Character in Admission: Free Resources Available

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“She’s quite a character.” “He’s a character actor.” “They are people of good character.”

We throw the word character around a lot, but what does it really mean? For the Character Collaborative—an organization of about 70 schools and colleges, as well as counselors, researchers, and associations committed to elevating attributes of character in the school and college admission process—character suggests features that distinguish an individual.

We know that schools and colleges care about who they admit to their institutions…so they should, and many do, also care about the character of their applicants.

Character in Admission
So what exactly does that mean when it comes to students applying for admission to schools or colleges? There are really four categories to consider: performance character (e.g., perseverance or grit); intellectual character (e.g., creativity, passion for an idea or area of study); ethical character (e.g., honesty, integrity, caring for others); and civic character (e.g., engaged citizenship, contributing to your community).

The Character Collaborative seeks to collaborate with educators in schools, colleges, universities, and other organizations that value character attributes as a fundamental consideration in the practice of holistic education and admission. And as part of those efforts, we’re proud to offer the following resources for college admission professionals wishing to expand their knowledge in this important area.

Access to Conference Proceedings
A free transcript of the 2021 Character Collaborative Conference proceedings is now available on our website.

Since 2016, the Character Collaborative has hosted an annual meeting prior to the start of the NACAC conference. Bringing together practitioners and researchers, the meeting tackles contemporary issues in holistic admission and the importance of character.

This year, we were privileged to learn from a stellar line-up of presenters. Topics covered included:

  • Culture Shock keynote address (and subsequent respondent panel) by Jon McGee, head of St. John’s Preparatory School (MN) and a former higher ed administrator and author of the 2015 book Breakpoint: The Changing Marketplace for Higher Education.
  • Revolutionizing Character Assessment Strategy with Harvard University’s Making Caring Common project and the Common Application.
  • NACAC and Advancing Holistic Admission with association leaders David Hawkins and Ffiona Rees.
  • How Assessment Played Out in Admission Offices, a panel of school and college admission officers discussing their experiences with holistic and test-optional admission in 2020-21.
  • Wellness and the Impact of COVID, a discussion with Stanford University professor Denise Pope.

Free Courses
In collaboration with NACAC, the Character Collaborative also offers free online courses that explore the intersection of character and college essays, recommendations, and interviews.

Courses offered are:
– Assessing Character in Admissions—An Introduction
– Application Essays: Evaluating and Advising with Character in Mind
– Writing and Evaluating Letters of Recommendation for Character

Learn More
If, after reviewing the proceedings and our course offerings, you are interested in learning more about character in admission, please reach out to Character Collaborative Executive Director David Holmes, or to me, Board Chair Bob Massa.


Robert J. Massa is vice president emeritus for enrollment and college relations at Dickinson College (PA). He also serves as the Character Collaborative board chair.

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