College Admissions: How Will Your Character Be Assessed?

The work of selecting students for admissions into colleges and universities is becoming more complex. Each year college admissions officers and their committees review thousands of applications and seek to predict the likelihood of those applicants to meaningfully contribute socially, culturally and personally to their specific college communities.  Ivy League and highly selective colleges use a team review process to holistically evaluate each applicant when creating a particular class during the admissions process.  That means acceptance to these colleges is not based on a simple formula of cognitive measures (grades and test scores).  Instead, admissions officers consider a variety of factors, including the student’s academic record, extracurricular interests, intellectual achievements and personal background, to decide who will be rejected or accepted.

Many college admissions offices are now looking to rely less on cognitive-based measures (standardized tests and grades) and more on character attributes when choosing applicants. They are turning to research showing that a student’s potential for long-term success is predicted less by test scores and more by traits such as optimism, curiosity, resilience, metacognition and adaptability.

College admissions professionals have spent several years determining other character traits that are most important to their respective institutions. When admissions officers have chosen the applicants they plan to present to their admissions committee, the applicants have been determined to have traits such as honesty, resilience, curiosity, perseverance, leadership and the capacity for teamwork.  Traditionally, these character traits are discovered by admissions officers using personal essays, interviews, lists of extracurricular activities, and letters of recommendation to get a holistic view of applicants.  Admissions officers now have other tools for character assessment at their disposal.

For college admissions, character traits tied to an interview, essay answers and letters of recommendation, are just as important and impressive, if not more so as, academic credentials.

I have always advised my clients to consider their character attributes and the holistic approach as they prepare for college admissions. It should now be clear that character assessment is the premier focus for college admissions.


Dr. Paul Reginald Lowe is the managing director and lead admissions expert at Pinnacle Educational Center Admissions Advisors Group.  Dr. Lowe specializes in providing exclusive concierge-type admissions advisory services for U.S. and international families and students who are interested in applying to Ivy League and highly selective colleges and combined BS/MD programs.  Dr. Lowe also helps students gain admissions into their top choice private schools and colleges after they have been deferred, wait-listed and rejected.

As an experienced and trusted admissions advisor for over 20 years, Dr. Paul R. Lowe is an active member of the following organizations that uphold the ethical and professional standards and principles of good admission practices in college and independent school counseling: Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA), National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), New Jersey Association for College Admission Counseling (NJACAC), New York State Association for College Admissions Counseling (NYSACAC) and International Association for College Admissions Counseling (IACAC).