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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Harvard brings needed change to college admissions

Recognizing the unintended growth of competition in the admissions process, the Making Caring Common Program of the Harvard Graduate School of Education released a report named “Turning the Tide.” The report outlines how even the most prestigious universities should consider applicants for personal growth in areas outside of just their academics and merit-based success.

The increasing concern over how ominous the college admissions process has become inevitable, mostly for high school seniors. Suddenly, it seems that enrolling in all advanced-placement classes and getting involved in as many extracurricular activities as possible does not give students an edge over others. If anything, that has become the bare minimum. The consequences of how debilitating the pressure of the admissions process has become is arguably one of the reasons a substantial amount of kids have lost the ability to communicate effectively in social settings, and have started to suffer from legitimate health concerns.

In her article in “Stanford Medicine,” Ruthann Richter wrote that “the pressure on teens to succeed is intense, and they must compete with a growing number of peers for college slots that have largely remained constant.”

The pressure has become so intense that a recent national poll by the National Sleep Foundation reported that over 87 percent of U.S. high school students get far less sleep than the recommended amount. This problem, which the American Academy of Pediatrics called “a public health epidemic” in 2014, has been proven to actually worsen students’ grades. Other physical side effects of sleep deprivation include: “an inability to concentrate … drowsy-driving incidents, anxiety, depression, thoughts of suicide and even suicide attempts,” according to the same Stanford Medicine article.

To abate the emphasis on purely academic overachievement in college admissions, “Turning the Tide” instead suggests that “the admissions process should both clearly signal that concern for others and the common good are highly valued in admissions.”

After all, there is more to students than their GPAs. In fact, if students lack the social skills and ability to be personable with their peers, teachers and future employers, the scores they receive on their standardized tests are essentially useless. They still will not be hired for the job if someone else can combine a charismatic personality with the same academic achievements.

While academic overachievement is admirable, the problem with encouraging it over caring for others is that society consequentially will teach young adults that their ethical standards are not as important as their IQs. In the most exaggerated cases, our society could arguably be raising some of the most brilliant minds this world has yet seen — minds that may also just happen to resemble unfeeling robots.

Some would argue that students who pad their resumes and applications with extracurricular volunteering or community service must be compassionate. Unfortunately, this is often misleading. A survey conducted by Richard Weissbourd, a senior lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, demonstrated that empathy for others is not as common in prospective students as their applications may lead admissions boards to believe. Over 10,000 middle and high school students took the survey and when asked whether high individual achievement, happiness or caring for others was most important, 22 percent chose caring for others. Considering this survey indicated that approximately one-fifth of all the students surveyed saw more value in benevolence than in intellect, Harvard was right to call for a change in admissions expectations.

Competition is healthy. It drives people to work harder in order to achieve their goals and make a difference in this world. But people have never made a positive impact on the world by only thinking about themselves. Although they are unintentional, the unrealistic expectations of college applications may be encouraging an unhealthy level of egocentrism and selfishness in the people who are supposed to be our next great leaders, inventors, doctors and visionaries. Leaders will not be great unless they act in the best interest of as many people as possible.

If more and more schools begin embracing the progressive ideas of Harvard’s “Turning the Tide,” perhaps the quality of extracurricular activities will be encouraged over the quantity of them. Hopefully in the near future, the college admissions process will inspire students to be excited about learning again and remind them what it is they are passionate about in the first place, rather than depriving them of the ability to showcase their own individuality.

Follow Jessica Suriano on Twitter

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