When it comes to the college admissions process, for many parents and high school seniors, stressful doesn't even begin to describe it.
With students expected to log as many AP classes, extracurricular activities and volunteer efforts as possible — while also trying to ace standardized tests in the process — families are understandably frazzled by the demanding culture of overachievement.
One elite university, however, is trying to change that — or at least refocus kids' energies on something more personal: namely, kindness.
The Harvard Graduate School of Education released a report on January 20 titled "Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good Through College Admissions."
In the report, which included finding reached by a coalition of admissions deans across the country, these university leaders chose to focus on three areas that they believe need more attention in the admissions process: They want to promote greater "ethical engagement" among students; "reduce excessive achievement pressure"; and "level the playing field for economically disadvantaged students."
"Too often, today's culture sends young people messages that emphasize personal success rather than concern for others and the common good," Richard Weissbourd, senior lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Education and co-director of the project's coalition Making Caring Common, said in a statement. "Admissions deans are stepping up collectively to underscore the importance of meaningful engagement in communities and greater equity for economically diverse students."
Admissions officers also are acknowledging the pressures felt by today's students and how that affects their well-being.
"Escalating achievement pressure is not healthy for our youth," Kedra Ishop, associate vice president for enrollment management at the University of Michigan, said in a statement. "Young people are suffering from high rates of depression, anxiety and substance abuse as they juggle the demands of their lives. Many students, especially those from low-income families, are often discouraged due to limited access to the resources perceived as necessary for selective college admissions."
Endorsed by at least 85 admissions and higher education representatives across the country, "Turning the Tide" could be the tipping point for changing the admissions culture, say its supporters. The report recommends changes to the process, including revised essay questions, the development of new recruitment and scholarship programs focused on community engagement and caring for others.
One elite university is already taking steps to shake up its strategy, putting kindness into the mix.
"In response to the report, Yale has agreed to add a question on next year's application asking students to reflect on their contribution to family, community, and/or the public good," Jeremiah Quinlan, dean of undergraduate admissions at Yale University, said in a statement.