The buzz this past week has been about a report issued by the Harvard School of Education and a consortium of other selective colleges and universities called "Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concernfor Others and the Common Good through College Admissions."
It’s a vital topic and a thoughtful report, but reading through it, I didn’t find any indication that the tide is turning—applying to selective colleges will still be grueling and fraught no matter how much the schools change the emphasis in their admissions. An article in The Washington Post summarizes the report’s highlights and then offers “tips” to parents for helping to “turn the tide.”
I agree with the report that the quality and duration of community service is more important than the amount of time spent, and I applaud these schools for carefully defining what kind of community involvement they value. For instance, a group of people or students working together to solve a problem may be a better way of engaging in outreach than simply serving once at a soup kitchen, but I think this emphasis is not a new factor in college admissions.
A stronger recommendation in the report might be the call to de-emphasize standardized tests as a big factor in admissions decisions, though many colleges might go even further and make the tests optional as some schools have already done.
Another important recommendation is to make course loads more reasonable and limit the number of AP courses. This will be harder to achieve unless school districts, teachers, counselors and parents work together to communicate a consistent message to students about balancing workloads.
Overall, the report makes valid observations about the current stressful, competitive, and unhealthy admissions process—at least for selective schools—but I’m waiting to see more substantive changes by admissions offices such as reversing the trend toward accepting more students Early Decision and reducing the frenzied marketing to influence admissions statistics by increasing the number of applications each year.