During the past year, Dean of MIT Admissions Stu Schmill has been part of a working group hosted by the Making Caring Common project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The group, including college deans, guidance counselors, and other key stakeholders, has considered how to promote ethical character and achieve greater fairness and integrity in the college admissions process.
On Wednesday, the outcome of the group's work was released at an event at the New York Public Library in Manhattan. The resulting report, "Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good through College Admissions," was endorsed by 80 college admissions professionals and other stakeholders.
The group began discussions with the premise that colleges, and specifically admissions processes, send messages about what colleges — and our society at large — value. These messages, in turn, ultimately end up influencing the behavior of millions of students.
The findings of the report advance a widely shared vision that college admissions can and should align their messages to convey the idea that concern for others and the common good should not take a back seat to personal achievement and intellectual engagement.
The report offers specific recommendations for reforming the admissions process in each of the following three areas:
- promoting more meaningful contributions to others, community service, and engagement with the public good;
- assessing students’ ethical character and contributions to others in ways that reflect varying types of family and community contributions across race, culture, and class; and
- redefining achievement in ways that both level the playing field for economically diverse students and reduce excessive achievement pressure.
“I think it is an important report and have signed on as an ‘endorser’ along with many of my colleagues around the country, including all of the Ivy League deans,” Schmill says. “In fact, we already do many of the items suggested in the paper.”
This year, the MIT Admissions Office changed one of the required essay questions on MIT’s undergraduate application to reflect its commitment to students’ contributions to the public good — something that aligns well with the MIT mission. The application question now asks:
“At MIT, we seek to develop in each member of our community the ability and passion to work collaboratively for the betterment of humankind. How have you improved the lives of others in your community? (This could be one person or many, at school or at home, in your neighborhood or your state, etc.)”
With respect to the recommendations for reducing academic performance pressures, MIT Admissions has long taken an active role in promoting the messages of “finding your fit” in college, both through its holistic selection process and in many recruitment communications. MIT Admissions led the way more than 10 years ago by reducing the number of spaces for extracurricular activities on its application, sending the message to applicants that quality is more important than quantity.
The new 17-page report of recommendations concludes with the notion that too often colleges, high schools, and parents are competing in an “arms race” that is costly both to young people and to our society and that those involved in admissions work with others to “hold up, expect and honor in young people a more ethical and meaningful way of leading a life.”
“The hope is that with many colleges and universities sending the same message to students,” Schmill says, “we might make a difference in what students pursue in high school — and bring a little more sanity back into it, with a focus on what is truly important.”
For more information, visit: makingcaringcommon.org.