This fall I had the great fortune to present workshops about college admission throughout the country. I spoke with parents, students, teachers, administrators, counselors, admission deans, consultants and other educators about applying to college, character, athletic recruiting and writing. I was constantly inspired by the depth of experience and commitment to opportunity that I found in my travels. Though the messages and themes of each workshop differed, there was one common experience in each session: gratitude.
During every presentation we paused and attendees were encouraged to express gratitude once a day to another or themselves. Then modeling the practice, we texted messages of thanks and appreciation to friends, family members, students, mentors or acquaintances. It’s hard to describe the tremendous feeling of warmth generated by this collective outreach, sitting in silence with 200 people sending goodwill into the world.
Often, attendees would later share the texts they received in response to their messages of gratitude. There was heartfelt appreciation from the recipients about the positive influence of the messages in brightening their days or encouraging them to send out similar texts. The ripple effect of thanks and praise is hard to quantify, but undoubtedly these small gestures—which require little time—have a significant impact on connection and the common good.
Last fall I wrote a series of pieces on gratitude in admission with reflections
from college deans and advice for students
about all they have to be thankful for. Over the past year there has been significant controversy within the admission profession, from investigations by the Department of Justice, to the Harvard lawsuit on race based admission, to Operation Varsity Blues, the scandal of the wealthy and connected buying and cheating their children’s way into college. Despite all of this noise, I remain hopeful about so many aspects of the college admission experience and during this season season of giving thanks, I am grateful for:
- The over 1,000 colleges and universities who have adopted standardized test optional policies, acknowledging that the SAT and ACT are not only inequitable but also unreliable indicators of a student’s potential.
- Students, parents and colleagues who refuse to believe that commercial college rankings have any worth and instead seek other approaches to assessing quality and match.
- Organizations like Making Caring Common, Challenge Success, and The Character Collaborative who are attempting to reframe the dialogue around what matters in college admission and the messages that the process sends to young people about what is important.
- Education professionals who are deeply committed to equity and access in college admission and who are willing to speak truth to power, challenging the status quo. Organizations like Admissions Community Cultivating Equity & Peace Today (ACCEPT), Race and Intersectional Studies in Education Equity (RISE) Center, and The Center for Enrollment Research, Policy, and Practice (CERPP) are doing such important work, thinking critically about who our institutions do, and should, serve.
- Community Based Organizations and nonprofits like, The Breakthrough Collaborative, Posse Foundation, Say Yes To Education, and countless other local and national initiatives working to level the playing field for all students.
- Education Foundations that are committed to awarding grants to improve education, provide access and enable research into how we can make meaningful change. Edward E. Ford, Bill and Melinda Gates, Joyce, MELMAC, Spencer, John Templeton, Chan Zukerberg, and many additional foundations support a range of initiatives within education.
- Schools that limit the percentage of their incoming class that they accept through early decision and early action policies. At some schools close to half the class is selected through early decision, prompting a frenzy of unhealthy behaviors and fueling inequity.
- Colleges and universities where retention and student success are an integral part of their enrollment strategies. With national average four-year graduation rates that are scarcely above 50%, we must do better in supporting students.
- Organizations like Project Wayfinder and Inward Bound Mindfulness Education (iBme) who are helping young people be more self-aware and to find meaning and purpose, encouraging them to ask “Why?”
- Advocates for increased state and federal funding for higher education. It is unconscionable that, at a time when many states are facing serious workforce development challenges, we don't have policies that make obtaining a degree more affordable.
- Affirmative action policies that seek to provide opportunities for historically underserved and underrepresented groups on college campuses. Institutions of higher education need to better reflect the larger demographics in our country. It is right and just and benefits everyone.
- Colleges and universities that are weighing ethical character as a significant factor in evaluation of applicants. If legacy status, athletic prowess, and other talents give students a "bump" in admission, then how students treat others should also count.
- The sacrifices my parents made to provide me with exceptional educational opportunities and the privilege I have had to pursue a calling in this profession. Every day I realize how fortunate I am to be doing this work, and my parents instilled the value of learning, daring and failing in me from a young age. Those of us who have had these opportunities have a responsibility to pay it forward.
There is clearly much to be thankful for, and also much work to be done. We must keep pressing on important issues within college admission and searching for ways to evolve. If we continue this growth from a place of gratitude, then we have already made the world a better place to be. Now take a moment and send out that one text or email of appreciation and watch it ripple.Brennan Barnard
Director of College Counseling & Outreach, The Derryfield School
College Admission Program Manager, Harvard Graduate School of Education's Making Caring Common Project