Report Urges College to Give More Weight to Applicants’ Community Involvement

It’s no secret that college applications can be extremely stressful.

ByABC News
January 20, 2016, 9:13 AM

— -- In a new report released this morning, a Harvard-based group is calling for colleges to change the application process to give greater importance to applicants’ community involvement.

“Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good through College Admissions” -- a report by Making Caring Common, a project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education -- says that intellectual engagement and ethical engagement, such as concern for others and the common good, are both "highly important."

The document – endorsed by more than 50 colleges – concludes that teens are taught to “emphasize personal success rather than concern for others,” and adds that changing the application process would send a strong message to young people.

“We have elevated achievement as the primary goal of child raising and demoted or sidelined concern for others and the common good,” Richard Weissbourd, a senior lecturer at Harvard's School of Education and the co-creator and director of "Making Caring Common," told ABC News.

The report makes the following recommendations for reducing “undue achievement pressure” and redefining achievement:

1. Reduce the Advanced Placement classes that students take.

2. Reduce the number of required extracurricular activities.

3. Make some SAT scores optional.

4. Challenge the “misconception that there are only a handful of excellent colleges and that only a handful of colleges create networks that are vital to job success.”

5. Admissions offices should warn students against submitting “overcoached” applications, saying such applications can “jeopardize desired admission outcomes.”

It also makes recommendations for assessing ethical character, which include evaluating the student’s contribution to his or her family and to the wider community.

Sherri Falco’s 17-year-old son, Chris, of Rye, New York, wants to get into Harvard. He’s captain of the track and debate teams, volunteers and takes five AP classes.

The activities take their toll on the Rye High School student.

“He doesn’t sleep. He seems fatigued. You shouldn’t see that on a teenager. ... I don’t know if he knows how to have a good time,” Falco said. “I’m hoping he knows what that means.”

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the schools that endorsed the report, has already changed its essay question to reflect community involvement rather than another kind of highlighted achievement.

“We want to know how have you affected those around you, and made those around you better. Because that’s important,” Stuart Schmill, MIT’s dean of admissions, said.