This summer, Bard College continues to offer an alternate path for admission for prospective students: An online essay examination. The popular Bard Entrance Examination, which the College launched in late 2013, will be relaunched on June 2 when it will be accessible online through Bard’s admission website. Open to high school juniors and seniors, the exam is composed solely of essay questions, offering a way to apply to Bard that bypasses existing standardized tests and admission processes. All test takers must submit their essays by uploading them to Bard’s secure website by November 1, after which the essays will be graded by members of the faculty. Those receiving a grade of B+ or higher will receive an offer of admission by the end of December. The College will continue to accept the Common Application and admit students through its popular Immediate Decision Plan (IDP). But to connect the admission process to the world of learning and scholarship, Bard has created this alternative route, designed to level the playing field among applicants worldwide and to enable bright, motivated students to gain admission through a process that more closely mirrors actual college course work.
“The tradition of high stakes examination, using multiple choice questions, has made the entire apparatus of high school and college entrance examinations bankrupt,” said Bard College President Leon Botstein. “Teachers, scientists, and scholars must once again take charge of the way we test. What the Bard Entrance Examination asks is that students study source materials and write comprehensively in order to show the quality of their reasoning.” Botstein notes that modern technology has made this possible. “Students who want to do this can go online and read the Federalist Papers, Gogol’s ‘The Nose,’ Aeschylus, and Mary Shelley. They can study scientific papers. With broad access to this tremendous breadth of materials, home- schooled applicants, students from rural areas, and students from abroad all have the same opportunity.” “Bard has a strong tradition of innovation,” said Mary Backlund, director of admission. She noted that Bard was one of the first U.S. colleges to make the SAT and ACT optional, and pointed to the College’s innovative IDP, in which applicants take a seminar class at Bard and are interviewed on one day and given an admission decision the following week. “We believe that by adding this new method, we’ll be giving ambitious applicants an option that’s engaging, interesting, and even exciting,” Backlund said. “It offers them a sense of what college work is really like.”
“With the new Bard Entrance Examination, students can demonstrate their academic and intellectual strengths through a rigorous essay exam based, not on rote memorization, but on the skills most needed for success in college: close reading and critical thinking skills, the ability to interpret problems and solve them creatively through independent research, and to write with clarity and authority. It will also give them an opportunity to learn from the test.”
The Bard Entrance Examination will be made available through a secure online login on the College’s website beginning June 2. The questions are divided into three categories: Arts and Humanities; Social Sciences, History, and Philosophy; and Science and Mathematics. Applicants will be required to complete one question in each category, plus an additional question in any one category for a total of four, most to be answered with 2,500-word essays. Links to relevant source material will be included, but applicants are encouraged to research broadly in answering each of the questions. Applicants will be required to sign a statement confirming that they have completed the test without assistance. Bard’s existing application processes will not change, so this will not have any effect on students applying through the Common Application or IDP.
However, the Bard Entrance Examination will change the process for students seeking new ways to express their readiness for college outside of the standardized testing industry. “This essay exam is clearly not for everyone, but it offers many benefits to motivated, intellectually engaged students from different backgrounds,” said Peter Gadsby, Bard’s registrar. “This program could open the door more widely for international students, who are used to exam-based admission to college, and for U.S. students from rural or inner-city schools who might have less access to such resources as standardized test preparation or intensive tutoring programs, and who might not be in a position to present themselves as strongly through the standardized testing process.” It will also open the door to more innovations that move the college admission process away from the current standardized testing regime and toward a fairer process that is more predictive of college success.
“The 21 questions on this exam were compiled by many faculty and staff colleagues and represent the substance and the aspirations of our curriculum,” said Botstein. “In the end, this is actually very old- fashioned. We are using modern technology to extend the sophisticated standards for colleges and universities, before the mid-20th-century tyranny of standardized testing took hold.”
Bard College is a four-year residential college of the liberal arts and sciences with a 150-year history of academic excellence. From a 540-acre park like campus in the Hudson River Valley, the college offers the bachelor of arts degree with concentrations in more than 40 academic programs in four divisions: Arts; Languages and Literature; Science, Mathematics, and Computing; and Social Studies. Bard also offers dual-degree options, including the undergraduate program at The Bard College Conservatory of Music, in which students earn both a bachelor’s degree in music and a B.A. in another field in the liberal arts or sciences. The college has a network of satellites that include high school–early college programs in four states; eight graduate programs; and multiple affiliated institutions abroad in such places as Berlin, St. Petersburg, Kyrgyzstan, and the West Bank. The college has created the Bard Prison Initiative, which grants college degrees to New York State inmates, and the Bard High School Early Colleges, where students earn a high school diploma and an A.A. in four years, among other programs. Bard’s philosophy sets a standard for both scholarly achievement and engagement in civic and global affairs on campus, while also taking the college’s mission to the wider world.