Parent Toolkit and Education Nation chatted with Harvard’s Richard Weissbourd during a Facebook Live chat about why the college admissions process is changing and colleges are looking for passion over accomplishments in student applications. Here is a recap of the conversation.
When you think of the type of person you want to raise in this world, who do you see?
Do you see a kind, caring individual? Do you see an engaged citizen who cares about the common good?
Now think about that person you see. Does that match what you think colleges are looking for in your students’ application? Probably not.
But a new report is trying to change that idea.
In January, the Making Caring Common Project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education put out a report, Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern For Others And the Common Good Through College Admissions, which many educators and deans of admission at some of the country’s most selective schools contributed to or endorsed. Harvard Lecturer Richard Weissbourd broke down this new idea for us during the Facebook Live chat.
“We have demoted concern for others, concern for the common good, and ethical engagement in the college admissions process and we have promoted very consistently academic success,” Weissbourd told the Parent Toolkit.
Weissbourd said the main goal of the report is trying to acknowledge the fact that achievement pressure for high school students is out of control and that there is not a level playing field for lower income students in terms of access to higher education.
“[Colleges need to pay more attention to] kids who are really ethically engaged, kids who are just good citizens day-to-day,” Weissbourd said. “It seems just wrong to me that we are fussing so much about athletes and we’re not fussing so much about kids who are concerned about others and are trying to be good citizens. Especially in our political climate right now, it seems so uncivil and fractured. [Colleges] need to put a thumb on the scale for those kids who really care about others and are really contributing to their communities.”
According to another Making Caring Common report, a large majority of youth appear to value personal success over concern for others. And this comes, Weissbourd said, largely from the stress students feel to achieve and get in to the best school possible. But that is not the best way to look at the application process.
“The truth is there are a lot of schools where you can get a great education. There are schools where I think you can get a better undergraduate education than many of the prestigious schools,” Weissbourd said.
What parents should really be looking for is what school is the best fit for their kid, not how highly ranked the university is.
Weissbourd said this starts with cultivating experiences for your kids that are really meaningful and engaging.
“It’s not the number of activities you do, it’s the quality of engagement,” Weissbourd said.
The ways kids contribute may not always seem initially obvious for students to write on a college application. But Weissbourd said that this report is trying to send a loud message that it’s the meaning students find in their experiences, not the number of activities that you do or how many AP classes you can take, that really matters.
“We have kids who are working on the farm 20 hours a week. And in school they are getting Bs so they are not getting in to selective colleges,” Weissbourd said. “But think about how impressive that is, if they are working 20 hours a week and [getting those grades]. That does count as service. The problem is getting kids to report it [on an application].”
Weissbourd said many kids, especially from lower income families, take on significant responsibilities that should be valued in the application process. He said he is working with the Common App and school counselors about the prompts on applications and what students should include in their applications.
But what can parents do? Weissbourd suggests parents can play an important role in helping to change the discussion around college applications from personal successes to contributing to the greater good.
“It’s a really important ethical parenting moment and you really have to come to terms what’s important to you,” Weissbourd said. “If you really are for your kids getting a great education in a place where they’re going to be happy, you really have to manage your status anxiety.”
Making Caring Common has more tips for parents to help your kids make their applications (and lives!) more caring. Among these tips are choosing immersive, sustained service that is meaningful to your kid, emphasizing how your child can “do with”—not “for”—others, making sure to report substantial family contributions , choose quality over quantity, and encourage your kids to be themselves in their applications, not what they think colleges want to see.