Extracurricular Activities Count Little In Admission Decisions,
Washington--Contrary to the beliefs of many high-school seniors and the published policies of many colleges, students' outstanding extracurricular accomplishments have little effect on a college's decision to accept them.
This is the finding of a four-year study, released here yesterday, of the importance of nonacademic factors in the admissions process at nine selective private colleges. The study was sponsored by The College Board and the Educational Testing Service (e.t.s.).
It was conducted by two ets researchers, based on admissions data collected since 1978 on 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.
The nine schools were chosen, according to Warren H. Willingham, a co-author of the study, because they use a common application form that provided similar information on the applicants at each school. The admissions standards of the schools range from mildly selective to highly selective, Mr. Willingham said.
The study found that an applicant's background--including sex, hometown, and, particularly, race--had some bearing on a college's decision to admit the student.
But it showed that high-school students whose achievements were not defined in terms of good grades and high test scores--for example, those who were leaders in student government, were active in community service, or were accomplished musicians or athletes--received little credit during the admissions process for their nonacademic accomplishments.
"The colleges tended to say they put moderate [versus substantial, little, or no] weight on personal accomplishments," Mr. Willingham said.
"But the evidence says that the effect [of personal accomplishments on admission decisions] is relatively little."
Class rank and scores on standardized tests were weighted evenly by the colleges, and together they were given three times as much consideration in admissions decisions as personal qualities (which include background, extracurricular achievement and goals), according to the study.
Mr. Willingham said The College Board and ets--which respectively sponsor and produce standardized tests--undertook the study of the role of personal qualities in the college admissions process because they are "interested in the rational use of assessment generally."
The study concludes that a number of recent legal, social, and demographic trends--such as affirmative-action requirements and the decreasing numbers of 18-year-olds--make it important for colleges to pay closer attention to the personal qualities of their applicants.
"They all cannot attact the brightest students," Mr. Willingham said. "[Selective] colleges need to be involved in a more creative way of getting students who are less able in traditional academic terms that fit the college's mission."
Mr. Willingham acknowledged that the study's finding that selective colleges do not give personal qualities as much weight in an admissions decision as they say they do is not relevant to less selective institutions or public colleges that have open-admissions policies.
But he said that, in light of the changing nature of college student populations generally, all schools probably should pay more attention to the personal qualities of their applicants.
"Colleges do not know what they need to do for students if they do not take their personal qualities seriously," he said. "The admissions process needs to be more than a registration process. We do not give nearly enough attention to what a student has done or what he wants to do."
The study will be available this week in a book titled Personal Qualities and College Admissions.