In college applications – show kindness instead of overachieving

A recent report published by the Harvard Graduate School of Education spells good news for CAS students. Your CAS portfolios will have more currency and value in college applications.

Called “Turning the Tide” the report reflects on the biases of the admissions process for US Colleges and urges a revolution therein.

Richard Weissbourd is one of the directors of that school’s Making Caring Common project, which was responsible for producing the report. He also authored the research that was one of the triggers for the report viz – a survey of more than 10,000 MS and HS students that sought to find out what matters most to students – high individual achievement, happiness or caring for others.

Only 22 percent indicated empathy or caring for others.

“Turning the Tide” is a call to admissions officers to take this metaphor and run with it. There’s a solid recommendation that colleges place less emphasis on standardised tests, Advanced Placement courses, and padded lists of extra curricular activities.

Because admissions officers are set on certain markers and metrics, and whole process of the admissions process inevitably draws you into a competitive frenzy. It can be highly stressful and neglects to include or identify the students from less privileged backgrounds.

Instead officers at the gate of admissions should make better use of essays, references, and reflections where you indicate where, how, and when you have engaged in meaningful community service.

The report also highlights a common misconception that volunteering for certain high-profile causes or that service tourism and traveling to exotic countries makes an application stand out. It will do that but for the wrong reasons –  it looks inauthentic.

It’s a clear message to you in CAS to take on sustained community service challenges and opportunities that extend for a year or more where you are genuinely and fully engaged in something that is important to you and, in turn, have meaningful impacts. And find service partners where you can work side by side with the people you are helping, instead of for them. 

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