In spite of the evidence that the current college admission requirements are harmful to students’ well-being, Harvard is not alone in their admission requirements. You can see the same values reflected in the Stanford admission requirements.
Last year, Harvard made headlines announcing that the current college admission process is detrimental to students and society. The report called for radical change in college admission selection criteria. In my last post,”Is Harvard “turning the tide” in admissions to Ivy League schools?” I looked to see if there was any evidence that Harvard is taking any steps to change college applications in their own admission process.
Unfortunately, aside from some changes in some essay topics, they are not.
Cynically, I wasn’t surprised. I noticed one tiny, but significant, detail on the website where I read their report, Turning the Tide, even, before I looked up Harvard’s current admission application information.
Turning the Tide isn’t posted on the Harvard Admissions Department page of Harvard’s website.
Instead, it’s a publication of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
The Significance of the School of Education vs Department of Admission
While Harvard’s Graduate School of Education is to be commended for its research and its report, their own university is – at best – not supporting their work. At worst, they’re undermining it.
Harvard’s Graduate School of Education isn’t alone with this problem. In fact, the seal for the graduate school of education caught my eye because I had noticed a similar occurrence at another elite university, Stanford.
Challenge Success at Stanford
Stanford is the home of Challenge Success, an organization formed in 2007 in response to an increase in academic and emotional problems of students.
Challenge Success is a program formed to research and provide educational resources for schools and parents. Their research shows that the current educational system, which emphasizes high grades and standardized test scores, has taken over the lives of students. It has evolved to the point that children and teens don’t have time left to themselves, to mature into resilient and motivated adults. Challenge Success is working with both parents and schools to try to change that.
But it is telling, that while Challenge Success is a part of the School of Education at Stanford, Challenge Success doesn’t receive any direct funding from Stanford.
Because Challenge Success doesn’t receive any practical “support” from Stanford’s department of admissions either. Stanford’s admission requirements look just like any other elite university. In fact, Stanford’s admission requirements still look very similar to those of Harvard.
Stanford admission requirements
Stanford will take either the Common Application or the Coalition Application. While this seems to make it easier for students to apply to Stanford, it actually makes it easier for more students to apply to Stanford. No, that’s not saying exactly the same thing. Stanford does not lack for applicants. But keeping its application numbers high, and its admission rate low, keeps Stanford high in the college rankings.
Extracurricular activities Stanford admission requirements
Because Stanford uses the Common App and the Coalition App, it means that they have spaces for students to fill out up to 8-10 extracurricular activities. Anxious applicants have the impression that at least nearly that many are expected if you want to seriously be considered for admission to Stanford.
And, in the school report described below, Stanford asks their high school counselor to rate the student against others in their class when it comes to extracurricular achievements!
Standardized test Stanford admission requirements
Stanford requires and SAT or ACT score. But unlike Harvard, it doesn’t even mention SAT subject tests under its basic application requirements. However, if you’re really industrious and read their whole website (and what eager, over-achieving student wouldn’t?), you will find it in Stanford’s FAQ for admissions.
After the restatement that SAT subject tests are optional, you will find, “Because SAT Subject Test scores can highlight your areas of strength, we welcome the self-reporting of these results in your application.”
And seeming in contradiction to the subject tests not even being listed on the general requirements page, on the Stanford Freshman Application Instructions 2016–17, Applying with the Coalition Application, under the Required Components Checklist it says that SAT Subject Tests are “Recommended but not required.” [emphasis mine]
What’s a hopeful future Stanford student to think?
This means that, just as in response to similar wording on the Harvard application, lots of students will be taking AP tests every May. Then they will immediately turn around and study for the very different SAT Subject Tests for the same subjects in June. In between they will study for their school’s final exams.
School report for Stanford admission requirements
Like Harvard, Stanford also requires that extra “school report” filled out by the high school counselor. Under further instructions, I found that this report is part of the Stanford Common Application instructions and the Stanford Coalition Application instructions.
Comparing students against each other
On the website for Duke University there is a copy of the school report for the Common Application. Through it, a University asks for a student’s GPA, rank, and the highest GPA in the student’s class (for comparison purposes). It also asks the counselor to rate the level of the student’s course schedule against other students.
This is even though Challenge Success highlights “A study of [of students at] high-achieving schools reveals that some students who work hard in school may be compromising their mental and physical health in the pursuit of top grades… [and] two-thirds of students reported [attitudes toward schoolwork] associated with more frequent school stress, higher rates of cheating, and greater internalizing, externalizing, and physical symptoms of stress.” One of the authors of the study, Denise Pope, is from Stanford’s own Graduate School of Education.
But in addition to that, they also ask how many AP (IB and Honors) classes the school offers! What purpose is there to ask that other than to judge how many AP classes the student should have taken?
Note that this comparison becomes more intense at “better” high-achieving high schools. It’s at these schools that competition between such closely matched students can become toxic.
AP classes and Class Rank for Stanford admission requirements
At many schools, AP classes get bonus weighted points added to grades to calculate GPA’s used for class rank. Stanford’s application emphasizes both the student’s rank and AP/IB classes in it’s counselor school reprt.
In contrast, Challenge Success has collected research that shows that the claim that the College Board’s AP program leads to success in college has been shown to have only a correlation. There is not good evidence that taking AP courses is the cause of students doing well in college.
And yet Stanford still uses AP class participation and performance as a very visible admissions criteria.
But don’t elite universities need these requirements separate the exceptional students from the merely good students?
By their admission requirements, Stanford and Harvard are making the assertion that they need this information to separate the exceptional students from the merely great students. They continue to require this level of comparison, even though research at both the Stanford School of Education and Harvard’s Graduate school of education show the current admissions process to be harmful to student’s well-being.
It follows, that the assumption is that while college admission requirements might be “too hard” for most students, they don’t have detrimental effects on the students accepted to elite universities.
Do students at Stanford show any adverse affects from Stanford admission policies? I’ll look at that question in my next post.