The Secret to Future College Admissions: Keep Cool and Be Kind
In previous post I gave some good reasons why Harvard might not be the best university in America. Now I have another one. With the endorsement of several colleges admissions directors, Harvard’s Graduate School of Education released a report called: Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good Through College Admissions. This report on college admissions has gotten a lot of play in the media. Rightfully so, it was written at Harvard. Had it been done at a university with a fine undergraduate teachers college I doubt many would have cared.
This report makes comment on the state of college admissions in the U.S., that students have been “over-coached” and “over-pressured” in their academics, test preparation and the selection of extracurricular activities. It also acknowledges that students have obligations to their family and community–and that those activities should be given more credence in the college admissions process. The media has covered this report as if it were a future blueprint to help future applicants gain admission to the more selective colleges, though the report also mentions that many “good schools” do not receive enough attention in the college admissions process.
When I read the media coverage of this report I have to bust out laughing.
College admissions, whether a student is applying to an exceptionally-selective college such as Harvard or a local public university that turns few applicants away, is about matching the best school to a student’s needs. The college admissions officer’s job is to find the customers who have the needs that the college can fill. It’s not an easy job for a good college admissions officer. When a school such as Harvard receives so many applications, the temptation within the admissions office is to let them pour in, even if an admissions officer might be better off telling some of the students that s/he meets to consider other colleges. Yes, they might have excellent academics as well as impressive resumes. But Harvard, among similarly selective schools, might not always be the best place for them to get what they really want.
I was not surprised to read so much about community service, ethics and volunteerism. These are themes more encouraged among teenagers than they were when I was in high school and college. There are also far more social entrepreneurs in their teens and early 20s than there were in “my day.” But that is not what every excellent student aspires to do with their time outside of school.
When I was in high school I went to Hebrew school through the tenth grade and I was involved with a Jewish youth organization, speech and theatre and the school newspaper. I did not get involved in community service through any of those efforts–though I was involved in raising money to help fund three of them. Was I “less kind” because I has to sell light bulbs and candy bars to help a team, myself included, compete in a tournament versus being involved with a charity? Or to help pay for a bus trip to a Hebrew school program retreat? I did not believe so then. I still don’t believe so now.
When I talk with high school students I encourage them to become involved in activities that are either fun, personally meaningful or that help them to discover who they want to be. I do not tell them that they need this or that to “build a resume” or “impress a college admissions officer.” What lesson is that for life? That they should suppress their interests, and the rewards that might come from them, for the sake of (usually not) impressing someone who they don’t really know? My job is to not only help them to find the school that will help them the most, but also to help them identify the activities that might help them to do what they want to do.
At the end of a college education they have to become closer to becoming someone who will need to support themselves. I would rather that they work in a field where they are happy and/or use their best talents. I would also prefer that they support causes that have a personal meaning to them, if they want to devote considerable time to a cause.
So, when I read a report on college admissions that advocates extracurricular programs that might “make a student a better person” versus those that might help them to decide how they will make their living after college, I do not know whether to laugh or be angry.
Essentially, the early recommendations in Turning the Tides represent a judgement on students who pursue an activity for the sake of passion, developing a skill or considering their possible livelihood. Essentially, those recommendations are telling future students to “be good people first” as well as “how to be good.” There is another word for such recommendations: arrogance.