Harvard prompts changes in the college admissions mindset

On January 20, Making Caring Common, a project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, released the report Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good through College Admissions. Harvard hopes to reduce the amount of students taking a large amount of AP classes they have no interest in, the meaningless collecting of extracurricular activities, and the culture of hollow community service. More importantly, the report urged for change in the college admissions process and encouraged high school students to concentrate their efforts on meaningful engagement in extracurriculars, deep passion in education, and sincere contribution to others others in the local and world community.Currently, more than 80 stakeholders from different colleges— including admissions officers, deans, professors, and counselors— have endorsed the report.

Harvard’s statement echoes the ideology of many students who concentrate their passions into one or two activities. “I think [the report is] great, especially for me because … I row every single day of the week, so I don’t exactly have time for other activities,” said Bridget Parker ’18. “I think encouraging kids to focus on what they really love and to dive deeper into that instead of joining a million clubs just for the credit is great.”

Others hope the statement will alleviate pressure from future students who may rush to fill their application with activities. “The [report’s idea] is a lot better [than the current application process] because if you did ten extracurriculars [for] the past four years just for college, then you only had a small space for what you actually liked,” said Simon Kingsley ’16. “But if you only have two to three, then you can really focus on your [passions].”

However, the assumption that less always equals more should not be blindly followed.“There are students that are looking to build resumes and there are others that just have so many passions,” said Patti Lieberman, PHS College Advisor. “I suspect it’s going to create some frustrations for students. The current application has ten lines and some students who are genuinely passionate just won’t have enough space. At the same time… I think the students at PHS are overextended and they don’t have enough hours in the day. [Student] wellness is number one and I think that’s the message Harvard is trying to get out.”

Many AP teachers also agree with the need to change the culture of  purposelessly collecting activities and classes to improve student welfare. “You have to keep that balance … I think you have to start somewhere, and you can’t start with the academics because the parents and students will not let that happen, so you probably have to start at the extracurriculars,” said Phil Reyes, AP Calculus AB and BC teacher. “It’s going to take several years to change the culture from busy all the time at everything to starting one thing at a time. If we can lower the extracurriculars in terms of time commitment at least, we can raise other things like sleep, well-being, and family time.”

Princeton Public Schools Superintendent Stephen Cochrane also echoed this desire for a balanced and less stressful lifestyle for students in a post from February 22, released on the PPS website. “Turning the Tide signals a sea change in college admissions and an affirmation of our efforts here in Princeton,” Cochrane wrote. “I hope the report is read by all of us – educators, parents, and young people. Moreover, I hope that all of us join in weaving its critical and common-sense recommendations into the fabric of our schools.”

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