College applications bring up questions of evaluation process

As application season rolls around again, college is no doubt weighing on the minds of both seniors as well as juniors. Yet for many students at Poolesville, visits from college representatives, meetings with counselors, and even the refreshing and frankly, innovative levity of this year’s PSAT memes aren’t necessarily needed to get students to start thinking about college.  

“I think once you get to high school, it’s already there,” stated Humanities junior Amanda Chu, “From the program you’re in, to classes, to the extracurriculars you join freshman year… I had to start thinking about what I wanted to do in college and whether it was the right path.”

But while seniors have nothing but applications on their mind, it’s worth taking a step back and examining how well the metrics involved in the application process really evaluate the strength, capability, and potential of an individual. A considerable amount of emphasis, for example, is placed on the quite controversial Scholastic Aptitude Test, commonly known as the SAT, with scores of companies producing preparation books and expensive classes boasting secret test taking strategies that are supposedly guaranteed to boost a student’s score.

“Sometimes, as a counselor, I feel I’m a shill for the College Board and college test companies,” claimed Mr. David Gysberts, the resource counselor at PHS, “A lot of these tests are moneymaking schemes and the test prep companies put fear into the minds of parents and students.”

Even putting the blatant advantage, standardized tests grant more socioeconomically inclined students, the intelligence and capabilities of some students are sometimes simply non transferable in standardized test taking.

“Were all instructors to realize that the quality of mental process, not the production of correct answers, is the measure of educative growth, something hardly less than a revolution in teaching would be worked,” states  American philosopher and famous education reformist John Dewey on the webpage for the Mastery Transcript Consortium. This consortium is a movement hoping to “change the relationship between preparation for college and college admissions for the betterment of students,” which discusses many of the broken elements of the current transcript, including the “separation of disciplines in an interdisciplinary world,” and the lack of consideration given to non-cognitive abilities. More notably, however, the MTC points out how the Grade Point Average system promotes extrinsic motivation in students over intrinsic. Black and white terms such as “A” and “4.0” enable students to take a crude view of what success looks like; studying to pass and determining their course load based on what would appear competitive to the schools they are applying to.

“I feel [a student’s GPA doesn’t] necessarily indicate intelligence. I have a few friends who I consider very intelligent but because of mental health issues and/or perfectionism have grades that are lower than they’re capable of,” stated Sophie Skanchy, a senior in the Global Ecology program. While a student’s transcript can certainly demonstrate competence or work ethic, it does, to some level, attempt to boil down the value of a student to a piece of paper, leaving behind students that perhaps have an intelligence that is non transferable through the current methods of determining “mastery” of a topic, and advancing students that have figured a way to attain good grades without really comprehending the information in a meaningful way.

Despite many colleges now promising to evaluate students with a more “holistic approach” by giving substantial consideration to all parts of their application, it should be considered whether these other measures, like extracurriculars or teacher recommendations, are enough to truly give admissions officers a genuine glance into what a student is like. The latter, for example, may provide insight standardized testing and grades cannot, yet classroom settings can prevent teachers from seeing all but one side of a student, and given that they are not always able to witness students in more intimate or revealing environments. This especially puts shyer students, whose voices may get drowned out in larger class sizes, at a disadvantage.

Not offering students enough mechanisms to demonstrate emotional maturity, intellectual curiosity, creativity, empathy, and other crucial character traits, does not only a disservice to the applicant, but the institutions and communities they are looking to be a part of. The arguably harsh mentality that the worth of a student is defined by the college they’re accepted to, impressed upon students through intimidatingly low acceptance rates, standards of an ideal “well rounded” student, and a generally competitive and fear inspiring college culture, undoubtedly needs reform. But before the culture of pressure among parents and students can change, colleges must look at the values that their application process reflects about the caliber and type of individuals they’re searching for, and the kind of values they are ultimately, directly or indirectly, instilling in young students.