No Bowdoin student—anyone who attends an elite college or university in the United States for that matter—is too far removed from the college admissions process to know it is more intense and cutthroat than ever. 

Statistics might suggest that overall enrollment at American universities is declining, but that isn’t relevant to America’s best and brightest (and yes, fortunate) high school students. Admissions officers at many top-tier schools admit that they are turning down well-qualified students who are indistinguishable from ones they are accepting and who they would have given the “thumbs up” to in the recent past. Admissions counselors are running out of tactful ways that justify choosing one qualified applicant from another.

While I regard the upcoming changes to the SAT—which include providing more focus to the mathematical content and altering the vocabulary section in favor of gearing the test towards what students actually learned in high school—as an improvement, they do not do enough to fairly and critically assess the most intellectually accomplished students applying to the very best American universities. In the nontransparent and inconsistently judgmental system that is college admissions, the institutes of higher education governing boards owe it to the students to come up with a more efficient system of evaluation.

I propose a mandatory and original, innovative supplemental test to complement the SAT for a list of selective schools, which will give admission counselors a fresh, more thorough way to evaluate its applicants. This supplemental test should be designed to determine skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, and creative expression. These attributes are as important as academic knowledge and are critical for an enriched collegiate experience and a prosperous career path. Leading innovators, education specialists, and management companies—the likes of Bill Gates, IBM, and Khan Academy—should work together to create a standardized assessment based on an algorithm that combines the best of creative, intellectual and technical insight. 

A compilation of multiple-choice questions—such as what The Learning Channel does with its list of “Test Yourself” creative questions that measure critical-thinking skills—is a must.  I applaud the work of FourSight, a company that creates creative training skills to help individuals solve problems—an abridged version of its assessment to identify thinking styles is also a great fit. 

This new testing method should have a more insightful writing section than the SAT that sparks imagination. Having the ability to write logically and effectively is a meaningful skill for life, whether you want to be a chemical engineer or a journalist.  Some responses or sections of this supplemental exam don’t necessarily need to have a right or wrong answer, but simply need to give admissions officers a more in-depth look at what really makes up the students they are evaluating. 

While this would be additional testing and time spent for students and admissions officers alike, I believe that this would best serve each group’s interests in the present and long-term future. Furthermore, this system would not play into the expensive SAT and ACT tutoring programs that have often been at the core of arguments about these tests favoring the affluent.

On a separate note, the elite institutions I speak of should give meaningful advantages to applications in other ways amidst the review process. For example, students who are bilingual, have the undeniably practical skill of computer coding, who describe a meaningful experience in the professional world on a Common App section, or who list an intention to study abroad and explore other cultures should not be seen only as their SAT scores. College-bound students who see the “bigger picture” and show it through their skills and work experiences, should be rewarded. 

This year, Stanford had an acceptance rate of 5 percent; in the liberal arts field, Amherst and Bowdoin both had admission rates less than 15 percent.  These impressive figures are not going to change anytime soon. Therefore I propose a more honest, modern way of reflecting on the competitive market of college admissions. And in reality, students must prepare for the even more competitive job market. 

Harvard education specialist Tony Wagner is on point when he says that the pre-collegiate and university systems are not “adding the value and teaching the skills that matter most in the marketplace.” The cultivation and implementation of these attributes—whether it’s critical thinking or problem solving skills—should be further proactively developed by professors within the classroom walls and collegiate seminars.

 In Tom Friedman’s writing on Lazlo Block, the senior vice president of people operations at Google, he said that the company has determined that GPA’s and test scores are very poor predictors of success when hiring, but that they see those who innovate and think well on the fly as most beneficial to them. He lists five key skill markers: general cognitive learning ability, emergent leadership, intellectual humility, ownership and technical skill.

More critically assessing the very best of prospective American college students is a pertinent and urgent need to maintain our status as a global leader. 

Instead of just bandaging the wound like the changes to the SAT does, significant reform is necessary for the education hole we are in. A bold move that tackles higher education in a more comprehensive manner and has its students better prepared to be successful leaders in the “real world.” We have the resources and intelligence—let’s do it already.