What if we lived in a world that awarded young people for their contributions to others and their community? What if colleges and universities assessed these factors along with personal achievements when deciding whom to admit?
These questions have been on my mind ever since I went through the college admissions process. To me, the process seemed to only reward students with good test scores and grades. While those personal achievements are certainly important, I believe that the world would be better served if the admissions process also took a closer look at the contributions young people make to their communities.
The Making Caring Common Project is an effort to revise the college admissions process. It is sponsored by the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The basic idea is to promote ethical and intellectual engagement as major factors in the admissions process.
The report lists three challenges to be addressed:
- Describe how college admissions can motivate high school students to contribute to others and their communities
- Demonstrate how the admissions process can more accurately and meaningfully assess young people’s contributions to others and their communities
- Redefine achievement in ways that both level the playing field for economically diverse students and reduce achievement process.
The report also recommends assessment practices that emphasize both contributions to one’s family and assessing students’ daily awareness of and contributions to others. Including contributions to one’s family can help students in low and modest income households. Caring for a sick relative or a younger sibling and helping to run a household while parents are working is certainly a valid contribution to society.
Admissions offices should continually seek to better assess whether students are kind, generous, honest and fair.
These ideas have not traditionally been a part of the admissions process. The Making Common Caring Project asserts that they should be.
The report makes the following recommendations for community service and engagement:
- Promote meaningful, sustained community service for at least one year. This facilitates deeper reflection and commitment to a worthy cause
- Promote collective action that takes on community challenges.This helps to develop problem solving and group skills that relate to job readiness
- Promote authentic meaningful experiences with diversity
- Promote service that develops gratitude and a sense of responsibility for the future.
To reduce the amount of achievement pressure in regards to community service, the report asserts prioritizing quality over quantity. This applies to taking advanced courses as well as the number of community service projects in which the student participates.
The report also asserts that students should not be over-coached while they are preparing their applications. Admissions offices should let students know that applications that are over-coached can be transparent and detrimental to admission.
The Making Caring Common Project is a great step toward having a better society. If students understand that their contributions to society are just as important as their personal achievements, they will be much more likely to engage in community service. My hope is that all colleges and universities will change their admissions process to assess the candidate as a whole rather than just looking at test scores and transcripts. I believe that this would be a major step toward creating a society that values ethical behavior and community service.