I was pleased when I came across a report from the Harvard School of Education titled “Turning the Tide.” The report puts forth the idea that the college admissions process, by changing its current standards of evaluation, can send some compelling messages to high schools and their students by a renewed championing of the central importance/impact of ethical engagement, of concern for others and of working for the common good, rather than self-promoting personal success in order to gain entrance to college.
This new “value –shift” in the college admissions process can and should lead to a cultural shift in our independent schools by reducing undue achievement pressure on students by redefining achievement for our students in more constructive ways. That is, more or excessive activity is not always better for young people. In the report, it is hoped that quality will replace quantity with regard to participation in school activities. The report advocates that students should no longer need to provide long “brag sheets” to increase their chances of admission to colleges; but rather, students would be wise to shrink their involvement to two to three extracurricular activities that are truly meaningful to them. It also recommends that college admissions officers should not penalize students for taking fewer AP classes in their schools. This will allow for a healthier intellectual development, helping our young people avoid being unduly burdened with stress in their initial forays into a love of learning and lifelong learning. By following the report’s recommendations, students will be better served by focusing on sustained achievement in a limited number of areas, so that they can prevent being overwhelmed by academic and social pressures.
The job of all stakeholders with regard to their children’s development is to encourage them to live a life of authenticity, confidence and honesty, while simultaneously helping them to find their original voice.
Finally, colleges and college counselors need to expand students’ thinking about what constitutes a good college. The report states clearly that there is a misconception that there are only a handful of excellent colleges that will lead to job success. In fact, the data proves that there is a broad range of great colleges, where students go on to achieve success in a full array of professions.
It was also encouraging to see that every reputable college in the country supports this report in creating a new paradigm for college admissions, which we all hope will serve as a clarion call leading to the reduction of unwarranted stress on our young scholars and will allow them to find joy and fulfillment in what should be the happiest times of their young lives.