A committee of faculty, staff and students recently revised the application for Tufts Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences to make it more equitable and accessible for the 2022 admissions cycle. The committee's work was a project of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences’ Anti-Racist Working Group.
Elizabeth Storrs, who was the director of enrollment services at the graduate school until December 2022, explained that the committee worked carefully to identify possible areas to improve the application.
“Everybody [was] involved in the admissions process in one way or another, reading very carefully for places we might be restricting what people might feel comfortable telling us, looking for places we invalidated identities, looking for places we didn’t help people show us themselves in their best light,” Storrs said.
The changes in the application ranged from rewording questions about socioeconomic background to dividing the personal statement into two distinct parts. The changes were aimed at giving applicants the opportunity to provide a more comprehensive description of their background, abilities and interests.
Another key area of improvement dealt with clarifying the application questions. Najla Fiaturi, assistant professor of medical education at the graduate school and a member of the committee reviewing the application, explained that the application now gives clearer instructions on how to answer each of the prompts.
“The previous version was just asking two things, like you write down [a] personal statement and then [an] academic purpose statement, but there [was] zero guidance on what we are looking for on these statements," Fiaturi said. "If you think about someone who doesn’t have [any] exposure with a grad school before, or they ... don’t have a counselor or a family member with a graduate degree, it would be really challenging to write."
The committee derived two new essay questions from that singular personal statement with the intent of giving applicants more space to talk about themselves instead of simply their research experience, Storrs said.
In terms of identity questions, the original application had a series of generic questions, with binary answers. On a question regarding disability, the prompt asked, “Are you disabled?” The committee worked to make these questions more inclusive, by including open-ended response boxes and by rephrasing the questions.
Storrs discussed some of these changes.
“[For] the current labeling of the field where we asked about gender identity, it was labeled sex/gender, and we just changed that straight up to gender," Storrs said. "On pronouns, we had called that field ‘preferred pronouns,’ and we’re like, we don’t need the word ‘preferred’— ‘pronouns’ is a perfectly good field there. We [also] added a free text box for self-identification in the race and ethnicity sections.”
The committee worked to change the question on socioeconomic status to clarify why the question is asked.
“Students who meet [the National Institutes of Health’s] criteria are eligible for specific types of grants, … so it’s both advantageous for students to know that those [resources] exist and also advantageous for us to be able to say we have a program that serves these students," Storrs said.
Leon Reijmers, associate professor of neuroscience at Tufts University School of Medicine, explained in an email to the Daily that the school’s applicant pool has been changing in recent years due to efforts to reevaluate the accessibility and inclusivity of its admissions process.
“Yes, our applicant pool has become more diverse over the past years and we have been able to more successfully recruit applicants from under-represented groups,” Leon Reijmers wrote.
Another change the team made was adding a fee waiver request question to the application so that applicants do not have to climb through bureaucratic loopholes to find the proper form.
The team was happy with the overall result. The team members were especially pleased with the rewording of questions to create a more inclusive application, aimed at attracting a more diverse group of applicants.
Fiaturi shared her evaluation of the revised application.
“I think the thing that makes me happy is that I want to know that we are accessible to students with different backgrounds,” Fiaturi said. “And then to do this, we need to use the right language.”