Colleges Put Emphasis on Volunteering and Service

on March 10, 2017

Last year, more than 170 colleges, ranging from institutions like Harvard to Kalamazoo College, pledged to start giving more weight to contributions applicants were making to their families, schools and communities.


“Too often, today’s culture sends young people messages that emphasize personal success rather than concern for others and the common good,” Richard Weissbourd, senior lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, says. “As a rite of passage, college admissions plays a powerful role in shaping student attitudes and behaviors.


“Admissions deans are stepping up collectively to underscore the importance of meaningful engagement in communities and greater equity for economically diverse students.” 


The idea behind the Turn the Tide movement stemmed from research that shows students prioritize their own success and happiness above helping others and increasing concerns about how much pressure students were under to become the perfect applicant.


The initiative encourages students to do a year of service or community engagement. It’s not enough to go on a service trip to a foreign country, either. The movement emphasizes that applicants should have immersed themselves in the community they served and increased their emotional and ethical understanding of people outside their bubble.


College admissions also will note if students are doing work at home, such as raising a younger sibling or working outside the home to contribute to a family’s income. In addition to demonstrating a student’s ability to help and care for others, these activities give a boost to low-income students, who might have to pass on joining extracurriculars to cook dinner for siblings and help around the house.


Harvard is “assessing students’ ethical engagement and contributions to others in ways that reflect varying types of family and community contributions across race, culture and class,” according to its admissions website.


The university, like many others, is redefining achievement to “level the playing field for economically diverse student.”

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