When I attended the Harvard Summer Institute on College Admissions, one of the sessions we did was a mock admissions committee. We were given 5 applicants, and had to choose 2 who would gain admission to Harvard. Rigorous debate ensued, with guidance from our admission officer mentors, and our final two candidates were the young African man whose family struggled with HIV and the Midwest Native American girl who writes well but comes from a poor family. The primary takeaway? Harvard believed that any student who had the chance to attend Harvard would be better enabled, with more capable abilities and power to make significant change, innovation, or impact in and upon the world.
But this is not just Harvard - it’s all top universities. In a NACAC Journal of College Admissions article in 2006, Ted Spencer (U Michigan), Bill Fitzsimmons (Harvard), and Jean Fetter (Stanford), wrote a combined piece on how “admissions officers are…the standards bearers of social change”. They believed they had a responsibility to enable people (read: admit) who would have a greater positive effect on the world (a change-the-world-for-the-better attitude per say).
This philosophy relates to a variety of diversity factors (geographical, racial, academic, talent, ethnic, socioeconomic, etc). By encouraging this diversity, students are exposed to things they have never seen before. This helps expand horizons and push comfort zones, useful exercises in the transition from a child to a healthy adult. It's natural how this understanding makes its way into the admissions process.
Recently, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Brown, and 170 other top schools, endorsed a report called Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and for the Common Good Through College Admissions. In it, this group of universities is calling for an even clearer and more pronounced focus on empathy, emotions, diversity, and a sense of place.
So what does this mean for the applicant?
It means that it is beneficial for applicants to think of themselves as having an impact on the future world. Basically, the world that is to be in say 10, 20, or even 30 years. What will you do in the future? How do you act now to live / or produce that future?
These are increasing challenges that seem isolated from most top quality college preparation. Isn't college admissions about being better and greater than the next student so you can gain the edge? I'd like to argue that actually the opposite is the case! In fact, by reconnecting with some ancient wisdom on how to be a mensch, we can find guidelines to help us live a great life and produce an amazing college application.
Continue to Part 2, The Mensch Mindset.