Extracurricular Activities Count Little In Admission Decisions,

Contrary to the popular belief among high-school seniors and the stated policies of many colleges, the remarkable extracurricular achievements of students have a minimal impact on a college’s decision to accept them. This conclusion was derived from a four-year study conducted by the College Board and the Educational Testing Service (ETS), which examined the significance of nonacademic factors in the admissions process of nine selective private colleges. The study, carried out by two ETS researchers, analyzed admissions data from 25,000 applicants to Bucknell University, Colgate University, Hartwick College, Kalamazoo College, Kenyon College, Occidental College, Ohio Wesleyan University, the University of Richmond, and Williams College, collected since 1978.

These nine schools were chosen based on their use of a common application form that provided similar information about the applicants. According to Warren H. Willingham, one of the study’s co-authors, the schools varied in their selectivity levels from mildly selective to highly selective. The study revealed that an applicant’s background, including factors such as their gender, hometown, and especially their race, had some influence on a college’s admission decision. However, it also indicated that high-school students who demonstrated achievements beyond good grades and test scores, such as holding leadership positions in student government, engaging in community service, or excelling in arts and sports, received little recognition for their non-academic accomplishments during the admissions process.

Mr. Willingham stated that the colleges claimed to assign moderate weight to personal accomplishments, but the evidence suggested that their impact on admission decisions was relatively insignificant. The study found that class rank and standardized test scores were given equal consideration by the colleges, receiving three times more weight in the admissions process than personal qualities (which encompass background, extracurricular achievements, and goals).

According to Mr. Willingham, the College Board and ETS conducted this study on the role of personal qualities in the college admissions process due to their vested interest in the fair assessment of students. The study concluded that various recent legal, social, and demographic trends, such as affirmative-action requirements and the declining population of 18-year-olds, make it essential for colleges to pay closer attention to the personal qualities of applicants. Mr. Willingham expressed that selective colleges cannot solely focus on attracting the brightest students and should adopt a more inclusive approach to admit students who may not excel in traditional academic terms but align with the college’s mission.

However, Mr. Willingham clarified that the study’s findings about selective colleges downplaying personal qualities’ significance do not extend to less selective institutions or public colleges with open admissions policies. Nevertheless, given the evolving nature of college student populations overall, he suggested that all schools should allocate more attention to evaluating the personal qualities of applicants. He emphasized the need for colleges to take personal qualities seriously during the admissions process so that they can better support their students. He stated that the admissions process should go beyond mere registration and should devote more attention to a student’s accomplishments and aspirations.

The study’s findings and analysis will be available as a book titled "Personal Qualities and College Admissions" starting this week.


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    Ollie Fox is an experienced blogger and educator. He has written for a variety of educational websites, and has also taught online courses on blogging and social media marketing. Ollie is passionate about helping others learn how to be successful online, and he enjoys sharing his knowledge and insights with the readers of his blog.