I am a Parent of a High School Junior and I am Not the Problem

Harvard's first Turning the Tide report prompted a shift in the college admissions process. Colleges revealed that they no longer wanted overstressed overachievers. Instead, elite colleges coveted applicants who were social change agents with an authentic love of learning.

Today, Turning the Tide II was released. Harvard's second report emphasizes what parents and high schools should do to reduce the stress associating with applying to college. Providing steps, stimulating conversation, and contributing a narrative about how parents can better manage the college process. Harvard's advice is sage and needed, but it is only addressing one part of the problem. Recent scandals surrounding college admissions show that parents have gone off the deep end in order to secure their kid's spot at an elite university. Yes, the actions of the parents named in scandals are reprehensible, but parents are only one part of a much bigger problem.

I am a parent of a high school junior, in the thick of the college admissions process. My child is taking two AP classes and participates in only one extracurricular activity. I am following the Turning the Tide II model and yet there is still an inordinate amount of stress. My child is doing the minimum and it is still overwhelming.

What can we do?

Stop Providing Data for US News College Rankings

It is easy to forget that higher education is a business, schools make money from being "highly selective." College presidents are evaluated on their school's acceptance yield, some college presidents have their salaries or bonuses tied to their school's performance in the US News College Rankings. How can universities call on parents and high schools to reject the frenzied college admissions process when they are feeding the frenzy? They are not only feeding it, but they are also benefitting from it.

Take away the SAT and ACT

If you want to remove pressure from the college admissions process, not test optional, no tests. Research shows that the SAT and ACT tests do not demonstrate student potential. The tests can be gamed and as we have seen over the past few weeks, parents go to extremes to ensure their children do well. The PSAT, SAT, and ACT are a HUGE source of stress for students. These tests generate billions of dollars of revenue for The College Board and millions for ACT, but they add no value. That does not make sense. The Turning the Tide report wants to tone down the stress level among college applicants, taking away one of the biggest stressors in the college admissions process seems like a great first step. Instead of spending 40-100 hours studying for the SAT/ACT and paying thousands of dollars to test prep companies, encourage students to spend those 40-100 hours of SAT/ACT prep on other things. Take a bike ride, volunteer, watch a movie, walk your dog, meditate, literally anything else.

Limit AP Classes

The report states that "educators might consider creating clear guidelines that prevent students from overloading on high level (AP/IB/Advanced) courses each year. For some schools this might mean limiting the number of high-level courses that students may take annually." This is the tail wagging the dog. If colleges want students to take fewer AP/IB/Advanced courses, then limit the number of AP's a student can report on college applications.

Change in the college admissions process will not come from anywhere other than the college themselves. Parents will not change the system. High schools will not change the system. The change has to come from institutions of higher education. If colleges are not looking for overstressed overachievers, then stop standardized testing. If colleges want students who love learning for the sake of learning, then judge students on the rigor of their courses, not how many AP classes they have taken. The report states that "in the end, whether college admissions officers prioritize ethical character should have no bearing on whether parents and educators prioritize it." This could not be further from the truth, it absolutely matters whether the schools "actually" prioritize ethical character. If Turning the Tide wants to change the college admissions process, then start with Harvard. When Harvard publically prioritizes ethics above all else I can guarantee parents will follow suit.

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