Understanding Personality Traits Helps Colleges Admit “Best Fit” Students

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High schools across the country administer the SAT and ACT to measure certain skills students need for academic success in college. Both tests evaluate students' learned information, including facts, concepts, and skills acquired throughout a four-year education.  

But these tests fail to measure the character and personal qualities that students bring to the table. These traits are crucial in the admissions process, too.  

Understanding personality traits gives individuals knowledge of themselves and the decisions they make. And in academia, grasping one’s own personality can help students gain a better sense of who they are, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and what kind of environment they thrive in.

College admissions staff also look for evidence that students possess personal qualities associated with success in college. In a recent National Association for College Admissions Counselors (NACAC) survey, 70% of admissions staff said character traits were “considerably” or “moderately” important in their admissions decisions.

The recent focus on personality traits is part of a push for “holistic college admissions,” as both students and faculty discerned the downfalls and many limitations of standardized testing. 

Holistic admissions create a more equitable system for evaluating potential students. Rather than placing the majority of the consideration on traditional academic factors, such as GPA and test scores, a holistic approach includes various factors that a traditional admissions process doesn’t capture. 

Discovering students' personalities is an essential component to plan and teach classroom lessons according to individual needs. Colleges also look at personality traits to boost student retention and better predict student success.

Specifically, colleges increasingly look for personal qualities that foster cooperation, community, and compassion. Amy Morgenstern, founder and CEO of Blue Stars Admissions Consulting, stated that students should highlight the “7Cs” in their essays and applications: collaboration, commitment, character, curiosity, cultural intelligence, challenge, and creativity.

Colleges want to know that a student can collaborate well with other students and faculty, and can put others' needs above their own if necessary. Colleges also want to see that students are passionate about learning, not just about a single academic area, but about the world around them.

For example, UCLA looks for “personal qualities of the applicant, including demonstrated concern and care for others and the community.” 

Furthermore, some colleges want students who not only challenge themselves, but who persevere through those challenges, set goals, and achieve them. Also, a student who appreciates cultural diversity and is eager to learn with other students from different backgrounds is appealing to the admissions staff. 

A 2020 Adobe survey found that 95% of admissions decision-makers believe in the value of creative skills. Creativity is listed among the top qualities considered at Duke, MIT, and UCLA. But this creativity doesn’t necessarily have to be in the arts. Universities often look for creative thinkers, problem solvers, innovators, and entrepreneurs.

In conclusion, colleges and universities look at students’ personality traits to assess a student in their entirety rather than numerical test score results alone to promote a more diverse study body, predict student success, and boost overall graduation rates.

The recent focus on personality traits in the college admissions process is part of a push for “holistic college admissions,” as both students and faculty discerned the many limitations of standardized testing.


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