Portfolio review for doctoral admissions

Recent research on graduate student success has yielded important findings regarding graduate recruitment, admissions, retention, graduation, and job placement. In response to this research, the Graduate School convened the Graduate Admissions Committee to assist and advise in creating a "toolkit" for graduate admissions at Wayne State. The following guide is designed to support graduate programs in intentional and consistent review of applications, aligning with nationally recognized best practices.

What is portfolio review?

Portfolio review is a method of improving the graduate applicant selection process so that admissions decisions are made consistently and with attention to programmatic and strategic needs.

Portfolio review emphasizes a spectrum of candidate qualities and attributes to determine the applicants most likely to succeed in a particular graduate program. Under this definition, standardized test scores are but one of several pieces of data that are evaluated in the selection of candidates. Relying too heavily on standardized test scores is counter to recommendations made by the Educational Testing Service (ETS, 2015) and has been shown to contribute directly to a lack of diversity in graduate admissions by eliminating a number of capable students from further consideration very early in the process (Miller & Stassun, 2014).

Other key pieces of information that can be evaluated include GPA; research, scholarly, creative, or applied experiences; writing or communication skills; and demonstrated evidence of persistence and motivation. Portfolio review is in accordance with the WSU Strategic Plan, which includes "recruiting and retaining students, faculty, and staff from diverse underrepresented groups," "promoting cultural awareness and understanding," and "creat[ing] proven exportable models that advance diversity and inclusion."

For more details download the full Admissions Guidance PDF and the complete white paper.

Review case studies demonstrating how some programs at Wayne State have implemented portfolio review processes.


Portfolio review and the admissions cycle

Below we provide guidance regarding steps that can be taken at the different stages of the admissions selection cycle. See case studies for ideas about how to implement these steps.

Create a plan: Before the next admissions cycle

Leading up to the next admissions cycle, review the "best practices" in graduate admissions and references provided in our resource list. Programs are encouraged to review the mission of Wayne State University, the School or College, Department, and Program, and meet to discuss the diverse qualities and experiences of students and cohorts that ideally meet these missions as well as the learning outcomes of the program. Clearly articulate the ideal qualities and experiences, such as academic prowess, research, creative or professional experiences, volunteerism, prior educational background, prior schools and colleges attended, communication skills, community service, economic disadvantage and many other distinguishing factors. Consider these questions as starting points:

  • What are the strategic plans of Wayne State University and its units? How does our program align with elements of these plans?
  • What qualities and experiences do students need to succeed in the program, in a lab, or a work group? And what qualities or experiences could enhance the program mission and goals (e.g., particular research, creative, or professional experiences? Grant-writing experience? Non-cognitive factors such as the ability to work independently and/or in a team, ability to work with team members holding diverse perspectives, ability to persist despite setbacks)?
  • How are these qualities and experiences educationally connected to the admission outcome, i.e. the program goals and strategic goals of WSU?  
  • What evidence can students provide to demonstrate that they have these qualities and experiences? Is it clear to applicants that this information is being reviewed and where they should include such information? (See "Writing a compelling personal statement" on the Graduate Admissions website). Consider posting this or program-specific guidance on website and in marketing materials.
  • How should the evidence be weighted in admissions decisions?

From this discussion, the program can create a rubric for application portfolios to ensure consistency of review across applications.

  • Keep in mind that all evidence evaluated for admission should appear in a rubric to ensure consistency of portfolio ratings across applicants (omitting some items introduces potential bias).
  • See attached Sample Wayne State University Personal Statement Rubric and Graduate Application Rubric Template for ideas.
  • Communicate the admissions decisions process clearly to all stakeholders including prospective students and faculty involved in admissions decisions.
  • Ensure that faculty receive timely information about the admissions review process and the use of the rubric.

Apply and assess: During the admissions cycle

Test out the rubric, and have open discussion about the process.

  • Make admissions decisions based on the rubric to ensure consistency of review.
  • Make admissions offers.

Conduct research using the rubric with applications submitted in the past few years. Would the program have made different decisions with the rubric?

Evaluate and revise: After the admissions cycle and ongoing

  • Test the rubric and determine whether it in fact aligned with the items discussed in the steps above.
  • Test the extent that admitted and non-admitted students differed on criteria the program used in prior admissions cycles.
  • Track students who were admitted using the rubric on their performance in the program as well as job placement.
  • Treat admissions as an ongoing process in which you periodically evaluate program mission and needs, as well as student outcomes. Think about the metrics that will help you evaluate the success of the rubric (e.g., 1st year graduate GPA, publications and scholarly/creative output, networking abilities, etc…)

Given the ongoing data collection efforts at the Graduate School, consider collaborating with us on research to evaluate the effectiveness of your amendments. For more information Associate Dean of Student Success Sharon Lean, sflean@wayne.edu