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The Changing Tide of the College Admissions Process

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A recent report entitled Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good through College Admissions released by the Making Caring Common project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education highlights meaningful changes that could be coming to the college admissions process. Many students and parents today realize that the pressure associated with getting accepted into college has been mounting over the years. It seems as though students are expected to achieve high levels of personal success as students, athletes, and community leaders across a wide variety of activities and advanced courses in order to have a decent shot at receiving an acceptance letter in the mail. In a survey given to 10,000 middle and high-school students asking what mattered most: high individual achievement, happiness, or caring for others, only 22% said caring for others. This raised some red flags for the researchers and inspired the creation of the Making Caring Common project, which in turn produced the Turning the Tide report.

It offers several suggestions to change the way that college admissions offices evaluate incoming applicants and allows them to show their true character. Overall, it emphasizes more quality over quantity. Instead of students submitting a “brag list” of extracurricular activities and community involvement, it calls for listing no more than 2-3 activities with which the student has had meaningful participation. It promotes sustained community involvement in an activity that students care about versus a long list of one-time resume-building experiences. In addition, it provides opportunity for students from less advantaged backgrounds to include commitments to family, such as working a part-time job after school to contribute to family income, as significant contributions to their applications. The report suggests students get involved in activities that allow them to collaborate with a diverse group of people who are different from them and urges recommendations from teachers to comment less on academic success and leadership and more on personal growth. As far as academics, it asks college admissions processes to place less value on a transcript overloaded with AP, honors, or college-level courses and instead evaluate how the course load has allowed the student to authentically engage in other activities and how appropriate it was for a student’s academic development. Writers of the report state that SAT and ACT testing should be optional and the tests’ importance in determining admissions decisions clearly explained to students and parents. Furthermore, it emphasizes the importance of expanding students’ ideas about “good” colleges and demystifying the fact that there are only a handful of worthy colleges to attend.

So far, 80 key stakeholders in college admissions have endorsed the report. This is an exciting time, as contributions like this may expand opportunities and redefine the message that universities send to high school students about what is valued for success in higher education and in life.

To read the full report, click here.

Erica MechlinskiThe Changing Tide of the College Admissions Process

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