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Has the Pressure of College Admissions Compromised Student Ethics?

The college admissions process is usually handled on the case-by-case basis, once students meet specific academic requirements. But in the wake of the widespread celebrity college admissions scandal, many are questioning how students are chosen for admission into the best colleges. Aside from the cheating and bribery revealed in the recent scandal, new studies have looked into whether too much emphasis is placed on academic achievement and not enough on ethical character in the college admissions process. And whether that pressure for academic achievement is affecting students’ overall character.

Ethics Versus Academics

Harvard’s Making Caring Common Project recently published a new report, “Turning the Tide II,” which concluded that the focus on the high level of academic achievement required for colleges may be impacting students’ ethical character. “With a narrow focus on high achievement and admission to selective colleges, parents in these communities often fail to help their teens develop the critical cognitive, social, and ethical capacities that are at the heart of both doing good and doing well in college and beyond,” according to the report summary.

“Yet the troubling reality is that a great many parents are fundamentally failing to prepare young  people to be caring, ethical community members and citizens,” the researchers conclude. “That’s true in part because of the degree to which parents have elevated achievement and demoted concern for others as the primary goal of child-raising.”

A Shift in the Collegiate Climate

The report cites a survey by the Josephson Institute of Ethics that found 57 percent of high school students believe “in the real world, successful people do what they have to do to win, even if others consider it cheating.”

Moreover, another major issue, according to the study, lies in the fact that many families were able to use their finances in order to help their children get a leg up in the admissions process as well as college overall. For instance, more well-to-do families were able to pay around $40,000 annually for things such as private counselors and much more. Therefore, the fact that there is an array of ethical issues embedded in the very fabric of the higher education process has now come to light.

Potential Solutions

Although there are many potential solutions for these issues, the bottom line is parents, students, and schools working together to instill hardworking values and characteristics in all children rather than allowing them to believe the prevailing idea that money and connections are a substitute for hard work. Parents can offer actionable guideposts such as encouraging authenticity among students, helping teens learn to contribute to others in meaningful ways, and more. The solutions for this long-standing conundrum lie in retraining our students as well as revamping the parameters and processes by which these students are admitted to secondary institutions. In particular, parents can teach their children to be less self-interested, high schools can work to set higher ethical expectations for families, and colleges should assess virtues outside of financial and academic records.

Overall, while pursuing a secondary education is considered a privilege in many societies, the way in which this privilege is extended should be based on an overall ethical system. While often academics and finances take all the focus during the admissions process, soon the tide may turn toward a more holistic approach.

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