Harvard Pushes to Rethink College Admissions

harvard-logoGiven the stories of increased competition for college placement, parents and students may be surprised to learn that Harvard said the college admissions process needs to change, and over 50 colleges agree. The problem is students today need to enter the college admissions process with a long “brag sheet.” To earn the right to brag, they have to be super engaged in activities and volunteer work to satisfy college admissions requirements, in addition to great grades and test scores. At International College Counselors, we’ve always believed that too often these metrics of personal achievement are pursued at the expense of students giving up what they really love to do.

The new report triggering this introspection is a project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The report, entitled Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good Through College Admissions, dissects the college admissions process and prompts colleges to take a hard look at what does and does not make a difference in the admissions process. For one, the document asks whether an emphasis on personal success is really better than demonstrating a strong concern for others. Should kids be raised to be selfish or selfless?

Colleges may soon be looking for students who are authentic, community-minded and actively passionate about something. Colleges see that students who engage in meaningful activities are the ones who and actually participate in their education and their campus community upon enrollment. Students who show a love for learning and an appreciation of others are much more likely to bring that enthusiasm to the college, making their experiences, and those of their peers, at the school they attend that much better.

Essays and references will be reviewed to determine which students’ community service projects are heartfelt and which are merely window dressing; and that they give full due to the family obligations and part-time work that some students need to take on. According to The Washington Post (1.20.16), Yale University will be adding an essay question on next year’s application that asks applicants “to reflect on engagement with and contribution to their family, community and/or the public good.”

The report also recommends less emphasis on standardized test scores, quantity of AP courses, and “manic résumé padding” with numerous extracurricular activities.

Many students’ great qualities can be overlooked if not emphasized in the personal aspects of their applications, such as essays and interviews: traits like kindness and compassion. Colleges take pride in the diversity of their students, yet the focus of the admissions process is almost entirely on achievement-oriented goals. Hopefully, these developments mean that a positive change is on the horizon. Yet whatever changes in these schools’ admissions processes do or do not lie ahead, at International College Counselors, we will continue to help our students present themselves in their best light, the one that stays true to who they really are.