Harvard-led report urges colleges to change application process

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016
Harvard-led report urges colleges to change application process
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ABC's Juju Chang has the details.

CAMBRIDGE (WABC) -- A new report released Wednesday by a Harvard-based group is calling for colleges to change the application process to give greater importance to applicants' community involvement.

The report, endorsed by more than 50 colleges including the entire Ivy League, says that teens are taught to "emphasize personal success rather than concern for others."

"Achievement is clearly important, but achievement has to be balanced with concern for others and concern for the common good," said Richard Weissbourd, of the Harvard University School of Education. "We can't just reward those who achieve."

They say changing the college application process would send a strong message to young people.

"This is the first time in history that colleges have banded together across the country and said that ethical character is important," Weissbourd said.

In fact, MIT, one of the report's endorsers, has already begun to make changes. They have changed the essay question to involve community as opposed to some sort of achievement highlight.

"We want to know how have you affected those around you and made those around you better," MIT Dean of Admissions Stuart Schmill said. "Because that's important."

The report calls for reducing the number of AP classes and extracurricular activities, and even making some SAT scores optional.

Sherri Falco's son Chris is shooting for Harvard. He is captain of the track and debate teams, volunteers oodles of hours and takes five AP classes, and she worries about the toll stress takes on students.

"I do worry about it," she said. "He doesn't sleep. He seems fatigued. You shouldn't see that on a teenager. I don't know if he knows how to have a good time. I'm hoping he knows what that means."

The report makes the following recommendations for reducing "undue achievement pressure" and redefining achievement:

1. Reduce the Advanced Placement classes that students take.

2. Reduce the number of required extracurricular activities.

3. Make some SAT scores optional.

4. Challenge the "misconception that there are only a handful of excellent colleges and that only a handful of colleges create networks that are vital to job success."

5. Admissions offices should warn students against submitting "overcoached" applications, saying such applications can "jeopardize desired admission outcomes."

It also makes recommendations for assessing ethical character, which include evaluating the student's contribution to his or her family and to the wider community.

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