Enhancing Fairness in Nursing Admissions

How the Casper Situational Judgment Test Helped Make Admissions More Fair at Dalhousie University’s School of Nursing

Key Information

  • Program: School of Nursing
  • Location: Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia, Canada
  • Challenges: Overwhelming number of applications, limited admissions criteria focused solely on academics, difficulty assessing non-academic qualities, increased government pressure to fill programs
  • Solutions/Modules: Casper situational judgment test
  • Benefits: More holistic admissions process, improved quality of admitted students, increased fairness, reduced complaints from applicants and parents

The Dalhousie School of Nursing was facing a challenge. They were receiving an overwhelming number of highly qualified applicants, and they were assessing the applications based on academic performance alone. 

Because of this, students with excellent non-academic skills essential for nursing were being overlooked in favor of those with higher academic scores. This caused a lot of frustration for applicants and their families, who understandably believed their full potential was not being considered.

After all, being a good nurse takes a lot more than academic success. It also takes empathy, communication, and resilience — none of which are assessed by traditional academic metrics like GPA.  

Implementing a holistic solution

Transition to Casper

In search of a fairer, more comprehensive admissions process, the Dalhousie School of Nursing adopted the Casper situational judgment test. Casper was designed to assess non-academic qualities such as communication, resilience, and ethics, providing a more holistic view of each applicant. Peggy Griffin, Assistant Registrar, explained, “We wanted a fair assessment because we were finding excellent students who we couldn’t admit.”

Streamlined Admissions

Before adopting Casper, Dalhousie Nursing’s admissions were based solely on academic performance. Limited human resources meant no time to review letters of reference or intent, and the team at Dalhousie struggled to identify candidates with the right skills to thrive in nursing. 

Integrating Casper into the admissions process allowed the Dalhousie team to look at more than just grades. They now had insight into an applicant’s soft skills, including empathy and communication, two factors that can truly make the difference between a competent nurse and a great nurse. 

“Before Casper, we were admitting students with very high GPAs and high school averages who lacked the essential non-academic skills needed to thrive in our program and profession. At the same time, we knew there were students with average GPAs and high school averages who exuded these crucial skills. Casper evened out the playing field,” Griffin noted. This change ensured candidates who met the minimum high school average of 75% and the minimum GPA requirement of 2.5 with a high Casper score could compete equally with those who had a 98% high school average, a high GPA, and an average Casper score.

Today, academics are weighted at 60% and Casper is weighted at 40%. 


Improved student quality

The adoption of Casper gave a fair chance to applicants who would not previously have been considered because they did not meet the solely academic thresholds. This has led to noticeable improvements in the quality of students admitted to the Dalhousie School of Nursing. Faculty members observed that students who performed well on the Casper test exhibited greater maturity and keenness in their studies. Griffin emphasized, “They are just a higher calibre of students.”

Enhanced fairness and reduced complaints

One of the most significant outcomes was the reduction in complaints from applicants and their families. “Before we started using Casper, I took a lot of calls, emails, and in-person appointments from very angry parents of applicants who were not offered a space in our program,” Griffin shared. She recounted how parents would often question why their child, with a high academic average, was not admitted. Now, she can point to the Casper score as an additional, decisive factor.

Griffin highlighted a particular case where a student with a 3.8 GPA had a very low Casper score. Despite the high academic performance, the student was initially rejected. “He was distraught and confused. But we explained the process to him and how important soft skills were in this particular field. He was determined to turn things around and began consciously working on developing his soft skills. His next experience with Casper was much different, achieving a score that earned him acceptance to the program the next year,” she explained. 

Positive student outcomes

The holistic admissions process has also led to better student outcomes. Students admitted through the Casper-inclusive process have been described as more empathetic, compassionate, and likely to succeed, not only academically, but also in their professional roles as nurses. Faculty members have noticed these students are more engaged and motivated, which positively impacts their performance and retention in the program.

Commitment to fairness amid government pressures

Canada is facing a nursing shortage, highlighting the need to educate and graduate more nurses. Because of this, provincial governments have placed pressure on nursing schools, including Dalhousie, to fill an increased number of seats. 

This pressure is pushing admissions departments to maximize efficiency in the way they assess applicants. “It’s a lot of work to review files, and we wanted to get our offers out quickly this year to make sure we could fill our programs,” Griffin explained.

Despite this new pressure, the team at Dalhousie is so laser-focused on fairness that they remain committed to using Casper in their admissions process. 

Casper not only ensures fairness but also helps identify students who are likely to thrive in their nursing careers. This is why Griffin is adamant about the importance of maintaining a fair and holistic admissions process, even under pressure. 

Casper has also made it easier and faster to get offers out. “Having the Casper score allows me to quickly assess whether a candidate meets our criteria and make offers without delay,” Griffin noted. This efficiency is crucial given the competitive landscape in Nova Scotia, where multiple nursing schools vie for top candidates.

What’s next?

The integration of Casper at the Dalhousie School of Nursing has set a standard for fair and comprehensive admissions processes. Despite challenges such as increased government pressure to fill programs, the School of Nursing remains committed to using Casper to ensure they admit students with the skills needed to thrive in their careers. Moving forward, Dalhousie plans to continue refining their admissions strategies to meet provincial needs and government expectations.

“We are taking another look at our admissions process to ensure we’re meeting the needs of the province and the expectations of the government,” Griffin said. This includes evaluating all aspects of the admissions process and considering further improvements to enhance fairness and efficiency.

  • Began using Casper in 2017
  • 1600 applications per year
  • 115 offers made this year compared to previous 96

“I handled a lot of calls, emails, and in-person appointments from very upset parents prior to Casper. I don’t get that anymore.”

Peggy Griffin, Assistant Registrar

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