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“Portfolios for US university admissions”

Jill Hodges (Founder and CEO of Fire Tech)

I recently took a trip to the US to visit a number of universities and to better understand what they were looking for in students.  Full disclosure, this was for my own daughter, who is graduating from a London secondary school next spring.  At the three colleges we visited – MIT, Columbia, and University of Pennsylvania – one very strong theme came out.  Beyond grades and test scores, universities are trying to put together a mosaic of students that will form a rich and diverse cohort.  They know that these kids are bright and expect top scores in order to be seriously considered, but they also want to know what students do with their interests. What have they made?  What have they started?  As the Columbia admissions officer said, how have they broken the mould?  The MIT admissions officer suggested sending through a Maker Portfolio  of digital or physical “makes” that they have done in their own time. The U Penn presentation held up the example of students who had identified a problem and solved it  in one case collecting fresh drinking water from environmental humidity in refugee camps, and in another, creating a “toast Zamboni” that would vacuum up the bread that Penn students throw as a “toast” to their football team.  Robotics, programming, and other video games design skills came up several times. In all cases, they were looking for creativity, curiosity, and original project work beyond what was required in the classroom.  There was a lot of discussion of the power of combining technical subjects and humanities to develop well-rounded creative thinkers, no matter what subject they specialise in.

As the head of Fire Tech  I wasn’t surprised by this  I’ve heard it from a number of top UK universities too. But it was the first time that I’d heard it explicitly, consistently, and in every public forum I attended.  Top US (and UK) universities are looking for students who are enterprising and who are showing that they are creative problem-solvers who roll up their sleeves and get hands on.  We’d love to see you at Fire Tech where all of our courses include original project work and where our mission is to empower the next generation of innovators and makers.