Thinking About Character in College Admission Decisions

June 7, 2019

A Guest Blog Post By: David Holmes

Last month Summit had the honor of hosting school counselors and educational consultants at our annual luncheon meetings in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Our keynote speech was delivered by David Holmes from the Character Collaborative. The topic generated a lot of discussion and interaction. We welcome this guest blog post from David. See also the speaker presentation slides narrated by Bob Massa, Board Chair of the Character Collaborative.

We encourage you to reach out to David and Bob to learn more about the initiative.

I was exhilarated by recent conversations with luncheon guests of the Summit Educational Group. It is evident that many educational consultants and college counselors share the goal of elevating character attributes in the college admission process.

David Holmes, Ph.D.

Our discussions at the Summit luncheons centered on attributes commonly understood to define “character.” In common parlance, character refers to personal qualities such as resilience, perseverance, gratitude, honesty, caring for others, self-control, etc. “Non-cognitive attributes” and “non-academic factors” are other terms that refer to qualities beyond the purely academic. Here, we find qualities such as teamwork, creativity and goal-orientation. Psychologists, such as Angela Duckworth, point out that character attributes are malleable. Through life experiences and intent, an individual may develop these attributes. In fact, an important role of parents and schools in our society is to help instill these qualities in youth.

The “character movement” means that, in addition to seeking students with a strong academic foundation, colleges seek to (1) attract and admit students with character strengths and (2) enhance these qualities during a student’s time on campus. For those who believe in the importance of character (e.g., researchers who find that character is the strongest predictor of success in school, work and life; those of us who came to this conclusion from life experience), the elevation of character is a hopeful development.

In practical terms, there are many questions ahead. What attributes of character are truly important? How do we assess character in a valid way? How do we ensure that our assessments of character are free from personal bias or an interpretation connected to a specific social class? Fortunately, researchers and on-the-ground educators are grappling with these issues.

If we are motivated to make education better for more Americans, we cannot throw up our hands in despair. Change comes from shrewd, creative, relentless, collective work that grows in scope over many years. Moreover, the best educators, although functioning in a system that may resist change, know there is a better way and – I find — are willing to get involved. As evidence, the recent Summit luncheons elicited numerous volunteers to the cause.

There is much at stake for students, parents, schools and colleges, and our nation. By elevating character attributes in the way students are educated and selected for educational opportunity, the ultimate goal of the Character Collaborative is to create – and document — a healthier, happier, more promising future for our youth.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Hi David,
Thank you so much for an insightful and thought-provoking talk. Character in the form of grit, integrity, ethical behavior, wise speech is something all of us should never stop aspiring to, and we should work diligently to impart to our students. Emphasizing it in the college admissions process is an important step.
Thanks again!