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Independent School Admissions – The Character Skills Snapshot


This post has been updated with the latest information we have at this time.

While the Character Skills Snapshot is generally optional at most schools, it has definitely gained traction. Until more schools require the Snapshot from all applicants, there will continue to be some inconsistencies in how the Snapshot is used. For some schools, the Snapshot is being used as a review piece in the admissions process. Other schools are using the Snapshot as a tool in the onboarding process – either to match roommates or to determine which advising groups a student might work best in.

Your student’s Snapshot report is generally available within about two weeks of testing. The website lists the official calendar of dates when Character Skills Snapshot results are released.

What is the Character Skills Snapshot?

The Character Skills Snapshot has been developed by the EMA to provide a standardized online tool for schools to assess the character of their applicants. It is intended for students applying to independent schools for grades 6 through 12. The Snapshot does not replace other pieces of the application process, such as the interview or recommendation letters. It is a supplement designed to enable a more holistic view of the student. The Snapshot does not replace the SSAT or ISEE tests.

Which schools require the Snapshot?

Many independent schools have added the Character Skills Snapshot as either a required or recommended component of their application. Until EMA publishes a master list of these schools, you will have to check the specific admissions pages of the schools you are applying to (or contact the admissions offices directly) in order to determine if it will be required in their application process.

In a quick online search of schools*, I was able to find the following language regarding their use of the Snapshot in the admissions process:

  • All applicants are encouraged to take” Middlesex School (MA)
  • Recommended (but not required)” The Lawrenceville School (NJ)
  • Optional” Philips EMiddlesex School (MA)
  • Recommended” The Taft School (CT)

*I was not able to find a school in our area that listed the Character Skills Snapshot as required in my preliminary search of private day and boarding schools.

What skills are tested?

The Snapshot tests 7 key skill areas within 3 different categories:

  • Intellectual–Intellectual Engagement, and Open-Mindedness
  • Intrapersonal–Initiative, Resilience, and Self-Control
  • Interpersonal–Social Awareness and Teamwork

Scores are placed into three categories: Emerging, Developing, and Demonstrating. You can view a sample score report here:

What is its format and length?

The test is comprised of 2 sections and is designed to take approximately 25 minutes to complete:

  • Close-ended Questions – 19 questions, each containing 3 statements and asks students to select which are most and least like them.
  • Situation Judgments – 10 scenarios with 4 different responses to each, asks students to rate the appropriateness of each response on a scale of not appropriate to very appropriate.
  • For a look at sample questions, visit:

How do I take the Character Skills Snapshot?

  • The parent/guardian creates an online SSAT account for both the parent/guardian and the student. The Snapshot can only be taken on the student account.
  • The test can be taken on your home computer or at a location of choice. School Admissions Offices are not permitted to administer the test, as the test is designed to be completed in a low-stress environment.
  • The test is untimed, but must be completed in one sitting. You cannot save your answers and revisit it. On average, students took between 20-30 minutes to complete the test.
    Students are permitted to take the test only once during the testing year.
  • The Snapshot is free for students who have taken or are registered to take the SSAT. For students who are not planning on taking the SSAT, the fee for the Snapshot is $40.
  • Students who are SSAT testers can log into the Snapshot through their SSAT account.
  • For non-SSAT test takers, the school they are applying to will send them a link to complete the Snapshot.

My student is prepping for the SSAT or ISEE exam.  Should my student also be prepping for the Snapshot?

Students do not need to prepare for this. The idea is for them to answer the questions in a low-stress environment and answer honestly.

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