College admission committees are looking for IMPACT – do you have it?

A young adult and a teenager volunteer deliver a sack full of groceries to a senior adult woman at her home. The two caring girls are both Latin descent and the senior woman is of African descent. They all stand at the front door of the brick home. The senior woman is unable leave her home due to illness.

IMPACT is one of the latest considerations that I’m hearing from college admissions officers these days. When scouring through college applications, admissions officers are looking for impact — the effect that an individual makes on others. By our words and deeds, we all impact, those around us — our family, our friends, our classmates, and our community. By offering a kind word, by providing a helping hand, or by some act of random kindness, you have the power to effect change.

With the issuance of the Harvard Graduate School of Education report, “Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good through College Admissions,” many colleges have resolved to go beyond reviewing an applicant’s individual accomplishments and accolades, and look for something more – a tangible demonstration of compassion and a sense of responsibility to give something back. While intellectual engagement is highly important, so is ethical engagement – a concern for others and the common good.

Why should college admissions officers even care about impact? Isn’t that a private matter that’s up to each student’s own conscience? The short answer is that impact is a legitimate concern of a college admissions office, and a student’s impact does matter. After all, the job of the admissions office is to select a pool of students who will transform into a cohesive community of scholars. College is a collective enterprise. Students live together, learn together, continuously impact one another in myriad ways. College students can positively affect the lives of others through their actions in the dorms and dining halls, by their input and effort in the classroom, and by the service they offer to the surrounding community,

“Turning the Tide was well-received by college admissions offices throughout the country. The report made numerous recommendations for the admissions process in order to heighten awareness that concern for others does matter, that young people should strive to be more generous and humane, and that life is more than one’s individual achievements. Its recommendations for community engagement and service include:

  1. meaningful, sustained community service
  2. collective action that takes on community challenges
  3. authentic meaningful experiences with diversity
  4. service that develops gratitude for the future

Its recommendations for assessing ethical engagement and contributions to others across race, culture and class include:

  1. contributions to one’s family
  2. assessing students’ daily awareness of and contributions to others

The report also contained specific recommendations for admissions offices themselves to reduce undue achievement pressure, redefine achievement, and level the playing field for economically diverse student. These recommendations include:

  1. prioritizing quality – not quantity – of activities
  2. making students aware that they need not feel compelled to overload on AP/IB courses
  3. discouraging “overcoaching” during the application process
  4. considering options for reducing standardized test pressure
  5. debunking the misconception that there are only a handful of “excellent” colleges

In a practical sense, how does all this translate to students during the application process? This is my take on this increasingly important part of the admissions process. Admissions officers receive far too many piles of applications from students who come across as totally self-absorbed or who are superficially participating in activities simply for their “resume value.” Admissions officers want more. And you can be the applicant that stands out from the rest by demonstrating genuine concern and compassion toward through community service and engagement for the public good. The key is that it has to come from the heart, and if it doesn’t, the admissions office will see right through it.

How can students start to work on this important admissions consideration? Now, at the start of the upcoming school year, this is a good time to think about the ways you can impact others.

Resolve to ramp up the positive impact you have on your schoolmates and community.

Here are some questions to point you in the right direction:

  • Are you the student who offers help to a classmate who is struggling?
  • Do you positively engage in the classroom?
  • Are you proactive and step in to make a difference before being asked?
  • In what ways are you engaged in the extracurricular life of your school – through clubs, sports teams, student government, performing arts groups?
  • What impact do you have on your family – through child care, helping out at home, or caring for extended family?
  • How can you have a positive impact on your community through volunteer work? Opportunities abound with religious organizations, after-school programs in high needs communities, local sports teams, community theatre, philanthropic organizations, animal shelters, and hospitals.

Each of us has the power to make a real difference. Now is the time to find your niche and add force to the impact you have. With compassion and concern toward others, you’ll feel better about yourself. And the payback is enormous. You’ll find it easier to deal with your own problems and the interactions that you have with your parents, your classmates, and your teachers will skyrocket.

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