Magazine article U.S. Catholic

An Open Letter: Some Big-Name Schools Are on the Lookout for Something Special in College Applications: Care for the Common Good

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

An Open Letter: Some Big-Name Schools Are on the Lookout for Something Special in College Applications: Care for the Common Good

Article excerpt

About 33 percent of all college students are Black or Latino, yet at selective four-year schools they make up only 15 percent of the student body. A new report called "Turning the Tide" from the Harvard Graduate School of Education project Making Caring Common seeks to address this. Endorsed by the same selective schools where Black and Latino students are underrepresented, the report calls for increased minority student access to higher education. It is the first step in a two-year campaign that seeks to substantially reshape the existing college admissions process. And it's the first comprehensive effort of its kind. As a high school counselor working with a population of students that is almost entirely Black and Latino, I applaud the report's authors and want to make sure that underserved students know this is a step toward equity in college admissions.

To every underserved minority high school student:

Imagine a world where we place importance on caring for others. I know it can be hard when you think about all the bad things that happen in your community, or when you watch the news. But it's possible.

At the Jesuit high school where I work, we have a phrase--"men and women for others"--that embodies the call to care for others. It is the reason many Catholic schools ask students to complete service hours and why we reward students who serve others. And now, these same social teachings we instill in you to help you become better citizens may even help you get in to college.

As you know, the college application process isn't always equitable to you, your experiences, or your families. Right now, one of the most important factors in the college application process is test scores. Yet there is a disparity between the test scores of white and minority students by as many as 100 points on the SAT. But this may change, as about 60 of the country's most selective schools have said they want to de-emphasize applicants' standardized test scores. These include big names like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, and also smaller schools like Kenyon College and Swarthmore College. If others follow their lead, college admissions could change for the better.

Specifically, these schools have committed to emphasizing care for the common good rather than valuing personal achievement as they have traditionally done. They commit to emphasizing quality of service over quantity. They have committed to recognizing your service to your families and to your communities.

Many of my students go straight home after school because they need to look after younger siblings or help cook and clean. One of my students missed a few days of school to watch siblings while her mother was in the hospital. Another works on the weekend because someone in their family recently lost their job. Another missed an amazing summer program so she could help take care of her older relatives. I've spent time with all of these students, helping them to balance family obligations and school, making sure they are still able to get their homework done. I'm sure this is familiar to you. I worry every day about how they will compare to other students applying to college. Will their stories be valued more than another student's test scores? Will putting priority on their community over their GPA hurt them?

The answers from colleges who have signed on to Making Caring Common are encouraging. For example, Yale's dean of undergraduate admissions Jeremiah Quinlan said in a press release, "Yale has agreed to add a question on next year's application asking students to reflect on their contribution to family, community, and/or the public good. …

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