Last week I wrote about why character counts because the coronavirus has prompted a change in how applications are being considered.
In a recent Zoom meeting, Temple University shared that they are thinking about how they can extract characteristics like “citizenship, social justice, or tenacity” and admit students that exhibit those traits.
Swarthmore College has been looking for students with “intellectual curiosity, creativity, generosity and problem-solving skills.” For years, they’ve struggled with how to measure those traits in an application.
As we move forward into the new admissions cycle, it may be easier for a college to deny admissions if they see evidence that is contrary to the character they desire in their students. More on that later.
On August 24 it was reported that over 100 admitted freshmen had their admissions rescinded from Northeastern University (Boston) because they posted their intent to gather on campus against NU’s coronavirus guidelines.
Colleges are serious!
Over the next few weeks, I’m sharing a series of seven thoughts from the Making Caring Common report, “Turning the Tide II,” that addresses character in college admissions. This is specifically for parents.
 Keep the focus on your teen.
The “college admissions process is a key rite of passage in adolescence and can be a wonderful opportunity for parents to get to know their teen in a deeper way. It’s also an important opportunity for parents to model the empathy in their relationship with their teen that is key to their teen’s relationships.”
We love our teenager(s) and want the best for them. As I am learning as a newly adoptive father of a sixteen-year-old, we want to fight for them. In my experience as a youth pastor and educational consultant, I’ve observed that too often, parents want the best for their teenagers based on what THEY perceive is the best. They adjust the focus on opportunities THEY missed out on when they were a teenager.
“In an effort to give their kids everything, these parents often end up robbing them of what counts.”
Since you are not going to be in the classroom or on the campus, use your past to teach and lead the discussion. Remembering that your children are uniquely made (Psalm 139:13-14), help them discover what problems they want to solve, and which career and college will prepare them for that task.
The focus should be on your teenager.
Preparing your teenager to make long-term decisions a part of the college decision process.
Your involvement is important to them.
Really, it is.
Sometimes parents, we just need to “pause and listen.”
Here are four recommendations from the Making Caring Common team:
1. Take time to listen. Ask your teens how involved you want them to be in their college planning process.
2. Check your blind spots. Find out "where your own and your child's views about college" differ and how to work through those conflicts.
3. Be alert to red flags. If you are asking all the questions, your college-bound teenager won't take ownership of this process.
4. Reflect on your assumptions about "good" colleges.
What adjustments do you need to make so your college-bound “baby” takes personal responsibility for their career and college decisions?
The mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.
The group of qualities that make a person, group, or thing different from others.
Who you are when no one is watching.
Each of the above sentences define character. Developing your character matters because it is becoming a part of the college admissions process.
As the high school senior class of 2021 begins to write character-based essays for their college applications, underclassmen should continue working on their character. This is more than a 280-character post or a 500-word essay. Who you are is the one character that counts.
Character is developed through everything you do (shovel, build, read, serve, mow, watch…) and every person (parents, coaches, teachers, telemarketers, janitors, CEOs…) you communicate with (post, debate, lead, email, phone…).
Character is developed through your online and offline interactions.
Character is developed through your setbacks, struggles, and suffering because “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4).
UCLA Basketball coach John Wooden said, “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”
So, what are you? Who are you?
The Making Caring Common project, endorsed by over 50 college admissions deans, is seeking to “elevate ethical character, especially concern for others and the common good.”
Doing the right thing is not about building your reputation or résumé. Colleges are working to help potential students change their expectations from “look at what I’ve done” to “look at who I am.” You can’t develop character while you are applying for college. Essay readers will see a fraud within the first paragraph. You begin developing character when you are born, as you listen to the caring adults in your life, and as you apply what they teach you.
MIT Admissions Dean Stuart Schmill said that colleges are working hard to admit students who lead balanced lives, pursue interests with passion, and work with others. They are trying to move away from admitting students who are just checking the boxes.
Your application or resume introduces you to the reader. Think of it as a preview of the real you. In some colleges, two or more admissions officers independently review your application before sitting down to discuss it together.
Some colleges require students to interview with an alumni or admissions officer. They want to know if your application matches who you say you are. Let’s take it one step further. Would your academics, conduct report, relationships, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, and essay reflect who you are if the admissions official invited you to dinner at her house?
Paul wrote that “bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33). Who you are will be impacted by the company you keep. So do you keep bad or good company. You reflect the values of those you hang around the most (online and offline) including Jesus Christ, your parents, youth leaders, YouTubers, TikToc’ers, teammates, and friends. Jesus said that “the tree is known by its fruit” with the tree representing each person (Matthew 12:33). “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad.”
Jon Mertz describes character as something “engraved within us.” The engraving isn’t always planned and clean. The word “character” comes from the Greek kharakter that means “engraved mark.” The character trace goes back to another definition of “to scrape or scratch.” For Mertz, the combination of engrave, scrape, and scratch fit well with what character really means. Here’s why:
David Brooks, author of The Road to Character, writes about people of character. He shared how we can take “the bad things that happen and turn them into a transcendent purpose” like Dorothy Day. From Bayard Rustin, he teaches us the “power of leading with self-restraint.”
Could you be someone Brooks writes about? Are you becoming a person of character or just a character? As prepare your college applications are you sharing who you are or who you want them to believe you are?
Brooks posed this question during his TedTalk, “Am I living for my résumé or my eulogy?”
Let me bring this home. Are you living your life to build your college application or are you living your life to build your character in the image of Jesus Christ?
Parents, some of you or your friends may still be concerned about your student heading to college. Many of my friends and relatives are currently helping their sons and daughters settle into their dorms.
But what will they do during the semester? What is their college doing to prepare for the coronavirus? While many are banning parties and gatherings off and on campus, it’s going to be hard for students to stay away from each other.
My 12-year-old wants to “just watch” the basketball games being played at the school near our house. We’ve repeatedly told him no because none of the players are wearing masks.
Even for our responsible young adults, it’s going to be a challenge.
The Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported the following (July 27, 2020):
“If you walk around the neighborhood of Ames, Iowa, across the street from Iowa State University, one thing is obvious: No one is wearing a mask. The state doesn't have a mask mandate, so customers in shops or restaurants can't be forced to wear them indoors. Next month, though the City of Ames could welcome some 31,000 students and researchers.”
This is a much different situation that I haven’t considered. If your student is heading to a part of the country that does not have mask mandates, what will they do? Have you discussed what action your son or daughter will take?
For example, if they attend ISU and don’t wear face coverings because it’s not required, will you allow them to return home without a 14-day self-quarantine? Where would they stay?
This is a decision not to be made lightly.
The New York Times reported (July 29, 2020) that there are 6,600 coronavirus cases linked to 270 colleges since the pandemic began. This could spike as students return to campus – even if in-person classes are at 50 percent capacity or meeting outdoors in tents. The NYT created an infographic that shows campuses with more than 50 cases down to at least 1 confirmed case.
I’ve discussed how athletes have been affected as they’ve returned to practice. But you also need to consider the health of the construction workers, food preparers, as well as the administration. We really need to care about how other people are feeling.
The colleges with the most confirmed coronavirus cases include University of Texas (449), University of Central Florida (438), University of Georgia (390), Texas A&M University (302), and University of Washington (249).
Colleges with at least 1 case related to a person who works at or attends the school include Florida State University, University of San Diego, Carnegie Mellon, North Dakota State University, and Grambling State University.
Even with the California State University moving all classes online for the fall, students need to take personal responsibility for their actions.
I’m sure you’ve already had these conversations about wearing masks in public. So what advice can you share with our community? I’d love to hear from students, parents, health care workers, and college administrators.
Let’s learn together.
Combining my youth ministry and educational consulting experience, I guide students to connect higher education with God's calling.