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Editorial: High school is not a means to an end

Brown is one of the over 80 institutions to have joined the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success. The coalition presents itself as an alternative to the Common Application and, according to the organization’s press release, its “goal is to recast admission process, broaden access and encourage college­‐going mindset for all students.” To do this, the coalition has created an online platform with tools to help students start planning and applying to colleges earlier. The coalition, according to Dean of Admission Jim Miller ’73, aspires to lengthen the college application from a “one-time transaction” to a more interactive process and is especially concerned with helping first-generation, underrepresented and low-income students navigate the college application process.

These are commendable goals, and an alternative to the Common Application will surely be well-received. There are definitely problems with the Common Application: It is hard to try to package yourself up neatly in an essay, a few short-answer questions, grade point average and standardized test scores. It is even harder to hand that application off and have schools evaluate it and deem you fit or unfit for acceptance. The concept of expanding this “one-time transaction” into a more detailed, ongoing process that represents how students grow and evolve during high school seems like a good idea.

But we worry about unintended consequences that might accompany efforts to get students thinking about college earlier. In voicing his excitement about the new application tool, Seth Allen, vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid at Pomona College, said, “Starting to think about college earlier reduces some of the pressure of the application process, but more importantly, it sets the expectation that students should aspire to attend college.” While we applaud efforts to make college a goal (and reality) for all students, we have reservations about the possibility that the proposed system could encourage students to see high school as merely a means to an end.

Too often, high school is viewed as four years to prepare for applying to college and a time when many students feel pressure to sign up for all the extracurriculars that will get them into the “right” schools and spend hours in SAT tutoring. When the focus is put so heavily on college applications, it can be easy to forget that high school is an opportunity to learn and grow, too. Focusing so much on college admission can detract from high school students’ ability to learn for the sake of learning. At Brown, where we pride ourselves on having a curriculum that encourages exploration and personal development through education, we understand the importance of such values.

We are wary of any change to the college application that will intensify the already strong propensity for students to get caught up in applying to college and forget to enjoy high school for what it is. So far, the coalition’s plans are fairly vague, so it is difficult to judge whether and to what extent, they will have this effect. Ideally, the coalition will present a tool that will just make the college application process easier and less stressful for high school students. But a plan that encourages high school students to focus on college applications earlier and even more intensely than they do now is misguided.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Manuel Contreras ’16 and Meghan Holloway ’16, and its members, Emma Axelrod ’18, Noah Fitzgerel ’17 and Aranshi Kumar ’17. Send comments to


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