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The Creative Economy is Changing Admissions

A little over ten years ago, The Common Application added supplements to the core requirements to help schools see more particular qualities about each applicant. These included “writing, athletic, and artistic supplements,” which could accompany the main application. When the Common App launched its new online system in 2012 — hosting the application process for about 500 schools — it also formed an exclusive partnership us to use our product so schools could receive/review “The Arts Supplement.” This supplement included all of the creative images, audio, video, and interactive content from artists during the admissions process.

During those years, we heard from many universities asking about their applicants in “non-artistic” departments with projects to show off. They felt awkward asking applicants in other fields (like STEM) to include experiments, robots, apps, or other personally meaningful projects as an “arts supplement.” This name was frustrating to everyone because it presumed that values like creativity and curiosity only belonged to the arts.

And yet, the pressure to evolve the name into a more inclusive title — The Portfolio — has only just occurred. Why? While online services have now made it logistically easy to send/review media online, the real reason is the changing economy.

Creativity (n): the ability to create meaningful new forms.

The economy has been rapidly evolving where the majority of the value is coming from a new class of creative workers adding up to more than 2/3 of the US Payroll. These are people in fields like science, technology, arts, culture, healthcare, law, and other occupations that require mental, or creative labor. Richard Florida has documented these trends specifically in his book the Rise of the Creative Class. Here’s an excerpt:

The Creative Class, which comprised less than ten percent of the workforce in the late nineteenth century and no more than 15 percent for much of the twentieth, began to surge in the 1980s. Since that time more than twenty million new Creative Class jobs were created in the United States. This epoch-defining class now numbers more than forty million workers, a third of the workforce, and it generates more than $2 trillion in wages and salaries — more than two thirds of the total US payroll. An additional seven million or so Creative Class jobs will be created over the next decade, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics projections.

This rise of the creative economy has already been recognized by the world of HR. For example, LinkedIn has added a portfolio section to profile pages that are automatically included within job applications. They don’t limit this to artists. It’s relevant because every field expects applicants to do or make something. And the ability to convey that work through media (images, video, audio, interactive) is a concomitant skill central to communication within all social and business environments. asking people to visually explain a complex concept.

While university admissions typically follow general market trends, the best schools are beginning to understand the value and efficiency of seeing what applicants make in every field. Their artifacts can establish new dimensions of merit, for which there can be no standardization. Rather than just looking at test scores, seeing what they make — and how they use media to convey their expertise — immediately transforms an application from plain data into a unique person that can be known.

MIT is a great case study because their educational mission, “learn by doing,” is clearly mirrored within their admissions requirements. They have taken the lead by asking for Maker Portfolios across all disciplines and have shared the logistical details about how they discern merit.

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