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Make Caring and Character Common

In 2016, institutions, educators, and individual members began the Character Collaborative initiative to focus on non-academic factors and character-related attributes in the admissions process. It struck a nerve. Then Harvard created the Making Caring Common project in 2018. Many scoffed. How could Harvard, admitting <5% of applicants, consider itself to be caring?

But the importance of this philosophy has grown, even if we don’t see it in the most literal sense. We know that colleges cannot accept every qualified applicant.

No question: numbers still matter. But for admissions to the most highly selective institutions, perfect grades and test scores are simply a toe in the door. Grade inflation, which escalated in the pandemic, has made an A the average grade in many high schools. Test scores, which vanished from applications by necessity during 2020, have returned, but at a far lower percentage. Many state colleges accept 70% of their students test-optionally, and even institutions like Tufts admit 50% without scores. When grades reveal less and scores are absent, what matters in an admissions office?

While I can’t say that every community-minded student with the right numbers will be admitted to their dream school (especially if it denies >80% of its applicants), I notice that students who are committed to extracurriculars that serve others often have better outcomes than those who do fewer activities, or focus only on themselves.

Find what matters to you, then spearhead any kind of service effort, either real or virtual. Join an existing club or organization and stay for the long haul. Work at a job that requires you to interact with the public, teach a skill or share your talent. Think about who you can help in your neighborhood.

Colleges know that ethical students become involved classmates and loyal friends. They get immersed in projects–regardless of major–that address the good of all. That’s why schools seek students who are not only exceptional academically, but are exceptional humans as well.


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