Not long ago, most schools looked primarily at grades, test scores and extracurricular activities when considering applicants for college admission. While those factors still carry a lot of weight, colleges today want to see more than good grades and high test scores on applications. They are looking beyond the numbers, placing an emphasis on the character of prospective students.

What character attributes are colleges looking for, and how are they being assessed?

In 2016, the Character Collaborative was created to focus on non-academic factors and character-related attributes in the college admission process. The goal was “to collaborate with educators who value character as a fundamental consideration in the practice of holistic education and admission.” The organization researched and developed practices for identifying key characteristics in applicants – practices that many colleges adopted in their search for ideal students.

While there are many to consider, some of the more important characteristics include:

  1. Persistence. Most educators would agree that character is indicative of one’s ability to handle life’s challenges. For this reason, colleges want students who will challenge themselves and persevere during difficult times. A strong “can do” mindset is important when tackling a rigorous college schedule.
  2. Curiosity. A student’s passion for learning beyond a single subject is of great interest to colleges. They’re looking for students who aren’t afraid to think outside the box and to venture outside their comfort zones by trying a new activity or taking a challenging class.
  3. Risk-taking. Colleges are interested in students who are not afraid to take chances or make mistakes. Risk-taking highlights a person’s resilience, especially when facing failure. The most creative and successful people understand that success is often built on the back of failure. They must have the courage to take risks, knowing that they will not always be successful, but will learn in the process. They must be able to stay focused and not give up when facing setbacks.
  4. Compassion. Many colleges are also looking for students who show a high level of concern for others. But it’s not enough to express empathy; colleges are interested in students who take action to help others. Whether it be engaging in community service work, political activism, tutoring other students or even helping with younger siblings at home – demonstrating concern for others ranks high with college admissions teams.
  5. Open Mindedness. College students have a great opportunity when it comes to engaging with people from different backgrounds and cultures. A student’s ability to appreciate and embrace new ideas, perspectives, and opinions is very important to colleges. They are looking for students who can respectfully consider different points of view. Many admissions counselors consider critical thinking – which requires the ability to consider all arguments and ideas – to be of utmost importance.
  6. Social Consciousness. Students who want to apply their academic and career interests to improve the world around them are especially attractive to colleges. They are looking for individuals who care about the world, want to make it a better place, and aren’t afraid to try.
  7. A 2020 Adobe study revealed the growing importance of creative skills in college admissions. In fact, 95% of admissions decision-makers believe in the value of creative skills, which makes it a key factor in admissions. This goes far beyond creative expression through the arts. Schools are seeking creative thinkers, problem solvers and entrepreneurs.
  8. Colleges are interested in students who can collaborate well with other students and faculty. They are also looking for great leaders who have the ability to bring people together. This type of teamwork is often seen in sports, but it is imperative to the success of any company or organization.

How do colleges assess character in potential students?

The way schools assess character in the admissions process varies from school to school. The Character Collaborative is currently focused on developing universal, effective ways to incorporate character attributes in admission. A study conducted by the Collaborative found that private colleges and universities with a high degree of selectivity and smaller enrollments tended to place the most emphasis on character. In addition, most of the study’s participating schools indicated that they use their own mission statements as a guideline for character-related attributes. They also consider the following:

  1. The content of the essay/personal statement. Essays give students the perfect opportunity to highlight characteristics, which is why we stress the importance of doing so at Moxie College Counseling. Unique stories that highlight the student’s strongest assets will give colleges insight into who the student is and what makes them “tick.”
  2. Teacher and/or counselor recommendations. Strong letters of recommendation carry a lot of weight when it comes to highlighting a student’s character. Teachers, counselors, employers, coaches, and other adults who have the opportunity to witness a student in a variety of situations can provide valuable insight into the student’s character. If you have any questions about who should write letters of recommendation, please contact us for more information.
  3. Nature of extracurricular and/or work activities. What a student does outside the classroom really does matter. Extracurricular sports, clubs and school activities can certainly highlight characteristics. But activities outside of school can be just as enlightening, and often appealing to admissions counselors. Community involvement, internships, and working for charitable organizations can also shed a lot of light on the character of a student.
  4. The interview. Some schools or programs place a lot of emphasis on interviews. Here, they can ask specific questions pertaining to character. It is important to prepare as much as possible prior to the meeting. At Moxie, we have counselors who will work with students to prepare them for interviews.

Highlighting Strengths for College Admission Success

At Moxie, we are experts when it comes to highlighting a student’s strengths and characteristics. We have specialists who can help with each step of the admissions process. That may include choosing high school courses, planning extracurricular activities or standardized test planning. In addition we help with college list development, writing essays, resume generation and preparing for interviews. Contact us to learn more about our college consulting services.