Forget everything you thought you knew about building your laundry list of AP courses, far-off service trips, and the myth of “well-roundedness.” Turning the Tide, a new Harvard Graduate School of Education report that Trinity College is a signatory to, formally restates what many admissions counselors and school counselors have been telling students for years about how to impress admissions offices: do what you love, engage with your community, and tell us what you really care about.
Turning the Tide makes some specific recommendations in three main areas. Here is what each means for you as a prospective college applicant.
Promoting more meaningful contributions to others, community service and engagement with the public good.
When colleges – Trinity included – are admitting a class, they’re not just striving to bring in the students with the most AP classes or the highest test scores. We’re admitting a community, and the best predictor of what kind of community member you’ll be at Trinity is what kind of community member you’ve been.
So engage with your community, and not just for a few hours each year. Make a sustained commitment in an area you are passionate about. That might be helping out in a soup kitchen, or it could be volunteering to coach youth softball. It might be joining a group that cleans up a local park regularly, or reading to children at your public library. The truth is, we don’t care, as long as you care!
Assessing students’ ethical engagement and contributions to others in ways that reflect varying types of family and community contributions across race, culture and class.
It should be obvious that you don’t need to fly halfway around the globe to impress us with your service and engagement. But did you know you don’t necessarily have to even leave the house? So many of the strong applicants we see at Trinity each year have significant responsibilities at home: supervising younger siblings, caring for a grandparent, or working a part-time job to help pay the bills. This tells us more about someone’s character and dedication to others than any exotic service trip ever could. Don’t be afraid to put these activities front and center when you’re telling colleges what you’re involved in.
Redefining achievement in ways that both level the playing field for economically diverse students and reduce excessive achievement pressure.
Unless you’re talking about pizza, more is not always better. This is true of after-school activities, AP courses, and the emphasis too many of us put on standardized testing. As far as activities and courses, remember to put quality over quantity. If you’re joining three extra clubs because you think it’ll impress colleges, take a step back and think about how you could best use that time. When you’re selecting courses, don’t strive to take every single AP class that your school offers. Challenge yourself, yes, but not to the extent that you’re compromising your happiness or drawing yourself away from the things you’re passionate about. And if your school doesn’t offer APs, don’t fret. We consider every applicant in the context of their school and what’s available to them.
As far as standardized testing, we took one of the report’s proposed steps last year when Trinity College announced that we would no longer require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores. A better measure of socioeconomic status than academic promise, standardized tests don’t deserve the disproportionate hype, time, or stress that they get from many college applicants. Remember, three years of high school tell us so much more than three hours on a Saturday morning.
Finally, be honest and authentic. We can tell. We want you to put your best foot forward, but above all else, we want to get to know you. When you’re engaged in your community and doing the things that excite you, it really comes through. If you do that, you can rest assured that the college you end up at is the right place for you. That is, after all, what the entire admissions process is about.