A Pathway to Inclusion Access and Success:
The Use of Non Cognitive Variables in the
College Admission Process
PCACAC/SACAC Joint Conference
Hyatt Regency Crystal City, Arlington, VA
April 23, 2012
Don Fraser- Director of Education and Training- National Association for
College Admission Counseling
Thomas Griffin- Director Undergraduate Admissions- North Carolina
State University
Dr. Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy- Professor and Chair Department of
Counselor Education- Johns Hopkins
Karen Richardson-Director of Diversity Recruitment and Associate
Director of Admissions- Tufts University
Evelyn Boyd White- School Counseling Coordinator- Thomas Dale High
NACAC’s Interest in
Non-Cognitive Factors
• Call for 8 million additional college
graduates (Obama’s 2020 Goal)
• Growing pressure to improve college
graduation rates
• Demographic shift in college-goers
highlights the need for new (nonacademic) measures
– Increase in racial/ethnic background
– Increased diversity in educational
Factors Considered
in the Admission Process
NACAC’s Efforts
• Increase awareness
– NACAC Journal: Recasting Non-cognitive
Factors in College Readiness
(Sommerfeld, 2011)
• Provide professional development
– Critical Components: Mastering the
College Admission Process
• Connect the dots from PK-16
– What role do school counselors play in
educating students?
Sternberg’s(1985, 1986)
Types of Intelligence
• Componential Intelligence: ability to interpret information in a
hierarchical and taxonomic fashion in a well-defined and
unchanging context. (Students who do well on SAT or GRE
tend to have this type of intelligence)
• Experiential Intelligence: ability to interpret information in
changing contexts; to be creative. (Standardized tests do not
appear to measure this type of intelligence)
• Contextual Intelligence: ability to adapt to a changing
environment; the ability to handle and negotiate the system
College Admissions
“There is a heavy concentration on
componential intelligence in the college
admissions process.”
--Sedlacek (2004)
“Noncognitive variables appear to reflect
Sternberg’s experiential or contextual
intelligence and may pick up on the abilities
and potentials of nontraditional students.”
--Sedlacek (2004)
Noncognitive Variables
(Sedlacek, 2004)
• Positive Self-Concept or
• Realistic Self-Appraisal
• Understand and Deals with
• Prefers Long-Range Goals
to Short-Term or Immediate
• Availability of Strong Support
• Successful Leadership
• Demonstrated Community
• Knowledge Acquired in a
Assessing Noncognitive
The Noncognitive Questionnaire (NCQ)
Interviews using noncognitive variables
Personal Achievement Profiles
Scoring Essays
Tufts University’s History with
Non-cognitive Variables
Are we measuring the right things?
(What counts? And why does it count?)
• High School Transcript
 Quality of curriculum
 Grades/GPA
 Class rank (if
• Standardized Testing
Personal Essays
Personal Qualities
Holistic Tension?
Holistic Tension?
• Concrete
• Intangible
• Objective
• Subjective
Does Data Trump Voice?
Does one element carry more weight in a holistic
evaluation, especially in a selective environment?
• Common perception that data is “most important”.
• Parents and students mine databases (Naviance) for
• Persistent medical narrative highlights statistical
• Scholarly Research uses these metrics to question
admission practices.
• Law suits assert “reverse discrimination” based on
statistical evidence.
Is it Data Versus Voice?
• Does data really inform the final
decision in a selective admissions
environment as much as people
• Can we measure something else?
A Quick Case Study:
Selecting the Class of 2015 at Tufts
Acceptance Rate
*Institutional Records
A Selection Conundrum
QUESTION: If a majority of an applicant
pool is deemed “qualified” per the data,
how does a college select its class?
ANSWER: Seek ways to enhance voice.
Requirements for applying to
Common Application
Tufts Supplement to the Common Application
(Interview with an alumni interviewer is optional.)
Standardized Testing
• SAT I and two SAT II subject tests OR ACT with Writing
• TOEFL required of all applicants for whom English is a
second language
Tufts Application Supplement
Required Short Responses 2011-12
Which aspects of Tufts’ curriculum or undergraduate experience
prompt your application? In short: “Why Tufts?” (50-100 words)
There is a Quaker saying: “Let your life speak.” Describe the
environment in which you were raised – your family, home,
neighborhood or community – and how it influenced the person you
are today. (200-250 words)
For the second short response we asked you to consider the world
around you. Now, consider the world within. Taste in music, food
and clothing can make a statement while politics, sports, religion
and ethnicity are often defining attributes. Are you a vegetarian? A
poet? Do you prefer YouTube or test tubes, Mac or PC? Are you
the drummer in an all-girl rock band? Do you tinker? Use the
richness of your identity to frame your personal outlook. (200-250
• An admissions pilot (2006-10) predicated on
the research of Robert Sternberg, then Dean
of Arts and Sciences/Professor of Psychology
at Tufts
Sternberg’s “Theory of Successful Intelligence”
New ideas and ways
of approaching an
issue; novel, clever,
Assess the idea for
feasibility; logical;
organized, balanced,
Implement the idea,
lead others towards
that objective
Is the idea sound,
does it serve others?
Implementing Sternberg’s Theory in a
Most Selective Admissions Process
Expanded the range of information we solicited, assessed &
• Developed optional essays that more directly mapped to the
qualities we valued
• Introduced “non-verbal” options to expand the range of
student attributes
• Redesigned the interview protocol for alumni interviewers
• Posed a set of questions, asked staff to evaluate candidates
using the Sternberg categories
Defined the “intangibles” for admissions readers
• New rubric for assessing intangibles
• Added ratings for “creativity”, “analytical reasoning”, and
“practical skills” to the admissions evaluation sheet
Kaleidoscope was an enhancement
to, not a replacement of, traditional
admissions criteria. “Academic
excellence” remained the first and
most important element of Tufts’
selection process.
Sample Optional Essays 2006-12
It’s 1781 and the American colonies were just defeated by the British at
Yorktown. Imagine history without the United States as we know it.
Kermit the Frog famously lamented “It’s not easy being green.” Do you
agree? (Analytical/Creative)
Create a short story using one of the following topics (Creative):
“The End of MTV”
“The Professor Disappeared”
“The Mysterious Lab”
“House of Cards”
Sample Optional Essays, 2006-12
The 44th President of the United States will be inaugurated on
January 20, 2009. If the 2008 presidential primaries were an
indicator, young voters will have had a substantial voice in the
selection of the next American president. Offer an open letter to
the new president: what issue would you like to see addressed in
the first 100 days of the new Administration? Why does this matter
to you? (Practical/Wisdom)
Why did you do it? (Practical/Creative)
The human narrative is replete with memorable characters like
America’s Paul Revere, ancient Greece’s Perseus or the Fox
Spirits of East Asia. Imagine one of humanity’s storied figures is
alive and working in the world today. Why does Rapunzel work at
Saks? Would Shiva be a general or a diplomat? Is Quetzalcoatl
trapped in a zoo? In short, connect your chosen figure to the
contemporary world and imagine the life he/she/it might lead.
Validating Alternate Forms of
Use an 8.5 x 11 inch sheet of paper to create
something. Blueprint your future home, create a new
product, draw a comic strip, design a costume or a
theatrical set, compose a score or do something entirely
different. Let your imagination wander.
Prepare a one-minute video that says something about
you. Upload it to an easily accessible website (like
YouTube, but we recommend using a privacy setting)
and give us the URL and access code. What you do or
say is totally up to you. (We are unable to watch videos
that come in any form other than a URL link.)
Feedback from Applicants
When asked on our 2011 Accepted Student Survey, “Do you feel
that the Tufts Supplement added value to your college
• 97% of Enrolling Students Answered “Yes”
• 92% of Non-Enrolling Students Answered “Yes”
 “I became more than just a transcript. Your supplement gave
me a voice!”
 “One of the reasons I chose Tufts was the application. It
highlighted your emphasis on getting the best students for the
community, not just for the classroom.”
 “The video concept was really great. It allowed someone, like
me, who is more visual and kinesthetic to express myself more
What do we need to do this
process well?
Student Driven
• Complete Data
• Essays that “show” rather than “tell”
• Evidence of Fit
School Driven
• Recent profile
• Recommendations that paint a full picture
NC State University’s History
with Non-cognitive Variables
Quick History of NC State Undergraduate
Admissions Process
• 1956 - First Black undergraduate students enrolled
• Prior to 1957 - Open admission to all high school
• 1957 – 1958 - Three achievement tests required with
those in the lowest quartile rejected. An SAT was
optional with a 375 minimum on Math and a 300
minimum on Verbal.
• 1960 – 1963 - SAT score minimum set at 750 with
neither section less than 300. Started computing a
University Predicted Grade Point Average (UPGA)
based on SAT scores and class rank. The minimum
UPGA for admission was a 1.6 , but would admit if
UPGA less than 1.6 if SAT greater than 800 down to
a 1.45 UPGA if SAT score was 1100.
Quick History of NC State
Undergraduate Admissions Process
• 1967 – 1971 -- Individual academic schools raise UPGA above
• 1971 – 1972 – Admission required UPGA of 1.6 or higher
regardless of SAT scores.
• 1972 – Experimentally used an NCAA college predicted grade
formula. Faculty committee recommends updating UPGA using
any available academic measures.
• 1972 – The director of admissions argues to create individual
exceptions for several groups including
– “Disadvantaged : Not to be identified by formula or the usual
academic credentials, but by observation or testimony of
individual disadvantage.”
– and “Veterans and other candidates for admission whose
formal education has been interrupted for a number of
Quick History of NC State
Undergraduate Admissions Process
• 1973 – 1984 – Annually updated UPGA and added any factors
based on the regression analysis showing predictive ability.
Minimum UPGA increases to 1.8.
• 1981 – UNC system enters into a consent decree with the US
department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW). UNC
system universities develop affirmative action goals.
• 1984 – UPGA name changed to Admissions Index (AI). Two
equations are in use. One with class rank one without.
• Mid-1980’s - 1998 the AI is reviewed annually with variables
added and deleted based on the best regression equation fit.
• Variance explained (R square) by AI is generally in the .24
range with a high of .31.
• 1997 - An extensive analysis is conducted on the AI with a
general finding that “AI should not be used as the sole means
for determining acceptances but should be used in combination
with a folder review for each applicant.”
Quick History of NC State Undergraduate
Admissions Process
• Dr. William Sedlacek on campus to speak with admissions
committee and staff.
• 1998 – 1999 - A modified version of the Non-Cognitive
Questionnaire (NCQ) included with the admissions
• 2000 – 2001 – Results of the modified NCQ are analyzed
against college academic success. The modified NCQ did
not find a correlation between the non-cognitive variables
measured and college success. There were a number of
explanations for this finding mostly due to difficulties with
the data collection.
• Early 2000’s – Dr. Raymond Ting continues research at
NC State using non cognitive variables and data collected
from first year students. He finds NCQ has significant
predictive ability. NC State receives more applications
and becomes more competitive for admission.
Quick History of NC State Undergraduate
Admissions Process
• 2003 – Michigan cases decided in Supreme
• 2003 - NC State AI only includes high school
GPA and SAT Math and only explains .18 of
variability of college GPA. AI is dropped in
favor of holistic review.
• 2004 – to present – Holistic review admission
is practiced and informed by non-cognitive
NC State Present Day
• Presumptive admit criteria
• Holistic review
• Questions on admission application:
– Leadership is a core value of North Carolina State
University. Please explain your personal view of
leadership and how this view has influenced you to
make a difference in your home, school and/or
– Do you have family obligations that keep you from
participating in extracurricular activities?
– Discuss any obstacles and/or hardships you have
encountered and how you dealt with them.
– Describe the reasons you have chosen to enter the
major that you selected previously in this application.
– NC State is a community that is strong because of
the diversity of our perspectives and experiences.
Please describe how you could contribute to or
benefit from campus diversity.
Where Do We Go From Here?
• Awareness of non-cognitive variables
• Exposing students to activities designed to
help develop these traits
• Helping students and parents understand
admissions procedures
• Assuring that counselor and teacher
recommendations address student’s capacity
in the non –cognitive areas.

Noncognitive Variables (Sedlacek, 2004)