How to prepare your kids for Harvard

February 27, 2016 08:04
Children should be motivated to do good deeds as a natural response to a situation instead of calculating the usefulness of every action they do. Photo:

I still remember vividly a talk given by a Harvard University admission officer.

There was not a single empty seat in the hall and every parent was so eager for information, hoping to get some "exclusive tips" on how to get their children enrolled in the world-renowned institution.

During the Q&A session, a mother asked how she should start preparing her eight-year-old kid for Harvard.

Another parent was even more direct, asking the officer if a donation could help secure an admission.

It was an eye-opening experience. Parents are so enthusiastic to get their children to study in an Ivy League institution.

The reasons are obvious: high-quality education, upward mobility, pride, fame, etc.

Every parent is willing to strive hard to get the best for their children.

To be able to study in any of these top-notch institutions, potential candidates have to obtain impressive GPA points, and to be excellent in music and sports.

A cogent personal statement accompanied by a long list of awards and citations garnered by the applicant is a must.

The criteria for choosing students are not at all surprising. However, according to the latest report from the Making Caring Common project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, there might be groundbreaking reforms in the US college admission system in the near future.

The Turning the Tide proposal has been supported by over 80 stakeholders, including major US universities -- the Ivy League, Stanford, MIT, and so on.

It lists concrete recommendations in three core areas to reshape the college admissions process:

1. Promoting more meaningful contributions to others, community service and engagement with the public good;

2. Assessing students’ ethical engagement and contributions to others in ways that reflect varying types of family and community contributions across race, culture and class; and

3. Redefining achievement in ways that both level the playing field for economically diverse students and reduce excessive achievement pressure.

What can we, as parents and educators, learn from these elite colleges which are putting more emphasis on promoting greater ethical engagement among students?

1. Enhancing moral education in children. 

Cultivating morals in children involves time and effort. The first step is to recognize its importance.

The next is to make righteous choices in order to serve as role models for the children. Do you uphold honesty and forgo shortcuts to success? Are you willing to make sacrifices for the greater good?

2. Encouraging children to contribute to society.

Caring for others and serving the community are no longer seen as something peripheral but indispensable factors among many other requirements for university admission.

However, if children are forced to do voluntary work for the benefit of building exemplary curriculum vitae, it will be a distortion of the original intent.

Children should be motivated by parents and educators from a young age, so that they can practice good deeds as if a natural reflex response, instead of calculating the usefulness of every step or action they do.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 25.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Founder and Principal at JEMS Learning House