Survey: Colleges Consider Student Character Traits in Admission Decisions

Arlington, VA (Feb. 12, 2020) —  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 findings highlighted in NACAC’s latest research brief were informed by two surveys. In the first survey, 447 college admission officers were asked to indicate the level of importance given to various factors, including positive character traits, when reviewing applications. While academic performance in high school, strength of school curriculum, and admission test scores ranked as the most important factors overall, 26 percent of survey respondents said a student’s character attributes were “considerably important” and 44 percent said such factors were “moderately important.” In the second survey, 2,345 secondary school counselors were asked about schoolwide efforts to encourage positive character traits in the student body. The majority of respondents (58.1 percent) reported having a formal character development program in place.

“While there is still much to learn about the ways in which colleges consider character in the admission process and the means by which secondary schools encourage character development, we greatly appreciate the opportunity to work with NACAC in devising and implementing this survey, which affirms that admission directors place a high priority on character factors,” said David Holmes, executive director of the Character Collaborative, a group of colleges and secondary schools dedicated to the idea that a student’s character should be factored into college admission decisions.
“The Character Collaborative is committed to work in partnership with admission leaders across the nation to move toward processes that make sense for their institutions and advance admission practice in this vital area of concern.”

See the research.


The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), founded in 1937, is an organization of more than 15,000 professionals from around the world dedicated to serving students as they make choices about pursuing postsecondary education. NACAC is committed to maintaining high standards that foster ethical and social responsibility among those involved in the transition process, as outlined in the association's Code of Ethics and Professional Practices.

About the Character Collaborative

The Character Collaborative is a membership organization of some 75 colleges and secondary schools, researchers, professional associations, and counselors who think it critical that the character attributes of college applicants, aligned with institutional mission, are important in the college/school selection process and that admission deans should develop tools that would allow a consistent assessment of character as one factor in the admission process. Members believe that character is fundamental to an engaged life, the fullest consideration of human potential, and a humane society.