Harvard just proposed a radically new approach to college admissions in America

The Harvard Graduate School of Education released a report Wednesday endorsed by dozens of other schools that proposes radical changes to the way colleges should evaluate prospective students.

The proposal seeks to make college admissions less of a rat race that favours well-off students, and it has three specific recommendations to achieve this goal:

  • Promoting more meaningful contributions to others, community service and engagement with the public good.
  • Assessing students’ ethical engagement and contributions to others in ways that reflect varying types of family and community contributions across race, culture and class.
  • Redefining achievement in ways that both level the playing field for economically diverse students and reduce excessive achievement pressure.

Despite colleges’ efforts to have diverse student bodies, students from poor families are still rare on the campuses of elite colleges in America, as Inside Higher Ed has reported.

Admissions departments’ focus on test scores, AP/IB classes, and superficial extra-curriculars doesn’t help under-privileged students, according to the Harvard report released Wednesday. Rather, community involvement — whether that be a service project, or caring for your family — should be emphasised in the application process.

Giving students clear opportunities to report their contributions to their family on their college applications — whether that involves working outside the house, watching over younger siblings, or taking on major household chores — can help under-privileged students, who may not be able to participate in the expensive sports or international trips that so often determine elite college admissions.

The report also noted that community service should be “meaningful” and “sustained” rather than an activity that students participate in to boost their chances of getting accepted into college.

While the Harvard report admits that admissions departments are unlikely to take its recommendations wholesale, it does hope to, “create a healthier balance in young people between their self-concerns and their investment in others and the larger world.”

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