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Adaptive admissions process for effective and fair graduate admission

Judith Zimmermann (Department of Computer Science, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland)
Alina von Davier (ETS, Princeton, New Jersey, USA)
Hans Rudolf Heinimann (Department of Environmental Systems Science, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland)

International Journal of Educational Management

ISSN: 0951-354X

Article publication date: 8 May 2017




Graduate admission has become a critical process for quality assurance in tertiary education. Hitherto, most research has investigated the validity of admissions instruments. However, surprisingly little work has been conducted on the overall organization of admission, which often remains “informal, ad hoc, and lacking in continuity.” The purpose of this paper is to investigate how to systematically design an admissions process for effectiveness, fairness, and the ability to continually improve, and determine how to condense and analyze the massive amount of data available from student records to obtain high-value feedback for admissions decision making.


An admissions process was systematically designed based on results from process management theory. Tenets of decision theory were applied to the organization of decision making and validity theory was utilized for validating admissions instruments. Performance of the implemented process was evaluated via student records covering a seven-year period.


The authors have designed a four-phase admissions process that ensures high quality through screening, scoping, selection, and evaluation/feedback. The last phase introduces closed-loop control and facilitates stabilization and continual improvement. Additionally, the authors have established a three-stage decision-making hierarchy that promotes consistency and equal treatment in admissions. The evaluations of undergraduate achievements and GRE® General Test scores indicate that both are valid admissions instruments in the European context. Finally, the evaluation of the implemented process provides evidence that decision making has effectively improved over the years and has become more consistent.


The systematic design of the admissions process presented generalizes well and is a significant contribution to the organization of decentralized graduate admission.



Zimmermann, J., von Davier, A. and Heinimann, H.R. (2017), "Adaptive admissions process for effective and fair graduate admission", International Journal of Educational Management, Vol. 31 No. 4, pp. 540-558.



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Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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