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Liberal arts group backs admission interviews

The rising demand for a liberal arts education among Chinese students has prompted ten of the US’s top liberal arts institutions to collaboratively encourage students to submit their applications with video interviews in order to exhibit their communication skills.

Swarthmore College's Parrish Hall. Swarthmore is one of 10 colleges in the consortia who have united to promote a liberal arts education in China and encourage students to show communication skills in video interviews.

“We felt an interview would help and as a group we can promote the liberal arts degree writ large"

The LAC Interview Consortium has partnered with Beijing-based InitialView to conduct the interviews saying the videos allow students to show they have sufficient communication skills needed to participate in the small class discussions and close interaction with professors indicative of the learning environment at the institutions.

Jim Bock, Vice President and Dean of Admission at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania said an admission interview fits with the schools’ “holistic” admission process which looks beyond test scores.

“Chinese students are strong quantitatively however liberal arts education promotes critical thinking skills”

“Given that we are residential colleges it very much depends on how students present themselves in the classroom and with faculty because the size of our campuses tend to be small,” he told The PIE News.

“We think we can see if a student has some of those softer skills through the InitialView interviews”.

The nature of liberal arts institutions to promote individual thinking is becoming more popular among Chinese students and potential employers according to Bock.

Swarthmore alone has seen its international student population grow from 7% to 12% of overall classes with a significant increase in Chinese students over the last few years.

“Chinese students are strong quantitatively however liberal arts education promotes critical thinking skills, reading for reading, reading deeper into the text- so it’s not just about memorisation,” he said. “Businesses say they want students who can write, not just be smart but can solve problems and collaborate.”

The consortium which includes Barnard College, Bryn Mawr College, Claremont McKenna College, College of the Holy Cross, Colorado College, Davidson College, Harvey Mudd College, Middlebury College, and Wellesley College also allows the schools to unite in marketing a liberal arts education.

“We felt an interview would help and as a group we can promote the liberal arts degree writ large,” confirmed Bock.

InitialView has been conducting video interviews with students across Asia since 2012. They charge students $120 for each improvised, unrated 15 minute interview and send it to as many US institutions as the student wants.

Terry Crawford, CEO at InitialView said that as international students become more savvy about college options in the U.S. more students are interested in the close-knit environment of liberal arts colleges.

“Regardless of their mother tongue, top students don’t want to go to a college with classmates who cannot communicate in English,” he said.

“And top liberal arts colleges offer a holistic review process which focuses on each individual applicant; I think the unscripted nature of our interviews can support them in that respect.”

The group officially formed at the Overseas Association for College Admission Counseling conference in Florida last month. Initially interview promotion will be limited to China with potential to expand to other countries in the future.

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