoretical nature of Bard’s curriculum. They include, for example, the following: write a three-part response to German philosopher Immanuel Kant’s “On a Supposed Right to Lie,” write a musical composition using the opening text of the Declaration of Independence, or write an essay on why factoring numbers into primes is a difficult problem.

Applicants who earn an average score of B+ or higher on their essays will be accepted for the next freshman class. Only at this point will the college have access to information usually included in the Common Application, including grades and high school classes, which will be only used for bureaucratic purposes.

“For me, it’s very exciting,” Mary Backlund, Bard’s director of admission, said of the new option. “It connects the admissions process to the academic program in a very clear way.”

The program was the brainchild of Bard President Leon Botstein, who has developed a reputation for innovative approaches to education during his 38-year tenure.

More than 100 people have signed up to view the examination on the online program SlideRoom. Backlund pointed out, though, that this was not necessarily a reliable indicator of student interest, because anyone can sign up on the website if they provide the name of a high school and guidance counselor.

So far, she added, two students have expressed firm interest in applying to Bard via the new exam.

For the Bard Entrance Exam, Backlund said that the Bard admissions office will assemble a panel of professors to grade the essays based on how many people apply—if only two apply, Backlund may only ask two professors to grade.

Backlund said she has grown wary of systematization in the college application process during her 30 years at Bard, and is excited to see where the program leads.

She believes this will be a tangible way to find dedicated students.

“Interest in learning knows no socioeconomic bounds,” Backlund said. “This is our way to level the playing field.”

Students may still apply to Bard via the standard college admissions route, the Common Application, or through Bard’s admissions innovation of 30 years ago, the Immediate Decision Plan.

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