The secret to getting into Harvard: Be nicer

Posted at 8:34 PM, Jan 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-22 20:35:09-05

NEW YORK — What’s the secret to getting into Harvard? Be a nicer human being.

You know things need to change when the most elite colleges in the country feel compelled to “reduce achievement pressure” on American high-schoolers.

Harvard University released a report Wednesday that outlines how colleges should revamp the admissions process to do three things: take the pressure down a notch, level the playing field for students across races and incomes, and promote concern for the common good. It’s endorsed by 85 top institutions.

The report says that the college admissions process is contributing to a societal problem by appearing to focus more on personal success rather than concern for others and the public good.

It recommends that colleges change their recruiting strategies, rewrite essay questions, and make standardized tests optional. As a result, Yale has committed to add a question to its application that asks students to reflect on the contribution they’ve made to their family, community, or the public good.

“We don’t want students who do things just because they think they have to in order to get into a good college,” said Stuart Schmill, Dean of Admissions at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The report also outlines how a student can meet this new definition of achievement — without stressing out.

Avoid a ‘brag sheet.’

Don’t feel pressure to list more than two or three extracurricular activities.

Forget the service trip abroad.

Admissions offices should not be impressed with “high-profile or exotic forms of community service” that have “little meaning” to the applicant, the report said.

Tackle a community problem.

Work with a group to clean up a local park or address bullying at school.

Volunteer with a diverse group of people.

Deepen your appreciation for diversity by working with students that don’t look like you, rather than for them.

Help out your own family.

Caring for a younger sibling or finding a job to help bring in additional income for your family should be valued more than “stints” of service, the report says.

Don’t overload on AP courses.

Students should not be penalized from taking fewer advanced placement courses. Some people benefit more by taking one or two.

Remember, Harvard isn’t the only ‘good’ college.

Be more concerned about whether a college is a good fit, rather than a perceived elite status.