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Qualitative vs. quantitative: A look at McGill’s admissions policy

While academic grades were once seen as the only standard for analyzing a student’s ability for admissions, this stance is changing for many in today’s society.

McGill is sometimes criticized for being too “grade-centric” with their admissions process, as many programs at McGill only consider transcripts for admission.

Other universities in Canada, such as Queen’s University and the University of British Columbia, have adopted a more qualitative admission system that considers factors such as essays, recommendations, and extra-curricular engagement.

“Grades have become a measure of what you’ve memorized, not what you’ve learned,” Arielle VanInderstine, U0 Arts and Science, said. “McGill should adopt a more qualitative system of admissions to encourage bright young learners and thinkers, not test-takers.”

Kim Bartlett, one of several directors of admission, is responsible for undergraduate admissions in several faculties, including Arts, Engineering, and Management. She emphasized that admissions policies at McGill are different depending on faculty; for example, Medicine and Dentistry require an interview process.

Bartlett said the university’s values drive its admission policies.

“The central concepts are the idea[s] that admission is competitive and based on proven academic performance,” Bartlett said. “Competitive means that there is no prior decision about who gets in; we want the best candidates for the spaces. The [latter means] grades or test scores on the transcript, not about what your potential could be but what you have done.”

However, some students question this rationale.

“It’s important for a university to choose people who are not only good at testing and writing exams but who also have intellectual depth,” Sarah Nafisa Shahid, U1 Arts, said. “You don’t want to admit student[s] who are just good at writing exams [….] You want the next Bill Gates or Zuckerberg to be in your alumnus.”

While grades do not capture the whole story, Bartlett said qualitative admissions can also be problematic. When admissions require students to have community engagement, they have to be really careful that they do facilitate the exclusion of some groups.

“In many cases, we have students of lower socio-economic levels who are not able to participate in extracurricular activities because they are working, and they need to work to support their families,” she said. “In some cultures volunteerism is just not part of the mainstream, [while] in places like the U.S. it is really prevalent.”

Mila Ghorayeb, U1 Arts and Science, said admissions based on grades are the most fair to everyone.

“Grades are more objective whereas qualitative measures such as how much one volunteers comes down to a matter of opinion,” Ghorayeb said.

Student opinion on the topic appears to be divided.

“I strongly dislike writing application essays and talking about myself; I’m not very good at it,” Ilias Hurley, U0 Engineering, said. “I would really dislike having my getting into McGill depend on an essay. Judging by the people I’ve met. At McGill the admissions system is at a good level.”

Others have argued that qualitative measures would contribute towards a more cohesive and active community on campus.

“Some people are more orientated towards academics while others focus on extracurricular,” Céline Garandeau, U1 Science, said. “Allowing a qualitative system will hopefully result in a more well-rounded student body.”

Bartlett emphasized that changes are not currently under consideration by the Senate. Change in admissions policies are made at the faculty level.

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