Making Caring Common, a project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, published a report called “Turning the Tide” in January, 2016 in an effort to ignite the process of what has been viewed as much-needed change in the college application review process. This report, which was developed from the feedback of admissions deans and leaders from top colleges, school counselors and principals, character education experts, and other educational organizations, identified three distinct goals. These goals included: increased ethical involvement and community service amongst student applicants, a decrease in elevated and excessive achievement pressure, and creating equality within the application process for economically disadvantaged students.
Similar to the values of Morgan Park Academy, the report cited the need for significant and continued commitment to individual and group-based community service. Service-related endeavors should strengthen a student’s appreciation of diversity and enhance a student’s sense of civic responsibility. In this way, college admissions should acknowledge the necessity to place more emphasis on a student’s character. Personal investment and consistent commitment to service through which a student can demonstrate learning on an emotional and ethical level is important when a student is defining who they are to college admission committees.
Family contributions are a strongly suggested inquiry on college applications, as many students partake in family commitments and responsibilities that current applications do not have an area in which to properly note. Family obligations often consume the time of many adolescents, so the need to acknowledge students for their commitment to their families is important in terms of personal character. Social awareness, consideration, and contribution on a student’s behalf is highlighted as an added factor that is imperative to solicit. Rather than demonstrating bouts of service endeavors, a student should demonstrate regular commitment to social good.
In response to the need to decrease the stress and pressure associated with college applications, redefine achievement, and create equality in the process, the report elaborated on the importance of several factors. First, there should be a shift toward quality of extracurricular activities over quantity. Similarly, a new emphasis on consistent commitment and success in academically challenging courses, such as AP/IB courses, in established subject areas. Therefore, individualizing a student’s course selection to cater to academic strengths and interests (but also to find a balance so as not to overload a student) should take precedence over the number of advanced courses a student takes. Honesty and authenticity on college applications should override “overcoaching.” Additionally, college admission offices should work to reduce the pressure associated with standardized tests scores. Finally, there is the need for not just college admissions officers, but college counselors and parents as well, to emphasize that there is an abundance of excellent colleges throughout the country that lead to student happiness and success, not just a select few.
As a college counselor, I feel that the recommendations listed by Making Caring Common are headed in the right direction. Although it will be a gradual process, the shift is necessary. Creating equality, encouraging elevated commitment to service and common good, and a pull from excessive academic achievement could decrease the anxiety associated with this process and allow students to further demonstrate their true selves. With the support of influential people within the college arena and collaborative efforts, some changes are currently being made on college applications in response to the cited recommendations.
By Karen Horvath
Mrs. Horvath is Morgan Park Academy’s College Counselor.