Coalition of Colleges Endorse Character Focus in Admissions

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A new report released by a Harvard-led group is making a push for colleges across the country to change the application process in an effort to shift more importance onto community involvement.

Endorsed by over 50 colleges and universities, including the entire Ivy League, the report, titled “Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good Through College Admissions,” says that teens are taught to “emphasize personal success rather than concern for others.”

“Achievement is clearly important, but achievement has to be balanced with concern for others and concern for the common good,” said Richard Weissbourd, of the Harvard University School of Education. “We can’t just reward those who achieve.”

Weissbourd added that the report signifies the first time that colleges have come together to say that ethical character is important.

In The Washington Post, Lisa Heffernan notes the negative effects that the admissions process can have on students, including a focus on academic achievement and the unfair advantage given to students of higher income levels.  Weissbourd said that while colleges have tried to deal with these issues for years, a big impact will not be seen until schools across the country come together.

In all, the report has been endorsed by over 80 stakeholders including admissions officers, deans, professors and high school counselors.

One institution that has endorsed the report, MIT, has already started to make changes to its application process, with an essay question asking potential students to discuss community involvement rather than simply highlight their achievements.

Yale University also plans to add an essay question onto next year’s application as a result of the report that will ask applicants “to reflect on engagement with and contribution to their family, community and/or the public good.” The school will consider adding more flexibility in how students are asked about their extracurricular involvement on both the Common Application and the Coalition Application.

Over the next few years, Weissbourd said that Making Caring Common, a project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, which also released the report, plans to work with college admissions officers, parents, and high school guidance counselors to further ensure the recommendations written out in the report are met.

Suggestions from the report include limiting course loads and extracurricular activities for high school students in order to reduce stress levels, writes Leslie Brody for The Wall Street Journal.

In addition, the report states that various contributions made by students to their families and communities should be valued in an effort to redefine achievement.  The report continues to say that authenticity should be stressed, as admissions committees are looking for this characteristic in admissions applications, while also reiterating that over-coached applications can jeopardize admissions.

The report also suggests reducing the number of AP classes and extracurricular activities, as well as making some SAT scores optional.

The release of the report comes at the same time as more families are beginning to show concern over admissions pressures. Harvard University said that only 2,080 of the 37,307 applications they received for the class of 2019 were accepted.