“Turning the Tide” on College Admissions

There is a possibility that community service, contributions to family life and accomplishments based on quality will be valued by college admissions just as much — or even more — than GPA, the number of AP or Honors classes taken or standardized testing scores. Harvard University and 88 other colleges and universities can picture a world where high school students will view college in a way where one’s “concern for others and the common good” is of utmost importance.

Harvard’s report “Turning the Tide” is a revolutionary catalyst for much-needed change to the college admission process. “Turning the Tide” stresses the importance of achievements that are beneficial to one’s community and the need of levelling the playing field for students of different socioeconomic status. By issuing this call to action, Harvard brings up a conversation that will lead to equal opportunities for all high school students.

At a young age, students, especially in affluent areas such as Silicon Valley, are taught that having a stacked resume of academic achievements and accomplishments during their high school careers is the deciding factor on whether they are admitted into the school of their dreams and have a successful future.

“Yet high school students often perceive colleges as simply valuing their achievements, not their responsibility for others and their communities,” an excerpt from the report said. “The messages that colleges do send about concern for others are commonly drowned out by the power and frequency of messages from parents and the larger culture emphasizing individual achievement.”

This is a huge flaw that has plagued the college admissions process for years, and it’s extremely important that a university as prestigious as Harvard addressed this misperception head-on. With Harvard leading a shift toward more community-minded individuals, parents and students will feel more relaxed to focus on individual interests rather than multiple pursuits and academic excellence. While a high GPA and stacked resume can indicate positive qualities such as organization and dedication, it is far more important for students to develop a deeper connection with their community through thoughtful and passionate service. In fact, that type of learning will better prepare students for the real world, instead of test scores and GPAs.

“When you think about what we do as adults and giving back to the world around us, following your passion and making a difference in the world is where real satisfaction comes from,” Superintendent Jeff Harding said. “We don’t want to suck that out of students. We want you to do that because that’s what you are going to have do when you are older, so start early.”

Another crucial aspect of the report correctly points out the unfair academic advantage that students from wealthier families have. There is a direct correlation between parent income and how well a student does on the SAT or ACT ― the more money they make, the better their children do on the tests due to being able to afford things like tutors and prep classes. According to College Board, students with families that earned above $200,000 a year scored an average of 1722, while students whose families earned under $100,000 scored an average of 1579 and below. The change that the report calls for helps to account for some of this disparity and will hopefully give previously overlooked students a chance.

“Admissions offices should work to relieve undue pressure associated with admission tests (SAT and ACT),” an excerpt from the report said. “Options for reducing this pressure include: making these tests optional, clearly describing to applicants how much these tests actually ‘count’ and how they are considered in the admissions process, and discouraging students from taking an admissions test more than twice.”

“Turning the Tide” includes many revolutionary ideas to change the way students view not only the college admissions process, but college itself through shining a light on the importance of having good morals and values. While change will not be seen overnight, the report furthers the realization that there is more to college than numbers and letters.

“I think we are talking about a deeply rooted culture at the university level,” Harding said. “This shift is going to be incremental over years. It’s a pendulum swing, like how the pendulum swings out so far, and then it sort of stops and begins coming backward. I think we are just at that high point before it starts coming back.”