It has been said that character is who one is, or what one does when nobody is watching. When it comes to college admission, everyone seems to be watching and according to a recent survey, character counts. This week, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) and the Character Collaborative released a research brief entitled Character and the Admission Process, which includes results from a survey of trends in college admission. For the first time, the annual survey added a section on the use of character attributes in the application process, and the results highlight what many professionals have known all along: character attributes are a factor in admission.
Character counts when it comes to college admission, according to new data from the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) and the Character Collaborative. In a recent national survey, 70 percent of admission officers said a student’s character attributes were either “considerably” or “moderately” important in the selection process at their respective institutions. The findings, along with data showing that more than half of US secondary schools have formal character development programs, are included in a new NACAC research brief — Character and the College Admission Process. “Our data makes it abundantly clear: College admission professionals recognize the value of empathy, resilience, honesty, and other attributes in assessing applicants and shaping their classes,” said NACAC CEO Joyce Smith. “While further research is needed to more thoroughly explore the various ways colleges gauge a student’s character, we now know such factors commonly play a role in admission decisions. And we also know that secondary schools are taking steps to foster positive character traits among the students they serve.”
The Character Growth Index is a quantitative, easily administered assessment of social-emotional character development.
Why measure student character development? Today college admissions fiercely compete for students. For many, necessity dictates that solvency transcends mission as students cannot learn if the school closes. With many higher education institutions choosing to be test-optional, assessment as a component of admissions is on life support.
Why then discuss a measure of social-emotional character development (SECD)? What interest would an emphasis on developing character have for prospective students?
This study examined the use of nonacademic factors on holistic admissions decision making. The authors adopted a multi-pronged approach to investigate the ways admissions officers use nonacademic factors when making decisions. They surveyed more than 300 admissions professionals; of those, they interviewed 19 who worked at one of ten private and public institutions with varying degrees of selectivity. Results indicated that these factors were often used deferentially, based on the selectivity of the institution. While all institutions used nonacademic indicators of success as admissions criteria, officers from less selective institutions were more likely to use these factors to “admit students who might not otherwise be admitted” thus providing “an explanation for admitting students whose profile does not suggest that [they] will be academically successful.”
Since the 2016 meeting of the National Association of College Admissions Counseling, a group of admission deans from more than a dozen selective colleges has been working to elevate the influence of ethical and performance-based character in the admissions process. Calling themselves the Character Collaborative, the deans were joined by high school admissions counselors, representatives of major associations like the College Board and ACT, and researchers at Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania to work toward this objective.
Since its founding, the group has focused on recognizing and nurturing student character as essential to education and a civilized society.
In these disruptive times for education, when the integrity of the college admission process is being questioned by the media in their reporting and by parents and students in their application behavior, members of the Character Collaborative think it critical that character attributes in our applicants, aligned with institutional mission, be signaled as important in the college/school selection process and that admission deans develop tools that would allow a consistent assessment of character as one factor in the admission process.
Most people consider getting into college a numbers game.
However, in the wake of last year’s college admissions scandal, which underscored how much pressure parents and students feel to be accepted into elite universities, admissions directors are quietly turning their attention to something besides test scores.
Today, “almost every institution is looking more carefully at character,” said Eric Greenberg, president of Greenberg Educational Group, a New York-based consulting firm with clients throughout the U.S.
“Authenticity and honesty are at a premium,” he said.