Friday, November 11, 2016

Turning the Tide: A New Look at What Colleges Want! Making Caring Common!


Fall is "College Application Time"! Having been a university application reader for a few years now, I am always interested in changes regarding the college application process. I have written pieces before on suggestions for getting students in the college of their choice, but reality is the competitive nature of the whole college application process just isn't good for students' mental health nor can it really be fair to those from underprivileged backgrounds. Our students are stressed, sleep-deprived, and filled with anxiety over padding their resumes with lists of activities and accomplishments, which may be misleading as to a student's true potential.

I am pleased to inform you that in January of 2016, a project sponsored by the Harvard School of Education entitled Making Caring Common released a report, "Turning the Tide, Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good through the College Admissions".  In a nutshell, the report focused on the shared vision of how to improve the role of the college admissions process in promoting ethical and intellectual engagement. Several admissions officers from high ranking colleges and universities (Harvard of course, MIT, Yale, Princeton and many more)  pledged to utilize a lens of depth and demonstration of caring in student contributions listed in  the application. This is a completely new focus from past practice of looking at a list of a student's personal success.

The report offered recommendations in reshaping the admissions process in three areas:

#1: Promoting more meaningful contributions to others, community service and engagement with the public good.

Participation in meaningful sustained community service with a emphasis on whether students immersed themselves in an experience will be encouraged in hopes that students benefit from the emotional and ethical awareness and skills generated by that experience.  In addition, colleges are looking for service that involves a community connection. The hope is that students who participate in problem solving of local issues and contribution will most likely lead to a greater understanding of and investment in the common good. Another factor that will be considered is whether a student participated in authentic meaningful experiences with diversity, so that students can work together and learn from one another. Finally, the report encouraged community involvement that appreciates the contributions of generations before them to develop a sense of gratitude.

#2: Assessing students’ ethical engagement and contributions to others in ways that reflect varying types of family and community contributions across race, culture and class.

The report recommended that colleges pay more attention to student contributions to their own family, i.e. a student who had to watch younger siblings nightly because his single mother worked two jobs. The report also stated that the admissions process should assess whether students are demonstrating responsibility and concern for others and their communities in their daily lives . That students’ day-to-day conduct should be weighed more heavily in admissions than the nature of the community service performed.

#3:  Redefining achievement in ways that both level the playing field for economically diverse students and reduce excessive achievement pressure.

The report also stated that college admissions should encourage students to share two or three meaningful experiences rather than a long "brag sheet." The key word being meaningful. Secondly, admissions offices should also try to change the perception that students are penalized in the admissions process if they don't take a heavy load of AP/IB courses. In addition, another recommendation to admission offices is to place more weight on an authentic student voice in the application, that it shouldn't appear to be coached. Next, the report also questioned the validity of taking SAT/ACT tests and encouraged colleges to work to relieve undue pressure associated with these tests. Some suggestions to colleges included: making these tests optional, clearly describing to applicants how much these tests actually “count”, and discouraging students from taking an admissions test more than twice. The last recommendation was for college admission offices to dispel the perception  that there are only a handful of excellent colleges and that only these colleges are vital to job success.

For the future of our youth's mental health and general good will of society, I see this as a good thing!
What do you think?  Please leave me a comment below.
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