Senate approves new academic approach to undergraduate admission

The UBC Vancouver Senate has recently approved a new holistic approach to student admissions that will require applicants to submit the near-entirety of their Grade 11 and 12 marks. It will also require students to submit a number of high school courses relevant to their program of interest.

In contrast, the former system only required them to submit their best academic Grade 12 marks, though the number they were required to submit varied between provinces.

According to Andrew Arida, director of undergraduate admissions, what’s changing is not what’s required to get into UBC but the process that UBC will use to assess applicants.

“It’s not going to be any harder to get in,” he said. “You don’t have to take any additional courses, and there aren’t additional requirements. It’s just [that] we’re re-thinking the way we make competitive assessments.”

Changes to the process

This new approach to the application process will consist of four distinct student assessments.

In assessing their overall average, UBC will look at all of an applicant’s Grade 11 and 12 marks — with the exception of their lowest grade. Marks in applied design, skills and technology; physical and health education; as well as career and personal planning classes will also be excluded.

They will further submit a core average, which is a set of courses that are relevant to the program that the applicant intends to go into. Likewise, minimum grade thresholds will be imposed on key courses that are critical to the program a student is applying to, such as pre-calculus 12 for the faculty of science.

Applicants are expected to submit a minimum of six Grade 12 marks for their overall average and four Grade 12 marks for their core average, although those who submit fewer will still be considered on a discretionary basis.

This new approach will also add an additional section to the personal profile, in which applicants will have to write a short paragraph explaining why they took the academic path that they did.

Although students will be primarily assessed on their grades, students who are closer to or just below the cut-off line for admissions will be assessed on various characteristics that can be determined from looking at several factors in their educational history. Examples include the amount and types of classes that a student took and the individual context of a student’s educational situation.

For instance, a student who fell just below the cut-off line for admissions but was also enrolled in many classes or a number of enriched classes will be recognized for taking those classes.

These new standards will first be put in place for students applying in 2018/19 school year. It is also important to note that the new standards are only approved in principle, and could still be substantially changed or even stopped.

Expected benefits

Arida said that the idea of changing UBC’s admission process was initially sparked by the upcoming changes to the high school curriculums of BC and the Yukon, which inspired them to review how they assess applicants in general.

He argued that by using a holistic approach to university admissions that analyzes all of a student’s grades while also placing emphasis on courses that are relevant to their program of interest, UBC will be able to get a better grasp on the student’s academic abilities.

“The idea here is to say, ‘If I have 100 students and I only have 50 spaces, I need to assess those students,’” he said. “I could assess them on things that are meaningful, I can assess those on things that are meaningless. I want to make sure that the assessments are on the most meaningful things possible.

“Now, in the end, it could be the same 50 who gets in, but I’ll feel like I’ve done a better job of understanding.”

As a result, Arida claimed that these new admission standards will bring in students who will perform better in their first year.

In an emailed statement, he explained that UBC tested this new admission process with the students who entered UBC in 2016 and found that it had a higher statical relationship with these students’ first year grades than their current admissions process did.

Due to these changes, it’s predicted that there will be fewer admission revocations.

“Something that we [currently] see is really high interim grades … but then sometimes what happens is by the time it gets to the final, the grades drop,” said Jaymi Booth, a student senator who sits on the Admissions Committee. “When we see appeals and the averages have dropped so significantly, we are able to look back at their high school history and see ‘ok, they weren’t doing competitively in Grade 9, 10, 11 — why do we admit them?’ ”

By looking at almost all of their marks in Grade 11 and 12, Booth argued that the new admissions process will be a better predictor of first year success. She also said that the process will be beneficial for students who are unable to take many Grade 12 courses because the new section in the personal profile will let them further explain their educational history.

“If you’re not able to meet that minimum of four Grade 12’s, you’ll still be considered — at a slight disadvantage, of course — but you’ll have a chance later on to explain yourself [and] why you chose your education path,” Booth said. “Your school district might be in consideration because if you’re in a more rural area, maybe there weren’t enough courses to fill up those four in your core courses.”

Concerns in the Senate

Although this new approach passed unanimously in the Senate, there was a very long debate about it in which many senators raised concerns.

According to Qadeem Salehmohamed — a student senator who also sits on the Admissions Committee — one concern was about how the core average component would place pressure on students to know their exact academic path in high school.

“Students pick their courses at the end of Grade 11 — maybe it’s a lot to expect of a sixteen year old to know what they want to do with the rest of their life?” he said.

Another concerned revolved around whether or not the new admission standards will benefit or hinder applicants from lower socio-economic communities or rural areas where applicants might not be able to take the requested amount of courses.

“It might be a lot easier for you to get eight classes in Grade 12 if you go to a large school in an urban area than it would be for you to get that many classes than if you go to a smaller school that doesn’t offer as much,” said Arida, elaborating the concern. “Or if you have a part time job because you need to raise money to pay for your education.”

In response to it, he then stated that the new section in the personal profile would serve as an equity measure by giving students with less courses the ability to explain their situation.

Is it more difficult?

When asked if the new admission processes would make getting into UBC more or less difficult, Salehmohamed hesitated to give a hard answer but eventually said that he would consider them more difficult if he had to choose.

“They’re looking at more courses, so no longer are you able to work really hard in the four courses that UBC is going to look at and ignore everything else and do just okay at everything,” he said. “Now they’re looking at more courses, they’re looking at your overall academic performance. So I think yeah, they may be a little bit more difficult in that way because you have to perform well all around in more courses.”

Likewise, Booth acknowledged that it would require Grade 11 students to put more thought into their path out of high school.

“There’s a bigger decision at hand in terms of knowing what you want to study so that you’re meeting those core courses,” she said. “But at the end of the day, I think that that is a good thing — as a student, I put that much thought into it and I think it’s important to think about what you’re doing when you’re going into university

In contrast, Arida doesn’t think they would be more difficult because the same number of students will be admitted anyways.

“All this is going to do is it’s going to change the way we do the assessments,” he said.

Nonetheless, he acknowledge that students with a high number of courses in a field that they don’t want to study will be at a disadvantage.

“If you have nothing but science courses and you want to get into arts, I’d rather see somebody who is really interested in arts,” said Arida. “Now does that mean you can’t have anything but arts courses? Absolutely not ... [but] what we want to put in place puts an appropriate amount of emphasis on certain courses.

Read more about the new admission requirements starting at page 30 in this document.