What Do Colleges Want in an Applicant? (Character)

A recent excellent article by Eric Hoover in the Education Life section of the New York Times of Sunday, November 1, 2017, asked the question and the word noted in the parentheses of the headline was Everything. I won’t repeat the article here, although I am including a link if you have not read it. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/01/education/edlife/what-college-admissions-wants.html?smid=tw-share. Briefly, Mr. Hoover, a senior writer for the Chronicle of Higher Education, writes about the challenges in college admissions in accepting applicants. Although grades and test scores still reign, as do institutional priorities, colleges are nevertheless seeking additional ways “to make admissions more personal” and “to measure student potential.”  They’ve turned to videos (time consuming to review, though), legacy status (for good or ill), demonstrated interest (engaging with a college), diversity, and service to community.

All of which bring me to another area of interest to colleges and the reason for my headline: character. My interest in the subject led me to a seminar at the IECA Fall conference in Washington, D.C., on Elevating Character Attributes in Admission. There I heard an excellent presentation by Robert Massa, Senior Vice President for Enrollment & Institutional Planning at Drew University; Jim Bock, Vice President and Dean of Admissions at Swarthmore College; Heather Hoerle, Executive Director of the Enrollment Management Association; and David Holmes, Co-Director of the Institute on Character and Admission.

Mr. Massa, in his introduction, essentially confirmed what Hoover had written for the Times, i.e. that colleges  increasingly are looking behind test scores as measures of competitiveness in the college admissions process. While core academic skills will still be at the center of consideration, they will be augmented by evidence of critical thinking, information technology, self knowledge, how students make decisions, and most importantly, character traits. Thus, the raison d’être for the Institute on Character and Admission.

Members of the year-old Institute include schools, associations, organizations and individuals, as well as colleges. Presently, the colleges that have joined are Swarthmore College and Drew University, as well as Carnegie Mellon University, M.I.T., Emory University, Pomona College, Santa Clara University, Princeton University, the University of Notre Dame, Amherst College, the University of Rochester, the University of Denver, Bucknell University, Wesleyan University and Emory University.

The agenda of the Institute is focused around helping admission professionals employ character factors in admissions, using character-based rubrics in the college admission process, and determining whether a practitioners handbook on using character factors can be developed.  It’s a lofty mission. Although finding the answers about how to focus on and assess character may take some time, I, for one, am encouraged by the goals of the Institute and the energy and commitment exhibited by the panelists. I am in the process of becoming a member.

To learn more about the Institute on Character and Admission, please go to http://character-admission.org.