Applying to most undergraduate faculties at McGill is a fairly easy process: Fill out some logistical information, submit a high school transcript, and plug in your grades. It’s as impersonal as an application can get. Students are immediately seen as a letter grade or number, stripped of the personalities and experiences that shape them and their academic outcomes.
McGill should adopt a holistic application process that is more inclusive, by allowing all applicants the chance to explain how their experiences—good and bad—have shaped their worldview. An impressive high school grade point average does not necessarily mean the student will make great contributions to McGill’s community. Past personal experiences are a better indicator of whether or not an applicant will be a successful student and community member at McGill.
Institutions like Queen’s University have a more thoughtful admissions policy, which gives applicants the choice to submit personal statements and supplementary essays. Such admissions policies give applicants greater choice in how they choose to represent themselves and respect that they have more to offer than just their grades. Personal statements allow students to show their character through writing, giving the university insight into the experiences that have shaped their personal and academic development.
For McGill’s approach to be truly holistic, the applicant’s circumstances are a crucial factor to take into consideration. Extracurricular activities can be very exclusionary, since not all students have the free time or money to participate in them. McGill should look into an applicant’s social, economic, and personal contexts to truly understand why they might not have had the opportunity to participate in conventional activities. Instead of offering to accept a resume or list of activities, McGill can ask students to write a written supplement to showcase their strengths beyond any extra-curricular activity. This ensures a more inclusive application process so McGill is able to host students of a wide range of backgrounds and experiences to enhance its community.
McGill admissions does offer the chance for applicants to send in a letter of extenuating circumstances explaining any medical or personal difficulties that impacted the applicant’s academic performance. Although this seems as though McGill admissions is giving applicants an opportunity to explain extenuating circumstances, it also asks, if applicable, to provide the “precautions or measures the applicant has taken or will take to ensure that the issue will have no further impact on the applicant’s academic performance,” and for the applicant to include medical notes or accident reports as support for their case. These instructions betray the admission process’ thoughtlessness, as though McGill does not care for the applicant’s experiences or how they overcame them, but rather, needs proof that these problems actually happened, and that they will no longer be a problem for the student once they enroll at McGill. The way McGill presents its optional writing supplement to applicants suggests that it views past adversity as a risk in taking on a student. In reality, overcoming hardships can make a student stronger and able to tackle the new challenges of university life. The ability to surmount obstacles is a greater indicator of a student’s potential than a faceless letter grade.
Written supplements are better projections of how the applicant will contribute to McGill’s student community. University is more than just going to class and getting good grades—university is where one builds a foundation for real life and interacts with people of different backgrounds. McGill’s community, which is very student-built and student-led, needs interested individuals who are motivated to build connections with their peers. An application that considers an potential student’s personality, skills, and how they overcome challenges presented to them ensures its community is filled with students who are motivated and can handle the stress that comes with university life.
McGill should end its impersonal grades-only application system in order to convey that applicants are human beings rather than numbers. A holistic admissions process that takes into consideration an applicant’s creativity, experiences, and how they tackle adversity, ensuring the best fit for McGill’s community.