Enrollment Leaders College Admission Response


By Greg MacDonald, Vice President of Enrollment Management for Lafayette College

In support of the David Holmes essay for Character.org, and an opinion piece written by David for Inside Higher Education on August 24th ("The Character Moment in College Admissions"), I am sharing how we think about character within the admission framework at Lafayette College.


Among the aspects I enjoy most about managing enrollment at a small residential liberal arts college where all resources are focused solely on the undergraduate experience, is hearing directly from faculty members about the interesting students in their classes. These conversations often occur while walking across campus, and always include character attributes related to intellectual curiosity, maturity and determination. The profound appreciation for efforts being made to make equity and inclusion the centerpiece of our enrollment strategies motivates our team to stay focused on the important work ahead of us.


At our staff meetings this summer, we spent a significant portion of time discussing how we can and should define academic ability and excellence as we select the next class of Lafayette Leopards. Conversations related to critical/relational thinking, effective communication, problem solving, emotional intelligence, character, and genuine concern for others took center stage. We are thankful to represent an institution where 'traditional quality metrics' (a term often used as a proxy for standardized testing, GPA, and class rank) are impressive, but not the driving force in how the next class is chosen.


Perhaps now more than ever, I believe it is a national imperative that colleges employ truly holistic admission processes that elevate the importance of character. Lafayette College has always placed a premium on character attributes in making admission decisions, and we are thrilled with the momentum this movement is gaining and proud to be associated with colleges and schools that share this goal.

By Florence Hines, Vice President and Dean of Admission and Financial Aid for St. Lawrence University

Holistic admission decision-making is not new to many colleges, but it has certainly gained more attention this year as a result of the pandemic’s impact on standardized testing availability. Many colleges, including St. Lawrence University, have been test optional for well over a decade, acknowledging long ago that test scores need not play a role in assessment of academic fit at an institution.

It is the rigor of the academic program and the high school grade point average that have been far more useful in predicting academic success in college. However, holistic admissions goes beyond the academic material to include letters of recommendation, student personal statements, extracurricular activities, relevant background information, and any additional information available that can present the student as a “whole” person, not just test scores and GPAs.

As David Holmes describes in his piece “Youth of Character and College Admission,” the addition of a process where a student’s character could be added to the emerging picture of the student has real benefit for students and appeal for college admission staff.

College admission is often described as being about “fit” and how students will thrive at an institution. Fit is more than the presence of a specific club or major; it is a very personal decision by students to choose the place they find to be most likely to contribute to their success. If a student is able to see attributes of a college’s mission and values that connect with their own views, the potential for a good fit is increased significantly.

At the same time, colleges seek to enroll students who will contribute to their campuses for four years in a myriad of ways, and the addition of a “fit of character” is a concept that will only continue to grow in the coming years. The global pandemic has given us the potential to accelerate change in the world of college admissions, and the addition of a character component is an exciting option.

Seeing the admission process evolve is particularly important as we look to the changing demographics of the students who will enter college over the next decade. It is widely known that there will be fewer traditional-aged students completing high school and seeking a college education, but perhaps less known that the students themselves will not replicate the backgrounds of students of the past. Socio-economic backgrounds, ethnic backgrounds, and family familiarity with college education are all factors to be addressed in the recruitment and admission of students, and colleges will be paying particular attention to their ability to provide access to college to an ever-changing mix of students.

As community-based organizations and specialized high school academies or charter schools continue to evolve to meet the needs and interests of their student populations, new student programs are already being created where aspects of character are prioritized and celebrated as part of the curriculum. It is time for this work to become part of the college admission process also.

Admission offices are all engaged to some degree in the goal of serving under-represented students and helping students navigate the complexities of the admission process. Adding a character assessment is not an easy task, but it is an important one. Research already exists to show the importance of character on performance—in high school, in college, and in the world of work. Initiatives are underway to help college admission professionals learn to assess character effectively and consistently. Developing the definitions to be used in admissions to define desired character traits, making sure students are aware of the opportunity to share this information and how it is valued, and using consistent, measurable tools to assess the information will not be developed overnight, but they will be critical steps for colleges to take in order to help students see how their personal attributes and comparable accomplishments can be a valid part of the admission process.

Defining our shared values as colleges and prospective students can be a valuable addition to the college admission process. Students will benefit from seeing how colleges value the traits they possess, and colleges will gain even more information about their applicants and their potential for success. We will all be enriched by developing measures and processes that will define character in a way that can be discussed and measured consistently for each applicant.