With the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) done, college admissions process has begun in Korea. With the recent surge of COVID-19 cases among university students, the Ministry of Education has designated an “intensive university evaluations management period” until December 22 to conduct admissions exams and interviews and recommended universities to switch to non-face-to-face process except under inevitable circumstances. As POSTECH selects students through rolling admission, it conducted its online admissions interviews on December 5 and 6.
With the wide spread of COVID-19 around the CSAT this year, university districts across the country were on high alert ahead of the admissions interviews. In the midst of this, POSTECH successfully conducted the interviews virtually, setting a precedent for a new interview standard.
POSTECH had already set plans and begun preparing for the online admissions interview process in early August. It selected a video conferencing platform proven to be stable after running four months of tests. It also prepared programs that preceded the interviews such as online meetings, virtual campus tours and messages from POSTECH students. As candidates would connect to the platform at the same time from all over the country, POSTECH prepared for unexpected situations that can occur depending on the users’ network settings. For example, when the network was disconnected during an interview, it was continued through a video call on the Android phone and iPhone provided in the interviewers’ room. In fact, the rate of no-show this year was 4.2 percent, which was lower than last year’s 5.5 percent. This was due to POSTECH overcoming its regional limitations and increasing online accessibility.
“Although we could not provide the same environment for all candidates since it was held online, it was important to ensure that everyone conducts the interview in a stable environment,” remarked Sung-ik Son, the director of Admissions at POSTECH who prepared the online admissions process. “This was a great challenge that confirmed that the online interviews can be a real-time interview system in the COVID-19 era.”
Not only the format but also the content of the interview was changed. Experienced interviewers with good understanding of the admissions process were selected for the two days. Also, the parts asking for mathematical and logical thinking and problem-solving skills were eliminated to fundamentally block the leakage of the questions. Instead, more individualized questions that focus on each candidate were added.
Professor Joon Won Kim, who participated as an interviewer, commented, “The motto of this admissions interview was to be safe and friendly, and to verify with certainty.” He added, “I think the candidates were able to promote themselves without being nervous in the safest environment.” He stated, “If the in-person interviews had solely focused on the candidates’ attitude at the given moment, these virtual interviews revealed more about the candidates, such as their thoughts and actions through the cover letters and their extracurricular activities.”
Candidates who participated in the online admission interviews generally responded positively by saying in their reviews, “I had enough time to convey myself and felt that the interviewers understood my thoughts very clearly,” “I thought that real talent would be recruited since they focused on character and aptitude rather than just scientific competence,” and “I felt that all interviewers read the applications carefully and prepared well for the questions.”
POSTECH selects freshmen through the Comprehensive School Report Admission System and rolling admissions. In the first round of document evaluations, students’ potential and academic abilities are assessed by comprehensively considering their school records, cover letters and recommendation letters. The second round of interview evaluation is conducted for a pool of candidates three times the number of candidates who passed the document round. Here, 67% of first and 33% of second round evaluations are reflected.
As interviews are a critical part of the admissions process, POSTECH’s efforts and preparation for them are meticulous. It is largely divided into two parts: Since POSTECH selects all students in a single category, there is a part that tests the candidates’ mathematical and logical thinking and problem-solving skills, and a character interview. Since the interview is an important process to evaluate the candidate in person, it not only focuses on the student’s answers to a given question, but also evaluates their attitude and communication skills, their potential and creativity overall. As it was held online this year, more weight was placed on the character interview.