The Future of College Admissions

Recently, the Harvard Graduate School of Education released a thought-provoking report, Turning the Tide, which makes the bold statement that admissions offices across the country need to change how they select students -- and soon. With the wide publicity and attention of this report, changes to admissions requirements may take place at many colleges. Do you know what to look out for?

While most people are focused on the new, redesigned SAT to be rolled out in several months, few realize that the entire field of admissions has been changing for years. For example, leadership is no longer an admissions buzzword, a perfect SAT score does not guarantee admissions and too many activities could actually harm your applications.

So what will happen next? If the report's goals are fulfilled, colleges will give preference to students with experiences focused in prolonged community service and engagement.

What is the goal? According to the report, it is the responsibility of colleges to facilitate societal awareness and change, which can be achieved by admitting more students with years of demonstrated community involvement in just one or a few fields.

In other words, admissions offices should change their requirements to include a demonstrated commitment to community service and engagement. And for students, rather than focusing on a plethora of short-term experiences and a laundry list of AP classes and high test scores, they should focus on a few community opportunities of sincere interest -- making extensive contributions, learning key insights regarding the needs and differences of communities, and becoming more empathetic, and able, to improve society as a whole.

Can this be done? Of course! These are simple changes to a college's admissions process. And if highly desired colleges place greater weight on genuine, sustained community involvement, then students will listen and school districts will react.

What may actually happen? While the publication's goals are admirable and seemingly simple to accomplish, it may promote even more anxiety and frustration among current students, as today's students receiving this message are in systems unlikely to change anytime soon. As a consequence, instead of students reallocating their time, they may likely increase their time spent on various activities -- fostering even more stress among high school students.

How can you prepare? These complications can be overcome. Everyone may have different viewpoints on how to handle college admissions, but one factor in recent years has remained true: Students who tell a powerful, compelling story are more likely to get accepted to their top colleges. So rather than a student continuously adapting their life to meet new trends or changing admissions requirements, they should focus on discovering their unique, personal story of what drives them to accomplish something of meaning.

In our over 40 years of college admissions experience, we have found a unique story in every student we have met. It solely takes the right amount of time, insight, and help to uncover it. Thus, if there is one message to take home from this, all students should work with their teachers, high school counselors, families, friends, and communities to discover their story.

College admissions will always be changing; it is important to be aware of new trends and find accurate information from trusted sources. Equipped with correct information, the right story can be shared to give any student a chance of getting accepted to their dream school.

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Drusilla Blackman is affiliated with The Ivy Dean, an independent college admissions consulting firm.