Concerns of accessibility and cheating in sophing applications have led the Orientation Planning Committee (OPC) to revamp the process with an updated list of questions and group interviews. 

Previously, soph applications involved a written and an interview component. The written component asked applicants to answer five short-answer questions. The interviews were then held in-person and last roughly 10 minutes.

Allie Adamo, USC student programs officer and OPC co-chair, noted concerns of potential nepotism and cheating where students who have previously sat on the OPC or through some other means gained access to the soph grading rubric. The leaking of the rubric led to many students gaining an edge over other candidates when answering questions on the application. 

Sophing applications are marked in a blind format where markers are unaware who the applicant is, therefore, applicants who have prior knowledge of the grading rubric might perform well on set markers. 

“We have students who have either sat on the [OPC] in the past or have somehow gained access to the rubric and so we had a lot of students who were cheating or somehow getting [only] two marks off,” said Adamo. 

Adamo noted that there has been a dramatic spike in top-five-percentile scores in the past year. While the application process is updated every three to four years, the issues this year are an incentive for OPC to take changes to the process seriously.

The new application has also been revised to better present the role of the job and questions not in line with the requirements of the role were removed.

Harrison Arnold, 2016 orientation coordinator, said another major issue with the previous application process was accessibility. Specifically acknowledging international students, he admitted that the process was not as welcoming to all Western students as he would like.

“We were noticing that a lot of language in the application was not accessible to certain students so we revamped the language by liaising with the international students office and employees there who are experts in this field,” said Arnold.

To deal with some of the challenges, the OPC is also looking into changing the interview format of the application to a group-setting interview. Adamo noted that the group interview format is already used for residence soph applications.

“For residence sophing it has always been a group interview format and so we are kind of toying with the idea of doing that for faculty soph applications,” Adamo said. “Recognizing that you can kind of gleam more from a student in an hour interview than in a 10-minute interview, especially when the program is so competitive.”

The updated written components for the sophing applications has also already been in use for residence soph applications. The next big use of these questions will be for the faculty soph applications, which are much more numerous in comparison with the residence soph applications.

At a USC council meeting, a question was brought forward in regards to what options would be available for applicants who may not feel comfortable in a group interview setting. Adamo said the OPC is looking into incorporating an optional two-minute video component where applicants can make remarks they may not have made in the interview.

It has not been decided whether the interview changes will be implemented this coming up year or for the 2018–19 applications. Right now the focus is on the written applications since those go live on Jan. 4 for faculty sophs.

According to Adamo, current sophs were consulted in the application updating process. She also added that a town hall meeting will be held in January for sophs to come out and discuss these issues with OPC personally.