Smith Signs Harvard Report Calling for Shift in Admissions Process

Photo by Jen Zhu '17 | Smith signed a report from the Harvard Graduate School of Education that encourages a more holistic college admissions process.

Photo by Jen Zhu ’17 | Smith signed a report from the Harvard Graduate School of Education that encourages a more holistic college admissions process.


Katherine Hazen ’18
News Editor

President Kathleen McCartney and Dean of Enrollment Audrey Smith signed a report from the Harvard Graduate School of Education earlier this month, signaling Smith’s dedication to reform its admissions, to move away from standards that favor students of certain backgrounds.

The report, entitled “Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern For Others And The Common Good Through College Admissions,” by Harvard’s Making Care Common Project, aims to make college admissions more inclusive and less stressful for high school students and is the first step in a two-year campaign to remodel the current process.

“As a developmental psychologist, a mother and now a college president, I am acutely aware of the pressures we’re putting on young people. Stress is a risk factor for so many illnesses,” said McCartney.  “Further, I believe the pressure to put together a college portfolio causes many students to make tough choices, for example giving up music lessons to take more advanced placement courses.”   

The report offers three concrete recommendations: including “promoting more meaningful contributions to others, community service and engagement with the public good; assessing students’ ethical engagement and contributions to others in ways that reflect varying types of family and community contributions across race, culture and class.”

The last proposal to “[redefine] achievement in ways that both level the playing field for economically diverse students and reduce excessive achievement pressure,” recommends that colleges and universities consider family contributions with more weight than previous admissions cycles did.

The proposal also advises schools to laud meaningful community service near an applicant’s home rather than litanies of extracurricular activities and service trips to exotic, impoverished destinations.    

“It’s not about long brag sheets. It’s not about racking up accomplishments,” Richard Weissbourd, senior lecturer on education at Harvard and co-director of Making Caring Common, said to the Boston Globe. “It’s about being a caring person from day-to-day and being meaningfully involved in school.”

“I am proud that Smith is already doing so much that’s recommended in this report, including being SAT-optional and recognizing the service an applicant gives to her community and the responsibilities she may have to her family,” said McCartney.

McCartney and Smith conversed with the report’s author but neither were involved in writing the report.

“We will be working with the author and other signers of the report in the hope that we can affect meaningful change in the process of applying to college,” said Smith.

Amherst College was also among the signatories of the report, in addition to Kenyon, Oberlin, Swarthmore and Trinity Colleges and numerous institutions of varying sizes, selectivities and ranks.   

“President McCartney and I believe that the admission process should be healthy for students, and we believe that Smith’s process is – the fact that we do a holistic review, are test optional, invite creative submissions and explore all applications in context of the opportunities available to each individual student at her high school – and in her family and personal situation,” said Smith. “But we believe it is important to be part of a national conversation about the process, because no single institution can accomplish this level of change on it’s own.”

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