New report urges overhaul of college admissions process

"Turning the Tide” examines the college application system and offers specific improvements
"Turning the Tide” examines the college app... 05:00

Administrators from top colleges and universities are endorsing a report from the Harvard Graduate School of Education that could revolutionize the college admission process.

"Turning the Tide" examines the current college application process and offers suggestions on how schools can improve to alleviate the stress for students by becoming "less slave to the metrics."

The report indicates a link between academic pressures and mental health, especially among middle- and upper-income communities where rates of depression, delinquency, substance abuse and anxiety are considerably higher. Universities also report record numbers of kids coming in for mental health treatment on campus.

New York Times columnist Frank Bruni -- author of "Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania" - told "CBS This Morning" Wednesday that admission rates have dropped at many top schools and the competition is fierce.

"They're all competing against each other in a more ferocious way, and they're getting the message... that if they don't hit a certain marker, get into a certain kind of school, they've failed in life and forevermore will be behind the ball," Bruni said.

Some schools have already made standardized tests such as the SATs and ACTs optional. The report urges schools to put more emphasis instead on things like civic engagement, which speak to the "character" of the students.

"You have schools saying they're not going to be as impressed by a huge load of AP courses," Bruni said. "And what they're trying to do is get kids away from a sort of incredibly dutiful script following during high school and encourage more genuine passions in them and figure out a way to judge them by the way they commit to those passions."

The report asserts that by paying more attention to students' essays or recommendation letters rather than mere test scores, admission officers can attest to the genuineness of the students' work.

"It's telling admission officers, 'Let's stop being impressed simply by the name of a charitable organization the kid has worked for... to figure out whether that charity work was genuine, heartfelt and sustained, or whether it was just checking off another box on 'This is what they want to see in Cambridge or Princeton," Bruni said.

The report also examines the issue of the opportunity gap for students who are less privileged than those from affluent families, and focuses on leveling the playing field for all students.

"One of the reasons you're seeing schools step away from standardized tests is there's a lot of research that what standardized tests judge more than anything else is family background income," Bruni said. "And so they're trying to say, 'what are the markers that really spot potential and don't just reflect privilege?'"

While Bruni said the report does not "command change," the number of people who have signed off on the report indicate that admissions offices are going to make some changes, which he predicts to be within the next five years.