I am 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.
As a recap, here are the first two lessons:
 Keep the focus on your teen.
“In an effort to give their kids everything, these parents often end up robbing them of what counts.”
 Follow your ethical GPS.
“The college admissions process often tests both parents’ and teens’ ethical character.”
 Use the admissions process as an opportunity for ethical education.
The college admissions process is the same for everyone.
The college admissions process is different for everyone.
Unfortunately, both statements are true. When applying for college, students are made aware that “there are vast differences in access to resources in the admissions process, and that college is unaffordable for staggering numbers of families.”
The Turning the Tide II authors point out that this where students may “struggle with how much they can embellish their applications and ‘play the game’ without compromising their own authenticity and integrity.”
One of the challenges students face is standardized testing. As FairTest.org summarizes in a report, “young people of color, particularly those from low-income families have suffered the most.”
Students from low-income families have lower scores because they lack the support and/or resources to prepare for the tests.
Boys are affected more than girls.
Students of color score lower on the admissions tests. This prevents them from being considered for merit aid scholarships (which rely on test scores more than GPA).
This has not always been the case. “Standardized” tests were created to make the college admissions process fair for all students.
Enter the coronavirus.
Since the testing sites are not able to host students or are booked because of local social distancing regulations, most colleges (public and private) decided to be test-optional for 1-3 years.
And many of those same schools are test-optional for merit aid scholarships as well. This means the high school GPA has more weight on admissions and scholarship decisions.
We are hoping this testing reprieve will challenge higher education to create a better, equitable college admissions process.
Parents, we have an awesome opportunity to help our teenager(s) navigate the ethics of education.
They need to be kind, be fair, be true to themselves, remain above reproach, and be prepared to support all claims made on their essays, tests, extracurriculars, and college applications.
What are we doing to help them develop character that lasts?
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.”
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?
Your profiles reflect what you profess.
Don’t overlook the power of your social media voice. Your words can bring life and health or crush someone’s spirit. And your negative, crushing posts can become viral…even on Snapchat.
The Chronicle of Higher Education shared that “an incoming Cornell University freshman and football player, Nate Panza, lost his spot on the team after his friend posted a Snapchat video of Panza using a racial slur (The Cornell Daily Sun).”
Paul urged Christians: "do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen" (Ephesians 4:29).
This is more than purging your posts.
This is more than scrubbing your social commentary.
While Panza offered his sincere apologies for what was captured on camera, there are still consequences. "I am heartbroken I have hurt people; those I know and those I do not. I take full responsibility for my actions.”
Some people need a change of heart; you may just need to change how you promote yourself online.
College bound teenagers, gain an advantage for college admissions by professionalizing your social media profiles (especially LinkedIn)!
Social media reviews at the college level has become significantly more nuanced than the commonly shared vision of an admissions officer Googling the name of a prospective student. As the way colleges are utilizing social media evolves, so must the social media advice offered to college-bound students.
Social Assurity is offering my readers a 50% discount for the Social Media Strategies for College Admissions Success course ($250 off) with code BRETT2020 through August 31.
Looking forward to seeing you soar!
The Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Ohio sponsors a $100,000 “Stop the Hate” essay contest for 6th-12th grade students.
The following paragraphs, from their website, describe the reason behind the essay. Stop the Hate® Youth Speak Out celebrates students committed to creating a more accepting, inclusive society. By reflecting on real-life situations and detailing ways to make a positive difference in the world, this next generation of leaders can win big.
Stop the Hate® is designed to create an appreciation and understanding among people of differing religions, races, cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds. By challenging young people to consider the benefits of a more inclusive society, the consequences of intolerance and the role of personal responsibility in effecting change, the contest also reflects Jewish values of responsible citizenship and respect for all humanity. You can also watch their chilling 12-minute film called HATE.
This year they honored the memory and spirit of Anne Frank, a young girl who famously wrote:
How lovely to think that no one need wait a moment, we can start now, start slowly changing the world! How lovely that everyone, great and small, can make their contribution toward introducing justice straight away.
Anne Frank was 13 years old when she was forced into hiding during the Holocaust. She hid in a tiny annex for two years with her mother, father, sister, and four other Dutch Jews fearing for their lives because of their religion. Despite the isolation and terrifying realities of her time, Anne remained optimistic about the power of every individual to change the world. Anne and her family were caught and murdered by the Nazis and she became one of the 1.5 million children who perished during the Holocaust. But the words live on to remind the generations that followed her that anyone – young or old – can positively change the world.
Over 75 years later, what can we learn from Anne’s perspective on human nature and creating a more accepting and inclusive society? Is justice something that requires individuals to create or pursue? Can every day, regular people change the world?
Students, grades 6 – 12, were challenged to think about their own life. Have they witnessed or experienced acts of injustice, racism, bigotry, or discrimination? How were they impacted by what they experienced, saw, or heard? What did they do, or what would they do, in response to these circumstances in order to create justice and positive change in their community?
In the fifth grade, a few guys in my class began making fun of Grant. I don’t know why he was the target, only that I joined in with the reoccurring taunts. That was bullying. And I knew better.
Also, in elementary school, Stanley made fun of me while playing scatter ball (think dodgeball with volleyballs!). Standing in line to leave the class, I threw my first punch toward him. Coach Porter saw me swinging. I then received a few swats with the paddle in front of the entire gym class (that’s discipline – 1980s style). Was I a victim of bullying or was I just very competitive and hated losing?
In seventh grade, for reasons unknown, John circulated a letter about me (think texting with pen and paper!). While I don’t remember reading the letter, I heard, from those who did, that he wrote a lot of hateful and untrue comments about me. Karla, the largest girl in our class, asked my permission to beat him up. I remember saying thanks but no, because I was already humiliated – without knowing the content of the letter – and just wanted it to stop. The principal eventually intervened.
In each instance, there was an element of hate. Nothing to the level of what teenagers deal with today. And nothing to the level that Anne Frank experienced 75 years ago.
Many Ohio students wrote about their experience with hatred. Middle school students wrote about the hate that comes through bullying, school shootings, synagogue attacks, and cruelty to animals.
Upperclassmen recounted the hate that comes from language barriers, being an immigrant, dating someone with a different ethnicity, and being a member of a transracial adoptive family.
The younger students seem to identify hate happening to other people while the older students feel the personal impact of hate.
Some hate comes from misunderstanding. Some from pure hatred.
What I learned is that students can identify hate, wrong, injustice, and immoral behavior, but are hesitant to intervene because they are afraid of retaliation (they needed a Karla in their corner!).
Many students admitted that they didn’t take personal responsibility to stop the hate. Some were emotionally or physically paralyzed. In retrospect, all wished they would have said or done something. The younger students worried if the student would turn the weapon on them for informing a teacher about the girl talking about harming herself. They wondered if they would get ridiculed or bullied for standing up to protect a boy being harassed at lunch.
One female recalled a story about a boy harassing her in the third grade. After attempting to ignore the boy for weeks, she finally punched him in the face. Then she was given in-school suspension. Reflecting on this incident years later, she concluded that in order to create change, she learned she had to be the change.
A female upperclassman concluded that, “a safe environment for people to grow is created by a community that wants to listen and learn.”
Many are in the process of being an agent of change and learning how to stand up against hate.
As a Christian, I know that “God is love” and that we’re encouraged to “turn the other cheek.” We all know that standing up against hate will not be easy, but as these students have demonstrated, once we recognize the hate, none of us can remain silent.
So, whenever you have the opportunity, do good to everyone (Galatians 6:10).
That's right. College athletics. Actually, it's when a few “insiders” secure deals to encourage, no, to ensure that those athletes commit to play a sport in the college the insider selects. For them, it's not about fit; it's about finances.
Speaking of insiders, [James] “Gatto is … accused of helping funnel approximately $100,000 to the family of an "All-American high school basketball player" to secure the prospect's commitment to a school which Adidas sponsors. According to court documents reviewed by CBS Sports Insider Gary Parrish, the prospect committed in June. And the only All-American high school basketball player who committed to a school Adidas sponsors in June is Brian Bowen, a five-star prospect who is now enrolled at Louisville.” (CBSSports)
Individuals like Mr. Gatto have forgotten why collegiate-level sports are the best. They are still pure. These students are future Olympians. They are highly competitive. They’re having fun.
The Goal of Postsecondary Education
For some, athletes are greater than academics. More than 480,000 of the 8,000,000 high school athletes play in college. So, if recruiting a top athlete might translate into more revenue, there are a few adults who would capitalize on this through sponsorships and television deals.
This is what make it tough for people like me.
First of all, I enjoy collegiate sports. I can’t wait for March Madness or the College World Series. My wife and I schedule our fall Saturday’s around college football. She also enjoys watching college gymnastics and cheerleading.
When athletics becomes the priority, it makes it difficult for school counselors, college planners, and college admissions officers to place prospective students in the right academic setting. While many students want to get their college degree while playing their favorite sport, it does put pressure on those teenagers who are trying to balance academics (what is necessary) with athletics (what is challenging and fun).
The mission statements of colleges focus on improving the region and world with education, innovation, health care and more. None of them talk about sports. The goal of higher education is, well, education,
Fortunately, "the likelihood of an NCAA athlete receiving a college degree is greater (than non-athletes); graduation success rates are 86% in Division 1, 71% in Division II, and 86% in Division III" (NCAA).
Unfortunately, college sports has become a form of idolatry for some.
David Wharton of the Los Angeles Times reported on why Reggie Bush, the 2005 Heisman Trophy winner, gave his trophy back.
“Investigators ultimately concluded that he had taken improper benefits from the San Diego sports marketers who hoped to represent him after he turned professional. Bush's family had lived without paying rent in a home owned by one of the marketers.”
Reggie’s athleticism was evident since high school. It had nothing to do with what was going on behind the scenes, but it did violate NCAA rules.
Nothing Has Changed in Decades
Sports scandals are nothing new. Richard Vedder and Matt Denhart (Wall Street Journal) “bemoaned the massive financial exploitation of super good college athletes” in 2009. Taylor Branch, wrote “The Shame of College Sports” in 2011 and in 2012, David Ridpath wrote Tainted Glory detailing athletic corruption, particularly during his service at Marshall University.
Vedder writes, “In short, for many years numerous commentators have outlined horrendous problems with college sports: cheating, exploitation of athletes, the debasing of academic values, the potential long run health effects of high contact sports, and so on. The sex-based scandals at Penn State shocked the nation, as did the revelations of “phantom courses” for athletes at North Carolina.”
Protect Your Children
Parents of potential collegiate athletes need to protect their students and help them make wise decisions about their future. You can’t allow yourself to get “caught up” in the accolades being doled out so you can focus on what is important – higher education.
My wife’s cousin was a high school, college, and club team pitcher who was also in a strikeout battle during the U.S. Semifinal game during the 2002 Little League World Series. There were three major Division 1 baseball programs interested in his arm. So were a few dozen major league teams who wanted to draft him in 2008.
When deciding which university to attend, he ultimately selected the college because of the education he would receive. Since he hurt his arm in college, his full-tuition scholarship was redistributed to the next freshman phenom pitcher. While he’s no longer playing baseball, his parents helped him make good decisions (and had good guidance) that helped him stay grounded.
Build a Solid Foundation
The Bible says the wise build their "foundation on the rock" (Matthew 7:25). Trusting in and applying the Word of God will solidify the building. David Roach, Baptist Press News, reported on the need for a God-focused perspective in athletics.
David Conrady, boys basketball coach at Prestonwood Christian Academy (TX) shared with his team that "it all starts with your foundation of what you believe in. Hopefully, that starts with a relationship with Jesus Christ.... Then we can use Him and His standards as our barometer."
Conrady, who has coached at the college level, said the emphasis on money and winning at all costs among some college programs tempts coaches and athletes to commit the types of ethical and legal violations alleged by the federal investigators.
I personally hate that a few foolish people are using talented high school athletes as a pawn in their personal game of life, and "building their foundation on sand" (Matthew 7:26). While these are not the life lessons we want our students to learn, it is good that those involved in the scandals are being brought to justice.
David Conrady sums this up with a great life lesson, “there's never a right way to do a wrong thing."
Combining my youth ministry and educational consulting experience, I guide students to connect higher education with God's calling.