The Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good through College Admissions report offers several recommendations to reshape the college admissions process to promote greater ethical engagement among aspiring students, reduce excessive achievement pressure, and level the playing field for economically disadvantaged students. The Harvard Graduate School of Education led the collaborative effort and over 80 key stakeholders in college admissions endorsed the recommendations.
A key theme in the report is that the pressure to get into college has led students and parents to “game” the community service element of the admissions process and ignore its true purpose—to be aware of and help those who need it. The community service “war games” have driven applicants to try to outdo each other by engaging in expensive, high profile, exotic endeavors that are brief and meaningless to them, just to get noticed by college admissions.
This leaves applicants with very little awareness of the needs of the community around them and the importance of getting deeply involved. It also leaves applicants who have less funds at a disadvantage for participating in eye-catching community service activities.
I have been concerned about this for some time. I’ve seen wealthy students jet off to Machu Picchu for a glamor vacation, stopping briefly in a town to dig a well, and call this a community service trip. They get to surf, hike (with porters carrying their luggage), see cultural events and hang out with friends. Maybe they’ll visit a local family along the way, and they’ll spend more on souvenirs than the family sees in a year. If you find this hard to believe, just google “community service trips” and see for yourself.
The Turning the Tide report calls for quality over quantity, authentic choices over pretentious ones, and sustained service that brings about deeper awareness and appreciation for ethics, diversity, and gratitude. I am so glad colleges are finally seeing through the games and calling for a stop to the madness.
Beware, if you have plans to game the system, it will likely not work. It may not be fun to do community service the old fashioned way, but you will be a better person for it. At least, that’s what college admissions believe.