'Noncognitive' Measures: The Next Frontier in College Admissions

Admissions offices want to know about traits, like leadership, initiative, and grit, that the SAT doesn't test

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Courtesy of Mary Helen Immordino-Yang

Neuroscience supports the idea that cognitive and noncognitive attributes are interwoven. Logical-reasoning skills and factual knowledge are only so valuable on their own. Students also need an "emotional rudder"—an ability to transfer skills and knowledge to real-world situations—to succeed, according to Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and Antonio Damasio of the U. of Southern California.

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Courtesy of Mary Helen Immordino-Yang

Neuroscience supports the idea that cognitive and noncognitive attributes are interwoven. Logical-reasoning skills and factual knowledge are only so valuable on their own. Students also need an "emotional rudder"—an ability to transfer skills and knowledge to real-world situations—to succeed, according to Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and Antonio Damasio of the U. of Southern California.

The handyman has a tool for everything, but the admissions dean is not so lucky: He must make do with just a few.

Every year, presidents and professors expect freshmen who are curious, determined, and hungry for challenges. The traditional metrics of merit, however, can't reveal such qualities. Standardized-test scores may or may not predict a given student's long-term potential. Grade-point averages present only a partial view of an applicant's talents and work habits. And so, some