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What You Need to Know About Harvard's Recent Report

There's a whole lot of buzz surrounding college admissions these days. It’s easy to understand why.

Whenever Harvard releases a report and a bunch of highly selective colleges endorse it, everyone takes notice. But before we all rejoice about the recommendations in the report titled, “Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good through College Admissions,” it’s important to understand how it will impact a process which has been hard to pin down when it comes to what colleges are really looking for in applicants.

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Here’s what students, families, and educators need to know:

  1. This is a scholarly report from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
  2. Dozens of colleges, including all eight Ivy League institutions, several high schools, and a number of foundations endorsed the report in advance of its release.
  3. Since these are not mandates, it is unclear if all the colleges who endorsed the report will adopt any or all of the recommendations.
  4. There is no indication of when, if ever, colleges will adopt these recommendations.
  5. The report hopes to inspire “concern for others and the common good” among a generation of young people. The researchers want to see students contributing to something meaningful within their family, community, or the greater world around them, rather than accumulating accolades and activities in order to get into college.
  6. Examples of meaningful contributions could be students participating in “forms of service that are authentically chosen” for at least one year of high school, “working in groups on community problems,” doing diversity work “with” groups rather than “for” groups, and engaging in service that shows an appreciation for “generations before them.”
  7. These activities are not limited to traditional extracurricular activities. In fact, the report suggests that students who are contributing to their family in some way or holding down a job can be just as important.
  8. The report makes recommendations to colleges to value quality over quantity in the admissions process, both in terms of extra-curricular involvement and curriculum choices.
  9. The report outlines suggestions for differently-worded essays and questions for recommenders which could shift the paradigm of the admissions process from resume-padding to understanding the motivation and authenticity of the student more fully.
  10. Specific recommendations are made to reduce the pressure students feel in high school and about the college admissions process.
  11. One of these recommendations directed at students is the avoidance of “overloading” their curriculum with Advanced Placement courses or other advanced level courses.
  12. The most talked about recommendation directed at colleges is to “reduce undue pressure associated with admission tests.” Suggestions include making standardized tests optional and making it clear to students how much these tests matter in the process.