Today high school students face an enormous amount of pressure and stress within the college admission process. Beginning the first year of high school, students are encouraged to build a resume of their extracurricular activities, community service, and a challenging curriculum, while achieving exceptional grades. This includes the academic selection process of taking certain Advanced Placement (AP) courses. The resume building gathers more steam as the student progresses through school further fueling this pressure to do more. Is change in the air? Something exciting is happening in the college world concerning this stress builder and the race to the top.
The Harvard graduate school of education has created the Making Caring Common project. The goal of the Making Caring Common project is to help educators, parents, and communities raise children that are more caring. As part of the Making Caring Common Project, a coalition of colleges and universities have joined together to discuss widespread changes in the college admissions process. The idea is that the admission process can help shape students into more caring individuals by changing some of the expectations in the admissions process. This is a current proposal endorsed by various leaders in the academic world and we will need to see if it gets any traction.
The Harvard Graduate School of Education recently outlined the ideas of this coalition of institutions in the report, “Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good through College Admissions”. This report outlines ways to repair the negative side of the admission process in reference to the personal achievement of the high school student and the unfair-advantage that wealthier student have during the admission process.
In relation to the personal achievement, the group was trying to address the quality of the community service activities that a student does. Instead of doing numerous extracurricular activities just for college resume building, the coalition is suggesting the student volunteer for something that is meaningful to them. The admission experts are suggesting that a list consists of no more than four activities and wants the students to get away from creating “A Brag Sheet”. Doing an activity that helps the student develop gratitude and responsibility was emphasized. This means a student who helps their family financially by working or cares for a sick relative should include this in their community service activities versus a series of minimal events. A focus toward commitment and outcome is the goal.
The report also addressed the current trend of students overloading on AP/IB courses. The coalition calls this reducing achievement pressure for the student. Revamping how students view AP courses was suggested. The report suggest that this can be accomplished by letting students understand that it is more important to do well in limited number of subject areas rather than taking a large number of AP or IB courses per year. So what does this mean to current high school students? Do you continue to overload on the AP courses? How do you know when you have taken enough to get into your dream school? No definite guidelines have been outlined yet but colleges will need to practice what they preach before it will take hold.
A third area of concern is the stress of the admission tests (SAT and ACT). Some schools have already addressed this with more colleges moving to a test optional admission policy. The list of test optional colleges can be found on www.fairtest.org . The coalition discussed how test optional would reduce the stress for students. The coalition also suggested that institutions better outline or list how these admission tests apply to their specific institution’s admission process. This will let students understand how their score is weighted in relation to their admissions. As a point of reference, the test optional policy took years of research and analysis before the test optional movement got traction.
The last major concern in the Turning the Tide report was the inequality of student opportunities due to family income. Not having the money for admission prep courses or being in a school that does not offer certain upper level courses is an issue. Ways to level the field for the economically diverse students was discussed. No solution was proposed but an awareness of the problem was raised.
Turning the Tide is just the first step in the two-year campaign of changing the admission process. It has been endorsed by 85 college admission representatives. Some of the changes include revised essay questions and development of new recruitment policies.
Time will tell if any of the recommendations of this report materialize and how it will affect the current competitiveness of the admission process. The goal of reducing the stress for students at the same time shaping them into more caring citizens is a noble idea. Reducing academic and mental stress can only help our youth and their families. Having the student emphasize caring for others rather than their own personal successes will make our world a better place. Competition will never go away and I do not believe it should. Finding the fine line that the Turning the Tide report suggests will be a challenge. During the transition, could we just be adding another scorecard onto the admission process resulting in directional stress since it has not been defined or implemented?