On Our Radar – How do you grade life experience?

On Our Radar features HEQCO staff and guest bloggers offering their unique perspectives on trends, new ideas, and hot-button issues in higher education. The opinions are those of the authors.


Concerns of grade inflation and increased competition for top students have led at least one Canadian university to alter its admission requirements. The University of British Columbia now requires all applicants to submit a personal profile that includes accomplishments, life lessons, personal characteristics and non-academic strengths, in addition to their high school grades, making UBC the largest Canadian university to look at criteria in addition to grades for admission.
While profiles are meant to convey students’ unique characteristics in order to help administrators predict student success, it can lead to a slippery slope where some students fall short through no fault of their own. With the help of current students and administrative staff, UBC has prepared a short instruction video with helpful hints for preparing the individual profile.
UBC administrators are hopeful that these new admissions procedures will attract more well-rounded students with a “full range of accomplishments.” They anticipate that students offered admission will complete their programs more engaged and ready to take on leadership roles within the community. According to UBC, business leaders in the community have been enthusiastic so far with the calibre of graduating students.
Since universities hope to engage their students and have them graduate with good grades and the skills that will prepare them for the work force—why wouldn’t institutions use these same criteria for their admissions procedures? It makes sense.
But I worry about some of the broader implications of these new admissions processes. Individuality is valued, what makes applicants different and unique is encouraged, but there is a danger that a particular individuality may be valued more than another.
For example, students are asked to toot their own horns about their non-academic experiences and invariably mention volunteering for a worthy cause or involvement in extracurricular activities while maintaining a good GPA. But what about those students who, because of financial or family reasons, could not participate in such activities? Perhaps they were working instead or heading their household. Does this make students without volunteer experience or community involvement less prepared for university?
It is possible that these students would be more prepared, given that they had to juggle school and real life. Of course, they could use these life experiences as part of their profile, but who decides what experiences are more valued? The inability to precisely measure profiles can allow socioeconomic inequalities and prejudice to creep into the application process. As a result, the student body may come to reflect a certain “type” of student—one who had the means and time to become involved in the community and had parents or mentors that encouraged them to do so. The UBC video clip ends with “it’s good to be different.” But the question remains—what kind of different are we talking about?
-Vicky Maldonado, Research Intern

3 replies on “On Our Radar – How do you grade life experience?”

Criteria for assessing admission applications are hard enough to interpret and apply. Nothing in this video indicates what criteria are used to assess the “profile”. Curious that the video does not include any First Nations students….. are there none at the First Nations House of Learning/Longhouse?

Interesting blog. I am curious to know if there is a different application process for those with disabilities?

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