Why a top veterinary school decided it was time to change their admissions process

The world of academic admissions has seen significant changes over the last 20 years. Many schools and programs have realized that applicant suitability shouldn’t be determined by grade-point average (GPA) and standardized tests alone. In recent years, this idea has been increasingly supported by research, and a variety of academic programs are taking notice — including the veterinary science program at Massey University in New Zealand.  

Ranked 23rd in the world in veterinary science by QS World University Rankings, the Massey University School of Veterinary Science (aka Massey Vet School) is a well-known and well-respected program. It was the first school in the southern hemisphere to gain American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) accreditation, with many graduates back working in the USA and Canada. In 2017, one of its graduates was named California’s top veterinarian, the first non-US citizen to receive the award.

Turning out the best graduates requires admitting the best students which is why, in 2012, Massey Vet School felt it was time to take a serious look at their selection process. Dr. Eloise Jillings (Associate Dean – Admission and Students) a Massey vet graduate, and chair of the veterinary student selection committee was tasked with launching the review.

Before embarking on the review itself, Dr. Jillings and her team outlined the four catalysts for reviewing the selection process. These drivers were internal factors (specific to the Massey Vet School), global research and literature, feedback from the veterinary profession, and increased emphasis on non-academic criteria from accrediting bodies.

Internal factors

The Massey Vet School had had the same selection process in place since 1996, using GPA and standardized testing — weighted 80 percent and 20 percent, respectively — to determine who should be accepted into the competitive program.

The primary internal catalyst for the review was the GPA cutoff for applicants, which Dr. Jillings explains was creeping up year after year, causing concern that it was much higher than what students actually needed to successfully progress through the program, resulting in the program missing out on suitable candidates.

Plus, there was a small number of successful applicants who wound up struggling once in the program. Because they were selected in a purely academic process, some students faced difficulties when they came to parts of the program that required well-developed personal and professional characteristics, such as communication. Dr. Jillings felt it wasn’t fair to select students based on one form of criteria (academic only), then later assess them on entirely different criteria.

Literature and research

Dr. Jillings looked at other tools and processes being used around the world, the research that backed up those tools, and what was considered to be current best practices in admissions.

Early on, tools such as reference letters, personal statements, and work experience were ruled out because, as Dr. Jillings states, “there was no real research or data to suggest that any of these tools are actually valid in terms of predicting future performance.” Upon further review of the literature, the only two options that appeared to have real potential were the multiple mini-interview (MMI) and the situational judgment test (SJT). She chose to explore them further.

Feedback from the profession

In 2013, Dr. Jillings surveyed veterinarians in New Zealand to see what they thought of Massey Vet School’s admissions process. Amongst other questions, she asked, “Do you think that non-academic criteria should be part of the assessment of students to the BVSc program?” The vast majority of respondents agreed that non-academic criteria should be taken into consideration when assessing applicants.

Push from the accrediting bodies

Dr. Jillings and her team were already well into their review when the accreditation body of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Council on Education added the following statement to their standards of accreditation guide: “Factors other than academic achievement must be considered for admission criteria.”

For Dr. Jillings, this amendment reinforced the need to change the Massey Vet School’s admission processes and provided justification for the review, especially for those in the program who may have thought that the admissions process did not need to be changed.

In 2016, the Massey Vet School began pilot-testing Casper with current students, alongside a written SJT and the MMI. As of 2017, the program began using all three tools with their applicants and began to collect data. That data will be analyzed and used to make a final decision on which tool(s) will be used to screen applicants for non-academic performance longer-term. So far, the value of Casper is clear.

“The clear benefit of Casper is that it does not cost the institution anything. It’s not time-, personnel- or resource-intensive for the program to run,” says Dr. Jillings. “The fact that we can rely on Acuity Insights to do all the legwork for us, and then utilize the processes put in place by their team, is a huge benefit.”

Photo courtesy of Massey Vet School