The mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.
The group of qualities that make a person, group, or thing different from others.
Who you are when no one is watching.
Each of the above sentences define character. Developing your character matters because it is becoming a part of the college admissions process.
As the high school senior class of 2021 begins to write character-based essays for their college applications, underclassmen should continue working on their character. This is more than a 280-character post or a 500-word essay. Who you are is the one character that counts.
Character is developed through everything you do (shovel, build, read, serve, mow, watch…) and every person (parents, coaches, teachers, telemarketers, janitors, CEOs…) you communicate with (post, debate, lead, email, phone…).
Character is developed through your online and offline interactions.
Character is developed through your setbacks, struggles, and suffering because “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4).
UCLA Basketball coach John Wooden said, “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”
So, what are you? Who are you?
The Making Caring Common project, endorsed by over 50 college admissions deans, is seeking to “elevate ethical character, especially concern for others and the common good.”
Doing the right thing is not about building your reputation or résumé. Colleges are working to help potential students change their expectations from “look at what I’ve done” to “look at who I am.” You can’t develop character while you are applying for college. Essay readers will see a fraud within the first paragraph. You begin developing character when you are born, as you listen to the caring adults in your life, and as you apply what they teach you.
MIT Admissions Dean Stuart Schmill said that colleges are working hard to admit students who lead balanced lives, pursue interests with passion, and work with others. They are trying to move away from admitting students who are just checking the boxes.
Your application or resume introduces you to the reader. Think of it as a preview of the real you. In some colleges, two or more admissions officers independently review your application before sitting down to discuss it together.
Some colleges require students to interview with an alumni or admissions officer. They want to know if your application matches who you say you are. Let’s take it one step further. Would your academics, conduct report, relationships, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, and essay reflect who you are if the admissions official invited you to dinner at her house?
Paul wrote that “bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33). Who you are will be impacted by the company you keep. So do you keep bad or good company. You reflect the values of those you hang around the most (online and offline) including Jesus Christ, your parents, youth leaders, YouTubers, TikToc’ers, teammates, and friends. Jesus said that “the tree is known by its fruit” with the tree representing each person (Matthew 12:33). “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad.”
Jon Mertz describes character as something “engraved within us.” The engraving isn’t always planned and clean. The word “character” comes from the Greek kharakter that means “engraved mark.” The character trace goes back to another definition of “to scrape or scratch.” For Mertz, the combination of engrave, scrape, and scratch fit well with what character really means. Here’s why:
David Brooks, author of The Road to Character, writes about people of character. He shared how we can take “the bad things that happen and turn them into a transcendent purpose” like Dorothy Day. From Bayard Rustin, he teaches us the “power of leading with self-restraint.”
Could you be someone Brooks writes about? Are you becoming a person of character or just a character? As prepare your college applications are you sharing who you are or who you want them to believe you are?
Brooks posed this question during his TedTalk, “Am I living for my résumé or my eulogy?”
Let me bring this home. Are you living your life to build your college application or are you living your life to build your character in the image of Jesus Christ?
Combining my youth ministry and educational consulting experience, I guide students to connect higher education with God's calling.