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Reimagining Education: Cultivating Emotional Intelligence in College Admissions

Emotional intelligence may help young people not only navigate the competitive college admissions process, but to flourish in life and maybe even do some good.

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©2020 Belinda Chiu
©2020 Belinda Chiu

An excerpt from The Mindful College Applicant: Cultivating Emotional Intelligence for the Admissions Process.

The good news is: You’re going to be OK. The key is to recognize your greater purpose and to be more intentional about choose the right school for you, and to prepare yourself to thrive there so you can use your education for a greater good.

The sad reality is that education in many ways now follows a consumerist model. You probably know what I’m talking about. The joys of kindergarten and grade school, where you got to explore and create, have been replaced by a lot more stress. The focus in education seems to have changed from intellectual explorations and risk-taking to the mindless pursuit of grades, test, and elite college acceptances. Examples? One New Hampshire has replaced it summer reading list of great books with a course on drafting Common Application essays. Goodbye, love of literature. In 2014, a New York elementary school made headlines for canceling an annual kindergarten show so that the five-year-olds could make better use of their time to prepare “for college and career with valuable lifelong skills.” Five-year-olds!

Adding to this loss of learning is the heightened anxiety in what seems to be a shrinking playing field in a zero-sum game of college admissions. As spots in first-year classes remain static for many elite universities, the number of applicants continue to climb. You look at the numbers, your counselors show you the statistics, and your family members share tales from their friends and their friends’ friends. Getting in seems impossible. And when you ask admissions officers how the selective process works behind the scenes, you probably get the answer: “holistic admissions.” This blanket term allows admissions officers to make decisions based on any or all information as they so choose. The majority of admissions teams do so with integrity and care, yet the reality is that there are countless other competing priorities and mechanics that are completely out of your – or your parents’ – hands. You’re left wondering: What does it all really mean?

…the current climate is untenable, with overwhelmed young people growing up to be underwhelmed adults. I believe it is possible to regain control of this wayward ship…. I propose that emotional intelligence (EI) may help you thrive during the process – and afterwards. Given the highly competitive nature of the selective admissions process, instead of focusing on just “getting in,” consider preparing yourself with the tools needed to build your resilience, awareness, and mental strength to more than simply navigate life but live it, and maybe even do some good.…

I have seen the parallels between corporate leadership and college admissions. Corporate leaders are often imprisoned in golden handcuffs (the trappings of success), stressing out their stressed-out teams or living on complete autopilot. Instead of trying to compete for a spot at a given university, they are competing for some other metric of “success,” sort of like an older version of what you might be feeling right now. Many of these adults find that the technical skills that got them in the door are insufficient to enable them to lead effectively. Fortunately, emotional intelligence and practices based on mindfulness have been shown to shift paradigms of engagement to wiser leadership, productivity, and engagement.

Incorporating such knowledge and practices may help you navigate this tough college process and equip you to find your way through what will the even trickier waters of “adulting.”

Instead of rewarding and pushing smart, mindless sheep into the world, I suggest an alternative path. Your brains are primed right now for either a lifetime of chronic anxiety or one of curiosity and compassion. By building your emotional intelligence muscles, you might increase your cognitive ability for attention and focus as well as your capacity to build connection, challenge assumptions, and break barriers. Get off the hamster wheel to nowhere. Now.

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©2019 Belinda Chiu
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