In these disruptive times for education, when the integrity of the college admissions process is questioned by the media in their reporting and by parents and students in their application behavior, members of the Character Collaborative believe that it is essential that the character attributes of our applicants, aligned with the institutional mission, be flagged as important in the college/school selection process and that admissions deans develop tools that would enable consistent assessment of the character as a factor in the admissions process.

By “character,” we do not mean “personality,” as was discussed in the recent court case challenging Harvard University’s treatment of Asian American applicants. Rather, in addition to ethics-based character attributes such as empathy, honesty, humility, open-mindedness, and selflessness, we look at performance-based character elements such as resilience, courage, teamwork and taking responsibility. These are generally not correlated with socioeconomic status, race, or ethnicity, and we would expect that considering character attributes as an admissions factor would increase campus diversity. . We realize, of course, that not all schools and colleges can and will want to measure all potential character attributes, but will instead select several that are most important to their institutions and relevant to their mission.

Created in 2016 from ideas generated in an article by David Holmes in the Spring 2015 issue of The College Admission Diary, the Character Collaborative began as the Institute on Character in Admission and held its first meeting at the National Association for College Admission Counseling fall conference in Columbus, Ohio. Holmes, a retired principal of Suffield Academy and Sun Valley Community School, recruited me to help organize the meeting and invite enrollment professionals from colleges and schools as well as advisors, researchers and professional associations to join the meeting. More than 60 educators attended and explained how they consider character attributes in the admissions process. It became clear that most approaches were ad hoc and that if institutions were to signal the importance of character in their communities, work needed to be done to define character and develop rubrics and assessment tools that schools and colleges could use at their discretion in their own admissions processes.

Subsequent annual meetings in Boston, Salt Lake City, and Louisville, Ky., saw membership grow and meeting agendas become more focused. In 2018, the institute changed its name to Character Collaborative and was approved for 501(c)3 nonprofit status. David Holmes is Executive Director and I am Chairman of the Board.

The Character Collaborative exists because we believe that character is fundamental to an engaged life, the full consideration of human potential, and a humane society. Guided by this belief, we hold that admissions officers have a responsibility to recognize character during admission and to signal its importance. We strive to develop a research-based framework and proven best practices to advance the identification and consideration of character attributes in the admissions process and in how we educate young people. We seek to partner with educators in schools, colleges, universities, and other organizations that value character attributes as a fundamental consideration in the practice of holistic admissions.

In fulfilling its mission, the Character Collaborative addresses several important issues. What are the indicators of character attributes? How can we validly assess their existence? What student actions or behaviors are we looking for? How do we ensure that our character assessments are free from personal bias or interpretation tied to a specific social class? As we learn the answers to these and other questions, we can begin to develop the tools and training to use them that will help admissions offices determine if and how to consider character in evaluation of student applications.

As a voluntary organization of colleges, high schools, professional associations, research organizations, and individual advisors, the Character Collaborative is poised to produce the following to help schools and colleges get started consistent character assessment in their institution-specific admissions process.

  • Presentations at national and regional educational conferences to clarify what we mean by “character” and why we seek to signal the importance of character in an admissions process that examines grades, test scores, and personal suitability.
  • A summary of recent research on the impact of character on performance and on the development and testing of rubrics and other tools to assess various character attributes. This will familiarize admissions deans, presidents, principals, and councils with basic information and data that could help them implement a move toward including character elements in admissions.
  • A resource guide that will provide online access to rubric options and assessment tools that schools and colleges can use in their admissions process.
  • An online training course to help admissions deans and their staff implement the character assessment tools or rubrics that work for their institution’s admissions process.
  • A resource guide for club, high school and college coaches prepared by coaches who believe in the power of character in recruiting student-athletes.

In order to move forward on the main deliverables, the collaborative has organized itself into four working groups, with volunteers among the members to equip these groups:

Collaborative operations

  • Marketing (including website)
  • Membership Diversification/Broadening
  • Fund raising

Character assessment

  • Collect and/or expand rubrics
  • Collect assessment tools

Product development

  • Preparation of conference presentations
  • Research and write a review of the literature on character and performance
  • Development of a resource guide of tools and assessment rubrics
  • Initiate online training modules to implement a process that includes character elements upon admission

Athletics recruiting and character

  • Development of a resource guide for coaches

The Character Collaborative is an organization comprised of 65 institutions and 130 education leaders and experts. Members include researchers, survey experts, reformers, admissions deans, school counselors, and staff of national educational associations. Members have pledged their expertise and time to advance the collaborative’s agenda and undertake important work that is particularly relevant in today’s educational environment and in our society at large.

Character Collaborative members include colleges and universities such as Bucknell, Chicago, Colgate, Cornell, Denver, Georgia Tech, MIT, Notre Dame, Oregon, Rochester, Swarthmore, and Trinity. Member secondary schools include institutions such as Andover, Bishops Blake, Catholic Memorial, Derryfield, Hun, Masters and St. Mark’s. Additionally, the College Board, Educational Testing Service, and ACT are members along with Harvard’s Making Caring Common Project (authors of “Turning the Tide”) and UPenn’s Character Lab.

Although there are several major exceptions, current collaborative members come primarily from independent schools and colleges and the Independent Educational Consultants Group. Collaborative members recognize that we need to diversify the membership if we are to be successful in helping colleges expand their formal admissions process to include consideration of character attributes important to their institution. This is a major objective for the coming year.

The Character Collaborative is looking for new members, especially in public schools and universities. Members share the goal of encouraging school and college admissions deans to embrace the notion of a holistic admissions process that includes non-academic factors such as character attributes in a formal and consistent manner. . Signaling the importance of character in the college admissions process, we believe that more students and parents will pay attention to good character as they prepare to join a particular college community.