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37 Colleges that Value Caring

37 Colleges that Value Caring


The "Turning the Tide" Report

This week, the Harvard Graduate School of Education released a report entitled "Turning the Tide." The report contends, "College admissions can send compelling messages that both ethical engagement—especially concern for others and the common good—and intellectual engagement are highly important." That is, colleges can and should clarify that they value more than just academic achievement.

I'm not sure this is news. Don't elite colleges delight in pointing out how many valedictorians they reject each year? Of course students need more than just academics. Still, since this is Harvard talking, we're all obliged to pay attention, I suppose.

3 Areas the Report Targets for Improvement

The report offers three broad goals for improving the college admissions process:

  • "Promoting more meaningful contributions to others, community service and engagement with the public good."
  • "Assessing students’ ethical engagement and contributions to others in ways that reflect varying types of family and community contributions across race, culture and class"
  • "Redefining achievement in ways that both level the playing field for economically diverse students and reduce excessive achievement pressure.

To put it another way, the report seeks a definition of achievement that goes beyond academics-- a definition that includes contributions to family and community. Good.

Why the Report Strikes the Right Tone

All this focus on quality and diversity of experience might not be novel, but that doesn't mean it's not valuable. We don't need more kids getting crushed psychologically as they labor to keep up in the arms race of more AP classes, more extracurricular activities, and more test prep. We need kids to find things that genuinely interest them, and then we need to encourage kids to excel in those things. If the report's message is to push colleges to inform students that quality of involvement matters more than quantity of involvement, I'm all for it.

And no one needs to reflect on this idea more carefully than parents of high school students. Why? Because, as I tell families I work with over and over, "Parents set the tone." When parents succumb to the "laundry list" approach -- Grades? Check. SAT? Check. Community Service? Check. Sports? Check. Leadership? Check. -- the pressure can get in the way of students doing a good job on their college applications. They're so busy and tired that they just run out of energy.

37 Colleges that Value Caring

Since the Turning the Tide report is "endorsed" by people at dozens of colleges, I thought you might appreciate knowing which colleges, exactly, are at least considering how to make the application process more sane.

Before I give you the list, though, I'll give you a caveat: I'm leaving off all the schools that often appear in the "top 25" of various rankings for national universities or for liberal arts colleges. You already know those schools. Seeing them on yet another list isn't going to help you create more college options for your child. To create more choices for your child, you have to look a bit farther afield.

Here we go:

  1. Albion College
  2. Allegheny College
  3. Antioch College
  4. Babson College
  5. Boston College
  6. Boston University
  7. Brandeis University
  8. College of the Holy Cross
  9. College of Wooster
  10. Connecticut College
  11. Denison University
  12. DePaul University
  13. DePauw University
  14. Drew University
  15. Earlham College
  16. Hope College
  17. Kalamazoo College
  18. Loyola Marymount University
  19. Michigan State University
  20. Ohio Wesleyan University
  21. Purdue University
  22. Rhodes College
  23. Santa Clara University
  24. The Catholic University of America
  25. Trinity College
  26. University of California Davis
  27. University of Florida
  28. University of Illinois at Chicago
  29. University of Maryland
  30. University of Michigan
  31. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  32. University of Virginia
  33. University of Washington
  34. Wabash College
  35. Wake Forest University
  36. Willamette University
  37. Worcester Polytechnic Institute


Jon Perkins holds a B.A. in English from Stanford University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He helps students with their college, law school, and medical school applications.

How Much Does ZeeMee Care about Student Privacy?

How Much Does ZeeMee Care about Student Privacy?


What Is ZeeMee?

At the NACAC Conference, I picked up a brochure for ZeeMee, a website that allows students to "use images, videos, and documents on ANY college application." When a student sets up a ZeeMee page, she gets a URL that she can include in her college applications. Anyone with a link -- in this case, college admissions officers -- can view the student's page and get a better idea of who that student is. Some schools include in their applications a special slot for ZeeMee links, and for those that don't, students can share the link in the "Additional Information" box of the Common App Writing section. So far, so good.

Why I Checked Out ZeeMee

I have one student who is super energetic and comes across great in person. I wondered if ZeeMee might be a good way for this student to showcase personality and accomplishments. Yet I felt uneasy recommending ZeeMee without having taken it for a test drive. I decided to set up my own account.

Setting Up My Account

Account set-up is easy and requires only name, school, email, and password -- plus a click of the "Sign Up" button. Once logged in, I liked what I saw. After just a few minutes, I set up my profile, added a profile photo, and recorded an intro video (recorded before I made the discoveries I describe below). No problem.

Anger Ensues

Then I saw the "Classmates" button. OK, why not? I had entered my school as the high school where I graduated (albeit in 1997), so I clicked "Classmates." Imagine my shock when I was shown profile previews of other students from that high school.

But surely I, a totally random user on ZeeMee, couldn't just click on those previews and see those students' entire profiles? Incorrect. Surely I could, and surely I did.

This is not OK! I don't have many "I can't even..." moments that leave me at a loss for words, but this was one of them. What was going on? I doubt these students know their profiles are visible to everyone else at their school, and I doubt that's what they would want.

ZeeMee's Privacy Policy Problem

Oh, brother. Now I actually had to start reading the terms of service. After reviewing the account sign up screen, I saw the small note: "By clicking 'Sign up' you agree to our terms of use." In Section 1 of the Website Terms and Conditions, there was a link to the Privacy Policy.

Here is the sentence that stood out to me: "If you do not activate any privacy settings, your profile will be publicly available."

So the default choice for students who don't activate privacy settings is that everything is public. What does "everything is public" actually mean? It has a lot to do with the two privacy settings ZeeMee allows users to alter: Discovery and Shoutouts.

Turning Off ZeeMee's Discovery Setting

The first privacy setting is for "Discovery." Discovery is what allows other users to see your profile. According to the ZeeMee website, "Discoverable means that your page can show up in search results on ZeeMee search engines." (Source: ZeeMee FAQ on Profile Discovery Mode) I'm guessing Discovery is how I was able to view other students' profiles when I clicked on the "Classmates" tab. The default setting for Discovery is "on." Unless and until a student clicks on "Settings" and turns Discovery off, her profile is visible.

Turning Off ZeeMee's Shoutouts Setting

The second privacy setting is for "Shoutouts." Shoutouts are messages other users send you. The default setting for Shoutouts is "on." (Source: ZeeMee FAQ on Shoutouts) Unless and until a student clicks on "Settings" and turns Shoutouts off, everyone can see any shoutouts anyone else has left that student. Which is not a big deal at all, because no student anywhere ever said anything remotely inappropriate through social media, right?

ZeeMee vs. Coalition

ZeeMee's default privacy settings make me curious to see whether the Coalition Application's "locker" will be a better option. At the NACAC Coalition Application presentation, one speaker mentioned that the student will have complete control over which people have access to which locker materials. If true, that would be an upgrade over ZeeMee. Right now, ZeeMee lacks that granular level of control.

Recommend with Caution

ZeeMee is a good website with terrible default privacy settings. The default setting for Discovery and Shoutouts should be "off," not "on."

I still ended up suggesting ZeeMee to my student, but I also made sure my student knew to to go to "Settings" and turn Discovery and Shoutouts from "on" to "off."


Jon Perkins holds a B.A. in English from Stanford University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He helps students with their college, law school, and medical school applications.

15 Mistakes to Avoid on the Common App “Activities” Section

15 Mistakes to Avoid on the Common App “Activities” Section

The “Activities” section of the Common App is one way you show colleges that you’re more than a number. This is a place to showcase what you’ve done outside of class. The Activities section looks simple, and it is -- if you remember to avoid these 15 mistakes!

Mistake #1: Leaving out significant activities.

An activity is anything you’ve spent time on outside of class. It’s not just stuff you do with official clubs or organizations. That job you have, or that time you spend caring and cooking for your little brother? Yep, both are activities. But what does “significant” mean? If the activity took up a lot of your time or had a big impact on you, it’s significant. Count it!

Mistake #2: Using bland verbs.

Verbs are spice. You wouldn’t want to eat food without flavor, and no admission officer wants to read an Activities section without tasty verbs. Where to find these verbs? Start with these "résumé verbs." Easy.

Mistake #3: Repeating verbs.

You have hundreds of verbs and only a few activities. No need to repeat those résumé verbs! Show your pride in your application by switching up your verbs. Go beyond “organized,” “helped,” and “led.”

Mistake #4: Using complete sentences.

You don’t have much space for each entry, so forget about complete sentences. Sentence fragments that start with your résumé verbs are just fine.

Mistake #5: Not using numbers.

Which sounds more impressive, “raised money” or “raised $1,000”? “Collected canned food” or “collected 100 cans of food?” “Tutored a group of students in math” or “tutored a group of 5 students on 10 pre-algebra concepts”? You get the idea. Numbers are a compact way to show the importance of what you’ve done.

Mistake #6: Forgetting to mention awards or positions held.

Whether you were the MVP of your soccer team or the president of your debate club, you need to let the college know. The simplest way is to write the award or position, followed by the grade level. For example, type “Captain (11)” to show that you were captain junior year.

Mistake #7: Failing to include highlights of your involvement.

Don’t just say “Organized events.” Keep going. Say “Organized events such as canned food drives and clothing drives.” I know, those are just two of dozens of your contributions, but space is limited. What was your biggest contribution? Your best moment? Your deepest impact? Describe your one or two best highlights as specifically as you can.

Mistake #8: Including too many activities.

The Common App gives you 10 spaces. You only have 4 activities. You panic. Are 4 activities enough? Relax. It’s about quality, not quantity. If you have 4 activities, that’s fine. Fill in 4 slots and move on.

Mistake #9: Including too few activities.

This is for the overachievers out there who have more than 10 significant activities. Don’t panic when you see there are only 10 spaces for activities. Go to the “Additional Information” box in the “Writing” section of the Common App, and type a heading called “Additional Activities.” Write your extra activities below.

Mistake #10: Stressing about calculating exact weeks and hours.

The Common App asks you to indicate the number of weeks per year and hours per week you spent on each activity. Of course you haven’t tracked that. No one has. Just come up with a reasonable estimate. So long as you’re not exaggerating your hours -- like by using a number so big you couldn’t possibly have had time to sleep and eat -- don’t worry about it.

Mistake #11: Not splitting certain activities into two entries.

With some activities like music or sports, you’re involved in more than one group. For example, you play in the school orchestra and a string quartet, or you play for the high school team and a club team. The easy solution? Split that one entry into two entries. For the music example, that would mean one entry for the school orchestra and one for the string quartet. Just make sure the total hours number is right to avoid over-counting or double-counting.

Mistake #12: Using inconsistent formatting and punctuation.

Choose one format for the top line of the activity entry, and stick with it. My go-to suggestion is this: Organization Name: Position (Grade Level). For example: Key Club: Treasurer (11). Whichever format you use, use it for all your activities. The same goes for punctuation. It doesn’t matter whether or not you end each entry with a period, but be consistent. And yes, please do capitalize the first word of each entry.

Mistake #13: Using abbreviations no one understands.

Sure, we know that “Co.” means company and “Gov’t.” means government. But FLSK or OIQ? No one has a clue. Whenever possible, spell out those weird abbreviations. Sometimes, you won’t have enough space. It’s not a big deal. If the reader understands the type of organization but not the name, that’s enough. And if this really bothers you, consider using the Additional Information box in the Writing section to spell it all out.

Mistake #14: Listing your activities in the wrong order.

List the activities in order of most important to least important. If you’ve already entered your activities, no, you don’t have to delete and start over -- just use the arrow button to re-order your entries.

Mistake #15: Not proofreading your activities before submitting your application.

By proofreading, I don’t mean skimming. I mean printing out a paper copy and reading the words out loud to yourself. Out loud. That’s the only way for you to feel confident you’ve caught all your typos. Bonus tip: Do this for your Common App essay, too!

It's Worth the Effort!

All this is time-consuming, yes, but difficult? No. You’ve worked hard on your activities. You owe it to yourself to describe them well. Avoid these 15 mistakes, and you’ll be off to a great start!


Jon is an admissions consultant who holds a B.A. in English from Stanford University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He advises students on their applications to college, law school, and medical school.