Higher Education Admissions

Alternative Admissions Systems

Every admissions system has its limitations. Some people propose alternatives to the present system used in Israel, in order to overcome its limitations. A survey of some 8,000 respondents was conducted in Israel. Some 70% of the respondents proposed basing admissions on a personal interview or on a test in the intended field of study. About 60% proposed reducing the weight of the Psychometric test, or cancelling it completely, and increasing the weight of the Bagrut score. Some 50% suggested basing admissions on achievements in the first year - that is, screening students only at the end of the first year. That said, each of these alternatives has its limitations. These are explained in the following paragraphs.


Personal interviews

Those who propose this approach suggest using one or more personal interviews to determine whether a candidate is well suited to a particular field of study. Many applicants favor the personal interview as an admissions tool because they believe it gives them an opportunity to express themselves and also properly represents their abilities and personal characteristics.

However, a great many studies show that the interview is not objective and is susceptible to bias. The interviewers have their own positions and preferences, even when they are unaware of them, and some of these are not relevant to academic success: parameters such as age, gender, ethnicity, manner of speech and external appearance can influence the personal interview and the interviewer’s assessment. Moreover, when several interviewers interview the same candidate, they often disagree about that person’s abilities and chances of academic success. Indeed, many studies show that the personal interview has very little, if any, ability to predict the academic success of candidates. Finally, the use of a personal interview is not practical when a large number of candidates must be screened, because it is difficult to find and train enough professionals to serve as interviewers. In conclusion, the establishment of an admissions system based on interviews would be complex and extremely expensive. Given that interviews are not an effective means of predicting academic success, the undertaking would not be justifiable.


Tests in specific fields of study

This approach would have admissions based on a test that examines the knowledge, skills and personal traits that are relevant to the desired field of study.

Knowledge tests are often unfair. Many fields of study in higher education are not taught in high school and therefore, candidates cannot be expected to have prior knowledge of them. Tests based on prior knowledge are biased in favor of those who were exposed to the subject in high school or in expensive extramural activities, and unfavorably biased toward those were not. Moreover, it is impractical to require a candidate who is applying to several different departments to take a knowledge test in each of them. This would involve a lot of time, money and effort.

For certain fields that require special skills or specific personal traits, customized tests are used in addition to the standard admissions tools. For example, admissions to architecture studies and to several areas of study in the arts are based on a personal portfolio and performance assessments. Likewise, admissions to medical school are based on assessments by evaluation centers that measure aspects of a candidate’s personality and behavior.


Admission on the basis of high school grades

Those who favor this approach believe that the Bagrut examinations cover a wide variety of subjects and abilities and reflect the outcome of many years of study. Therefore, they argue, there is no reason to add more screening tools, and candidates should be admitted based on their Bagrut grades alone. Most of the colleges and some university departments implement this approach.

The use of Bagrut grades is not widely accepted in Israel, because the high school exams do not produce an objective, equitable and fair measure of the abilities of candidates, as noted above.


Screening during studies

According to this approach, all candidates should be admitted for the first year, at the end of which they should be screened according to their grades. This approach is implemented by the Open University and by some departments in other universities and colleges.

There are several reasons why screening during studies is not a widely used method. From the institutions’ perspective, many departments are not able to admit large numbers of students, because they don’t have enough classrooms and lecturers. Also, this approach could result in large fluctuations in the number of candidates for each department from year to year, which would make it very hard for the institutions to plan ahead. From the candidates’ perspective, the necessity of successfully taking an admissions test is not removed but merely deferred to the end of the first year. A student who is not admitted for the second year in a certain department will only know this at the end of the year, after investing time, money and effort in vain. That student might not even have time to register for a different department. Moreover, this kind of admissions system is based on a variety of assessments written by many different people in the various institutions over many years. These assessments are neither uniform nor fair.

Screening during studies is a model that has been tried in Israel in the past and has been a total failure. It created a competitive atmosphere in the institutions and put serious pressure on the lecturers to give high grades. It caused a decline in the quality of studies and an increase in costs for both students and the institutions. Moreover, those who were not accepted experienced frustration, failure and a sense of having wasted time. For all these reasons, the institutions discarded this model.