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Editorial: Changing the world, one applicant at a time

The Harvard Graduate School of Education recently released a report proposing a change to the college admissions process. While we agree that a change to this process is certainly necessary, we’re not sure that the direction this report hopes to take in revising it is the right one. The report calls for a focus on “concern for others and the common good” rather than “personal success.” But within the largely self-interested college admissions process, these two concepts often become interchangeable.

There’s no doubt that the college application process has long been in need of improvement, as too many high school students place a disproportionate and irrational focus on putting together an impressive application, often at the expense of their mental and emotional well-being. There are several elements of the process that come into play here, and — to its credit — the report does address those elements. It suggests decreasing academic pressure by lowering the emphasis on the number of AP/IB courses a student takes as well as making standardized testing optional or recommending that students take these exams only once and therefore do not worry unnecessarily about improving their scores. Likewise, it suggests decreasing societal pressure by asking students to reevaluate what they perceive as a “good” college. The report also exhorts students to stay as true to themselves as possible on the application, refusing an excess of coaching from external sources.

These are all good ideas. But the final suggestion — that students focus on a few activities that are meaningful to them, as opposed to several activities that fill out a longer list on an application — contradicts the plan’s call on universities to place more of an emphasis on community service-related activities. It seems that if a student sees community engagement as a way to get into the college of her choice, she will be more likely to participate in several charitable activities in hopes of making a good impression than to spend her free time engaging in her genuine passions, such as playing an instrument or a sport. We also fear that students participating in charitable activities in order to get into college would defeat the main purpose of the proposal — getting high schoolers to choose activities based on the greater good instead of on self-interest. The very nature of doing something in order to put it on an application is, of course, self-interested.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Emma Axelrod ’18 and Emma Jerzyk ’17, and its members, Eben Blake ’17 and Leeron Lempel ’19. Send comments to


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