Why Positive Attitude Should be an Important Factor in Admissions

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The nuts and bolts of a college application include SAT or ACT scores and a resume. But there are also a handful of traits colleges should explicitly look for through extracurricular activities, essays, and applications. 

And while grades are important, if a student is up against another candidate who has also achieved the same qualifications, how will one stand out to the admission office? 

Firstly, positivity can go a long way in college applications. Along with academic achievement, colleges and universities must consider how a student will fit within their institution through extracurricular activities & involvement, enthusiasm for attending the university, and letters of recommendation. 

A University Admissions Officers 2013 report asked 100 admissions officers to rank the ten most sought-after attributes as “important” or “very important.” In the study, 83% of officers ranked a positive attitude as “very important,” and 88% rated a passion for their subject as the same. 

Similarly, a March 2021 study found that about 86% of US university admissions officers see a positive attitude as “important” or “very important.”

"The successes related to positive attitude occur due to an enduring positive attitude, rather than a one-time experience of positive emotion,” Emily Campion, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Management & Entrepreneurship at the University of Iowa, told Talent Select AI in a recent interview. 

"Typically, people prefer to interact with positive rather than negative people. Therefore, positive students may be more likely to receive greater faculty attention and experiential learning opportunities, as long as they continue to demonstrate ability,” Campion said. 

Why is a Positive Attitude a Desirable Trait in Applicants? 

Colleges should look to admit positive candidates with a passion for learning and an interest in certain subjects or hobbies because they desire the most motivated, attentive students to join their university. 

Students who are passionate about learning frequently challenge themselves with a more rigorous workload and go above and beyond to find learning opportunities outside the classroom. 

Notably, Stanford University School of Medicine scientists recently discovered the brain pathway that directly links a positive attitude with achievement.

Scientists studied 240 children ages seven to 10 and found that being positive improved their ability to answer math problems, increased their memories, and enhanced their problem-solving skills.  

The study was the first to explain the “neurocognitive mechanisms by which positive attitude influences learning and academic achievement." Specifically, the researchers pinpointed how a positive attitude improved the functions of the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for memory.

“How you operationalize student success’ may determine the relevance of a student's positive attitude. For example, research is mixed as to the relationship between positive attitude and measures of mental ability such as intelligence or grades,” Campion stated. 

“However, if we think about success more broadly, we find that a positive attitude is related to a host of desirable outcomes. Some of these outcomes include experiencing greater success in the job search, which is particularly relevant for higher education institutions who track the early employment of their alumni,” she continued. 

After graduation, maintaining a positive attitude at work will benefit an individual’s career and steer them towards promotion. About 36% of professionals on LinkedIn agree that a positive attitude is the most important quality employers look for in candidates and team members.

A few ways to maintain a positive attitude in the workplace include using positive language, never criticizing anyone, staying away from gossip, putting teamwork first, and not complaining.

Emily Campion, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Management & Entrepreneurship at the University of Iowa, noted that the successes related to positive attitude occur due to an enduring positive attitude rather than a one-time experience of positive emotion.

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