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Colleges Want to Know: Who Will You Be?

Colleges Want to Know: Who Will You Be?
Sarah Honan

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend the Character Collaborative’s Annual Conference, which brings together thought leaders and change-makers in secondary and higher education to discuss the role of character in college admissions. Among the vaulted speakers were Rick Weissbourd, Director of the Making Caring Common Project and Senior Lecturer at Harvard, and Sadie Harlan, Project Director at Reach Higher and The Common Application. The subject of their talk, and their current collaboration, was how the Common Application might be revised over the next few years to better reveal (you guessed it!) - a student’s character. 

As we explored in a previous blog post this past spring, the importance of character in holistic review is certainly not new to the world of selective admissions, but the rise of test-optional and test-blind admission policies have created a unique momentum for the movement. In the absence of standardized tests, many schools have come to lean more heavily on the other factors presented in the admissions process: academic performance, rigor of curriculum, letters of recommendation, personal narrative as demonstrated through the college essay and students’ activities/interests. 

While the first two items speak to a student’s ability to “do the work” and (hopefully) graduate in four years, the last three speak to something equally valuable: the contributions that student will make during their time on campus. Will they be someone who takes the time to help a classmate falling behind in their Organic Chemistry class? Will they start a club that lights a movement for change around the world? Will they make their dorm room, their classroom, their campus a better, more inclusive place for their peers? In a year that has challenged many like never before and continues to require our collective grace and humanity to weather, the answer to these questions has to be a resounding: yes. 

In his closing remarks, Rick Weissbourd reflected that it is “critical to reinforce ethical character development at every stage in a child’s life.” While academic character traits, like grit, curiosity and resilience, tell colleges a lot about what a student may achieve in life, it is their ethical character traits, like honesty, compassion and fairness, that tell a college who a student will be in life. They are the cornerstone of our core values here at Wardlaw+Hartridge - integrity, opportunity, support, diversity, community, and sustainability - which drive our students to think about the kind of impact they want to have in their communities. They are also what more and more colleges will be closely examining in the years ahead.