I don’t believe that years ago colleges foresaw the negative implications of an application process that appears to focus on superhuman achievement. It can almost seem that AP classes need to start in grade school and that the kid should cure cancer before starting college applications. Thus, the agenda of things kids think they need to do is overwhelming and the result is often a lack of sleep, a mechanical approach to school and activities, and just a generally awful experience for the whole family.
For the last decade, I’ve been working with homeschooling families around the globe to chart a different course, to choose a life and not a checklist. And, our clients have been phenomenally successful at the world’s top colleges.
Interestingly, a new report was released a few days ago that agreed with the way we’ve been working all along. Making Caring Common is a project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the report is entitled, Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good Through College Applications.
It seeks to start a conversation among colleges so they can work together to reduce stress by limiting course loads and extracurricular activities, place value on the various ways students help their communities, focus on authenticity, reduce test pressure, and encourage meaningful community service. I am pleased that someone seems to have some sense in this madness by suggesting a reduction in course loads and relieving testing pressure; my concern is that families will misinterpret the report’s focus on “meaningful and sustained” community service. Some will read into the statement that now community service is the new benchmark and strive to accumulate impressive numbers – students will be killing themselves to throw an hour here at the soup kitchen and another hour there at the homeless shelter. If that happens, the problem just gets more complicated.
I hope the report helps. I really do. But even if it doesn’t make significant changes for the rest of the world, you still don’t need to buy into the craziness. I think the thing that has helped my clients stand out from the crowd is the authentic way they’ve lived their lives. They have made choices and taken risks to follow their heart. Indeed, that is the spirit of Turning the Tide. Evidently colleges are making a greater effort to find ways to reward what we’ve known all along – that kids who are real, who care about others are the ones who electrify college classrooms and make their little part of the world a better place.
Years ago, when I was making decisions about how my little children would spend their time, I wasn’t concerned about the college they would get into. I was concerned about the people they were becoming. I knew from long experience as a Youth Development Specialist that asking kids to do difficult things would fundamentally change their character. I knew that truly sacrificing and serving others would change the way they viewed their fellow man. It was more important for me to develop a caring, genuine child than a brilliant one. I invited them to into deeper and deeper waters to develop their skills and change their hearts. However, I also worked with the brilliant side and took an unusual path to get it done. When it came time for college applications, we were able to show that they had the intellectual firepower to thrive in a selective college and that they were authentic kids who made positive contributions in the areas they loved. They were flooded with acceptance letters.
While homeschoolers usually trump in the character department, too many tend to fold in the other areas. Rigorous academics will still matter and Pennsylvania Homeschoolers continues to lead the way for phenomenal options for the homeschooling community. Standardized reasoning tests will never totally go away and need to be taken seriously.
What we need is a healthy, balanced approach to living well that focuses on family, community, and joyful learning. We can seek academic excellence and still raise caring children. Our kids can be themselves and still be competitive at great colleges.
There are two books that can help you begin thinking in this direction:
This book is primarily focused on students in traditional educational venues, but the concepts are still relevant to homeschoolers.
This second book is written specifically for the homeschool community. (Full disclosure: I am co-author of Called to Influence with my son, Austin, a former homeschooling student, Caltech graduate, and now data scientist in New York City. My daughter, Natalie, is a contributor. She is an Operations Research Engineer from Princeton, and now lives and works in China).
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