Editorial: Rethinking how we think about college

Dear college admissions, we need to talk about what you want

By The Editorial Board

Ask a random senior for college application advice and you’ll most likely get an answer to the tune of “Do what makes you happy. Don’t join clubs just to look good for college and don’t overburden your schedule.”

We’ve finally gotten the message that more does not equal better when it comes to our applications. But according to a report by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, a number of changes need to be implemented to make that message work at all.

We at the Epitaph fully agree that the problem goes far beyond the individual actions of students. In fact, there is a distinguishable “trickle-down” process: the actions of the colleges at the top of the heap effect change on the ways and lives of all students.

The report suggests that colleges and students must work together to make college applications more tuned to students’ meaningful contributions, their familial situations and how much pressure the application process puts on them.

This attempt to level the playing field by eliminating elements that are either prohibitively expensive or stressful to students would be amazing — if schools actually did something to answer the call.

Yes, top officials from prestigious colleges — 85 of them as of the press release — endorsed this report. But it remains to be seen how seriously they will take their promises, and how quickly they will act on them.

The need for change is immediate. This year’s college application season is coming to a close, but next year’s is fast approaching. In the interim period, it is up to colleges to enact the changes the report recommends.

And these changes are not hard. The nature of the application process will not be fundamentally altered if students are required to write short essays about two or three of their extracurricular activities, rather than listing out the whole ten. No job on the admissions committee will become substantially harder if those involved must consider the home lives and familial contributions of students.

Admissions departments can hardly say that they consider the ‘whole’ student if they only look at our honors, accomplishments and extracurriculars. What they’re really looking at is the picture we create of ourselves during the school day. That picture starts in the morning when we leave our house and ends in the evening when we return home.

While the Common Application does ask some cursory questions about race, ability to pay application fees and family members, there are no specific questions about students’ home life.

This paints a dismal picture for a student who, for example, helps support their family by doing chores and preparing meals while their parents are at work and takes their little siblings on weekend outings but because of this has few extracurriculars.

The report recommends minimizing, if not totally excluding, the weighing of test scores and advanced classes, but this simply isn’t enough. College apps need to consider the full picture of what socioeconomic status means, something that can’t be solved by test fee waivers.

Many people will complain that we can’t change the system because it’s always been this way. They say that it’s the system they grew up with, the system they applied to college under. But we have changed the system before. Certain colleges have eliminated their requirements for standardized test scores and, just last year, the Common Application added language to their forms to make themselves more inclusive of transgender students.

The changes the report is suggesting are more radical than most, but they are still necessary. We live in a world where college admissions are so complex and secretive that students resort to trying to do everything in order to ensure their admission chances. The system is biased, racially and socioeconomically, and the amount of pressure it creates can give students a choice: your application or your mental health.

It is clear from the atmosphere on this campus that students, teachers and parents are doing their best to ensure the success of HHS alumni at college. The impetus is now with the colleges: make your standards for admission clearer, more open to everyone and less secretive.