In the world of college admissions, there’s been a lot of talk lately about the importance of such attributes as grit, perseverance, resiliency, and tenacity. Students who exhibit these personal traits are more likely to successfully complete their undergraduate studies (and remember, graduating is key!) and to do well in post-college life, and are therefore very appealing candidates to college admissions officers. Last week, however, a new layer was added to the admissions onion. Specifically, the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Making Caring Common project released a new report entitled, Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good Through College Admissions. The report includes “concrete recommendations to reshape the college admissions process and promote greater ethical engagement among aspiring students, reduce excessive achievement pressure, and level the playing field for economically disadvantaged students.” The specific goals of the initiative, as stated in the press release, are:
- “To harness the collective influence of college admissions to send a unified message that both ethical engagement and intellectual engagement are highly important”, and
- “To more fairly capture the strengths of students across race, class, and culture.”
This all sounds highly commendable, of course, but will it really help to turn the tide in college admissions? What does it mean in practice?
Well, over the course of the next two years, it is expected that those colleges involved in the effort will revamp their admissions policies – and if you think you’ve heard talk of revamping admissions before, you’re right. The new report, however, states that, in the admissions process, there should be a greater emphasis placed on community engagement and, from students’ applications, admissions officers should work to determine who is genuinely kind and compassionate. If this all plays out as planned, you can expect that there will be more weight granted to a student’s personal statement and supplemental essays, along with their letters of recommendation. You shouldn’t be surprised to see a further de-emphasis on standardized test scores. Colleges will also do more to take into consideration part-time work and family obligations, giving greater weight to a student’s personal circumstances.
Of further note is that the report stipulates that “admissions officers and guidance counselors should challenge the misconception that there are only a handful of excellent colleges and that only a handful of colleges create networks that are vital to job success.” Team Admitster couldn’t agree more! The process should not be about finding the most-highly-ranked college that you can get into, but rather about finding the “best-fit” college for you, personally. There are so many wonderful colleges and universities out there, many of which you’ve likely never heard of before – take the time to explore, and definitely plan to look far beyond brand name. Great starting points are Admitster’s 2968 Series, designed to introduce you to a myriad of schools around the country, and our College List Builder tool!
Currently, as Mandee Heller Adler, the CEO of International College Counselors, points out, “Colleges take pride in the diversity of their students, yet the focus of the admissions process is almost entirely on achievement-oriented goals.” If colleges truly manage to revamp their admissions processes to place a greater value on those students who are compassionate and caring, and if college applications can really better reflect a student’s authentic concern for others and the common good, then we should hopefully see far fewer instances of application “window dressing” – i.e. high school students taking on more extracurricular activities, volunteering opportunities, and extra work and advanced courses not because they care about these things but for the sole purpose of making their college applications shine. We can also hope that a less stressful process and a more holistic approach to college admissions will materialize. After all, students working on the quality of the merits on their college applications, rather than on a quantity of shallow accomplishments, would surely enjoy their high school years more, following their passions rather than worrying only about impressing admissions officers during their senior year.
“The changes will make the admissions process much more stressful for applicants, not less so. Students are being told they have to do more, or at any rate something that is more difficult and as time-consuming as what they are doing now: to serve others in a sustained and meaningful way. More work means more stress…and the process will become still more subjective and unpredictable: who knows whether the reader of your applicant will believe your commitment to service is phony or sincere? More uncertainty also means more stress.”
Still, I remain optimistic about what the report is proposing and, if nothing else, believe that it’s good to keep this conversation going. A turning tide in a process that is currently stressful, time-consuming, and complex, and one that grants greater access and opportunity to a greater number of people, is a development that I truly hope will successfully unfold in the coming years.