The New York Times published this Q&A with a panel of Admissions officers from some of the top colleges in the country. If you haven’t done so already, I highly recommend checking it out.
It seems to me that there continues to be this gap between the perception and the reality of what makes a student attractive to top colleges. The archetypal student college admissions strategy is to treat the whole affair as a protracted game with quests for points along the way.
Inside the mind of an archetypal “success-oriented” student, we might get something along these lines:
To get into my top choice college I need to do the following things:
- take a full load of IB/AP course, both if possible (check)
- get involved in application-busting extra-curricular(s), (check)
- collect a buffet of awards and honors, (check)
- volunteer at soup kitchen, (check)
- play a sport, or an instrument, preferably both, (check)
- travel to a far-away exotic country, (check)
- speak language of said exotic country, (check)
- impress the college with an essay of my achievements, (check)
But the college admissions officer looks at the problem this way:
Well, I have 3000 applications and most are capable of doing Calculus, speaking more than one language, ladling soup to the homeless and have the desire to save the world. Let’s see if someone will show me:
- what she is passionate about, and why. Maybe my college will be a great place for her to develop and share that passion.
- a developing sense of maturity and understanding of the world
- that she can think critically, not just write correctly
- that she can take personal risks, not just institutionalized ones
- a personality that will fit in with our school
- a compatible value system and sense of direction
Telling is easy. Showing is much more challenging.
This is where I think social media tools (such as blogs, shared videos, feeds of queries, etc.) offer us a way to rethink the way we represent student achievement so that both the attitude and practices of school achievement are better aligned with what actually matters to getting into the right school.
Students vex about creating a narrative of achievement for colleges. Perhaps, instead of constructing one, we should be capturing that narrative naturally along the way. That is, “show”, not “tell. To be sure, this isn’t a new idea. Digital student portfolios seem to be making some waves and gaining some interest. But I am wondering if we should be thinking about student “portfolios” not as that a collection of ‘assessments’ or work-products but as a comprehensive life-long personal learning-pedia–a complete repository of every learning experience, every act of creativity, assessment, sharing, dialog, and feedback–that lives on the internet. Think facebook.
The technology to do this with video, twitter, rss, blogs exist today. Perhaps, the ultimate college application is a lifetime-of-learning, mashed-up website–a college application that gets written from the beginning, not at the end of learning.