Harvard Changing Admission Rules: Will Focus on Social Justice Over Achievements

Why focus on personal achievements when there are too many unfair advantages?

Harvard University is taking steps to change how students apply to college by focusing on social justice issues rather than personal academic performance.

In a report released Wednesday, Harvard announced its Making Caring Common project which proposes to help "educators, parents, and communities raise children who are caring, responsible to their communities, and committed to justice."

It seems the goal in all of this is to "nurture communities" to make them "more just, caring, and respectful places" rather than stay "focused on personal achievement and happiness."

Other resources listed at the site include, "How the Refugee Crisis is a Lesson in Kindness for Our Kids," and a new research report that suggests "teen girls face a powerful barrier to leadership: gender bias."

So, in future admissions, Harvard is setting the stage to look at community service over how many AP classes a prospective student has taken. 

From The Washington Post:

A new report released today by Making Caring Common, a project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, takes a major step in trying to change the college admissions process to make it more humane, less super-human.

Parents, educators and college administrators have long wrestled with the unintended negative side effects of the admissions process, like the intense focus on personal achievement and the unfair advantages of more affluent students. The report, entitled Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good Through College Admissions, aims to tackle these complex issues. It lays out a blueprint for addressing three of the most intractable challenges facing college applicants today: excessive academic performance pressure, the emphasis on personal achievement over good citizenship, and the uneven opportunities available to students of varying income levels and backgrounds.

The lead author of the report, Richard Weissbourd, said the MCC project has over 80 endorsements from admissions officers, deans, professors and high school counselors.

“It’s the first time in history that I’m aware of that a group of colleges is coming together to lay out what is and what isn’t valued in the admissions process," he said.

And Harvard isn't alone. Yale University's dean of undergraduate admissions, Jeremiah Quinlan, told the Post, "Yes, we want students who have achieved in and out of the classroom, but we are also looking for things that are harder to quantify, [like] authentic intellectual engagement and a concern for others and the common good."

Quinlan said Yale will be adding an essay question to its admissions application next year asking for examples of how an applicant has contributed to his or her family and/or community.

The University of Virginia is also on board with the project.

But with less emphasis on ACT/SAT scores or other academic markers, and a new emphasis on perceived kindness, is there a chance that high school kids will work that system to their advantage? Most definitely so. But according to what Weissbourd told the Post, that won't matter much:

There will be some applicants who will try to game these new recommendations by engaging in community service in which they have no real interest and later writing insincerely about their experience. However, Weissbourd notes, even students who engage in community service with misplaced motivation may have a powerful learning experience. Research shows that for many students service activities are an opportunity for maturity and growth, even when they are mandatory or driven by the college application process.

This program "is the first step in a two-year campaign that seeks to substantially reshape the existing college admissions process."

In turning this tide, Harvard says, "It's time to say, 'Enough.'"