Ashoka’s Admission Strategy Amidst Covid 19
Sriramya Ghanta, UG 21
Amidst COVID 19, as the world is coming to terms with the new normal, universities around the world are commencing a new academic year. Ashoka is getting ready to welcome the undergraduate batch of 2023. While the pandemic has made it impossible for many students to appear for their board exams, our admissions office is adapting to these circumstances. Mercia Prince, who co-leads the Office of Admissions at Ashoka, shared her experience with this year’s admission as she spoke about various aspects of the online admissions process and the challenges they faced.
Firstly, how would you describe Ashoka’s admission process?
We have four rounds in an admissions cycle every year and each round is exactly the same as the previous one. To begin with, of course, there’s the application form which is very comprehensive. It’s just that there are four submission deadlines so that we can administratively process all the applications that come within one round and give our decisions before moving on to the next one. We then spend a good number of days reading the applications. We have an evaluation and grading system which allows us to look at each application very holistically.
What were some of the changes in the process that you anticipated as a result of the pandemic and what were some of the changes that you had to adapt to as you went along?
I think that moving the entire admissions process online was something that we did immediately. From the 16th of March, we had about a week to move everything online. At the time, the offices were still open but we took a call since we were between two rounds and weren’t interviewing. We set up all our structures during the week and ensured that there were no glitches. When the lockdown was then announced, we had everything in place.
We did not, however, anticipate the number of applications that would be coming in. Usually, more applications in round one and two are of higher quality or of students also applying outside India, as opposed to those in the later rounds. In rounds three and four, applicants are generally banking on their board examination performance and results. We usually don’t conduct as many interviews in round 4 as we do in the previous rounds. However, I think what happened this time is that students who would have otherwise only applied abroad, have also sent in their applications in round 4. It is now July, which is when we usually wrap up but this year we are still conducting interviews. So what we didn’t anticipate was that the number would increase and that the quality of applicants would get better.
Moreover, interviewing is only a part of what we do. With the academic year about to begin, we are planning for enrollment of the cohort, the upcoming Academic Bridge Programme, all the materials that need to go out to parents and students, alongside staying connected with students who have accepted our offer from round 1 onward. I think the team was quite pre-emptive and the transition was smooth. Although the execution of it was challenging, in terms of the planning, I think, we were able to understand and adapt quickly.
Did you notice any differences in the process, especially with the interviews since it is entirely online?
I remember having a conversation about moving the interviews online in January, which was way before any of this happened and some of us protested because when you meet somebody, it is a safe space and the applicant feels comfortable. Sometimes personal information comes up about families, physical and mental health issues. However, after the lockdown, it became absolutely necessary for us to do the interviews online. I was a little sceptical about it in the beginning but I have done hundreds of interviews online since and I must say, although there might be technical difficulties and sometimes it is difficult to read body language or facial expressions or get a vibe, there are some positives as well. It is a formal interview and we do try to make the applicant comfortable and provide a space to share their experiences and maybe sometimes it doesn’t need to get overly personal and I think that’s something that is maintained in this online setup.
Many students have not been able to finish their board exams given the circumstances. What were some of the parameters that you had to consider in order to evaluate their academic abilities?
The interesting part for us is that we would give firm offers of admission without their board results in rounds one and two anyway since we have an alternative standardised test. We do look at other parameters like academic consistency from grade ten onward, non-academic engagement, performance in the on-the-spot essay and the interview. So the process remains the same, in that, we have multiple parameters. The only exception is that we make conditional offers or defer decisions to applicants who need to submit their grade twelve scores because all the other parameters are not enough for us to make a firm decision, either way, be it an offer of admission or denial of admission.
We decided to follow the same process for rounds three and four as well since all Board examination results are supposed to be out by the 15th or 16th this month and our final decision for round 4 comes out on the 17th. Once the results are available, those who have got a firm offer won’t be affected but all the applicants that were made conditional offers, or wait-listed or deferred will have their Grade twelve scores plugged back into the evaluation system and then they are either denied admission or given a firm offer.
What are some of the changes that you’ve adapted to, that you’d like to see implemented in the future?
In terms of the future, I really can’t tell. Especially given this year, there is a lot at stake. The number of applications is soaring and we wonder if we can do all the processes we did in the past and if so, what it would look like. Moreover, we also need to consider whether we can travel across the country like we used to and if that is both financially viable or even permissible given the restrictions on travel, which we don’t know for how long will remain complicated. The number of applications is really soaring and with, all things considered, we need to rethink and rework a plan with suitable changes. To sum it up, if you ask me, I would say that we might be conducting all our processes online for a while, even when the campus opens. So we intend to do planning in the latter part of September or early October this year and as of now, I don’t see us going back to anything. It will have to be something completely new.