Kindness as a College Admissions Criterion?

In 2016, Making Caring Common, a project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, released a set of recommendations for bringing ethical character and contribution to the common good into the college application process. More than 50 of the most competitive universities in the US signed on to the recommendations, which aimed to take the attention off an exclusive focus on scores and a list of activities to get a leg up in the admissions process. The recommendations argued that it was much more important to seek out kind and caring students for undergraduate admissions than those who are focused solely on achievement and building out an impressive application. Of course, this does not mean that success in a rigorous program of study is not an important determiner of further success in university study, but the project argues that it cannot be the only criterion. More important is a student’s engagement with their learning and also their ethical engagement with the world around them.

How to Activate Kindness
In the wake of the original recommendations of 2016, the project recently released the results of their work through thousands of structured interviews conducted in the intervening years. The goal of the interviews was to ascertain the extent to which parents and schools inculcate kindness and ethical consideration during and before the university admissions journey. Their latest report identifies key guideposts for parents and schools that will help address the often-held belief that “colleges have to change first” if we want parents and schools to be able to address the stress, pressure, and potentially misaligned priorities the monolithic application process seems to engender. Furthermore, even more universities have now signed on to commitments that enable students, families, and schools to explore the ways their curricula can contribute to the common good - without disadvantaging students’ further educational path. There are now more than 140 signatories to this effort. Among them are some of the most prestigious universities in the United States.

What are guideposts for parents and schools? These are concepts we need to take on board to move toward an ethical approach to the university search process. In this way, we can help reduce stress and at the same time help students to see that the next phase in their educational journey can help them move even further toward contributing to the greater good and making the world a better place. Those guideposts are:

  1. Keep the focus on your teen
  2. Follow your ethical GPS
  3. Use the admissions process as an opportunity for ethical education
  4. Be authentic
  5. Help your teen contribute to others in meaningful ways
  6. Advocate for elevating ethical character and reducing achievement-related distress
  7. Model and encourage gratitude

These guideposts are not judgments, but rallying points around which students, their families, and schools can converge in order to help everyone put applying for university in a clear perspective and, most importantly, to understand how they can make a difference for those around them and themselves. These are well-aligned with the ideas that came through loud and clear from the ASH community at large in our discovery process last year to form our school’s mission. We can also see it clearly in our core values, and in empathy in particular.

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