We've got to stop checking boxes [in the application process]

This process is way too complicated and based on subjectivity to have an “arranged marriage" of ticked boxes and robotic responses. ​

I worry about where this is all going. Or where it’s already gone. Why have we deduced the process of applying to university—those formative 3-5 years of a young adult’s life—to a black-and-white checklist that treats everyone of those young adults as if they were all the same human being? Yes, surely it’s because of the frenzy that this process has become, the “stakes” of “getting in”—anxiety leads humans to lose sight of reality. And, in this case, the reality is that university admissions is an individual process that is so catered to, dependent upon, tied to the individual involved that by reducing it to a series of checklists and one-size-fits-all we are doing a massive disservice to our younger generations setting them up for futures and experiences that they may not even want, let alone thrive in.

Let me break it down from platitudes to more practical terms.

Summer programmes. If you read my posts, you are thinking, “But you’ve said this before!”. I know. And, I’ll say it again. If you work with students going through the process, are a parent of a student going through the process, are a student going through the process, you’ll not have missed the giant flashing lights directing you to apply for some summer programme this summer. Please stop. Why has something that was developed purely for business for the host institutions become a necessity in the process (so thinks the applicant) but rarely distinguishes said applicant from the others? You can read my take on summer programmes here.

But the summer programme example is an important one. As humans, when something is complicated, a list always helps. The less subjective, the clearer to us, and, in this case, the easier to “digest”. But, this process is nothing but subjective. And, if we were to really ask kids what they want to do this summer, discuss with them what they can do during a break (not to mention all of the young adults who must work over the summer and don’t have the luxury of choice) and really brainstorm with them ideas that lend to risk, discovery, learning and community involvement (instead of sitting in a classroom again, usually for a slick price), we would all realise that not only will this ultimately allow the student to potentially take more ownership over her life and contribute in positive ways to our communities but also that this process, when done “correctly”, has nothing to do with “checklists” and everything to do with the individual…and helping him to realise his potential.

And this--beyond test scores and your activities list--reflects well on an application.

And, it also teaches our young adults that in order to “have success”, “find happiness”, “get into your university of choice” (which would be developed not based on names and ranking but on true fit) it is not about checking boxes. (If we teach them this now, look at what happens down the road: get job--check; get married--check; buy house--check...let's not create life as one giant checklist...) It depends on this young adult learning to be true to who she is and having the support to get there—with no ulterior motives (from society, from parents, from social networks….”You mean you’re not doing a summer programme this summer??” "No. I'm not."). In fact, it’s easier for those of us guiding and working with this population to check boxes—the process has become so complex and so many seek guidance that it’s difficult to give the time and energy that is truly needed—but we have to stop when we see ourselves doing just this and remind ourselves that there’s no cut and paste here. This process is way too complicated and based on subjectivity to have an “arranged marriage" of ticked boxes and robotic responses. And, by stepping away from that robotic response and really putting human emotion and thought into it, we’re respecting our students as individuals…and giving them the respect that they deserve to tell us who they are and what they want to learn, discover and do. And how they might want to develop. If we don't go through this brainstorming with them, will they know their options? Probably not.

Don’t push the summer programme. Or any other “this checks the box!” milestone in this process without serious, individualised discussions. You’re doing your students a disservice if you do and fuelling the anxiety and false-understanding of how this process works. Instead, help your students and families understand the process and how it works by thinking outside of that [checked] box.

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