Interview with Chris Beeson, Director of Admissions at The Athenian School

With so many qualified applicants applying, how important are soft skills vs. test scores and other assessments at The Athenian School?

Soft skills can make or break an admission decision, particularly when there are many clearly well-qualified applicants. In that case the highest test score or grade average does not necessarily identify the best candidate. Soft-skills seem even more relevant when a school has a clearly defined and distinctive mission and program. A large applicant pool adds to the relevance of soft skills in admission decisions. Soft skills are not just distinguishing factors for admission; they are necessary for equipping students for successful meaningful and purposeful lives. With that in mind we select students who bring soft skills with them to help us develop those skills in all our students.

How does your school evaluate and weigh "soft skills" in the admissions process? Which soft skills do you think lead to better outcomes?

We evaluate and assign ratings to applicants according to a rubric, one rating for academic readiness and ability to contribute and the other for personal readiness and ability to contribute, the second including soft skills. We look for many different skills: collaborative problem solving, respect for others, leadership, compassion, supportiveness, the ability to disagree with caring, innovation, thinking outside the box, empowering others, embracing differences, integrating different perspectives, and more. We have talked about which activities, achievements, awards, or experiences demonstrate soft skills. 

What trends have you noticed in this area from speaking to colleagues working in admissions?

I hear more and more discussion about the role of soft skills among colleagues. Individuals raise the topic, it has come up in professional meetings sand conferences, and some of our professional organizations are putting significant energy into research and development of measures for soft skills. It's a hot topic!

What advice would you give to schools that are overwhelmed with qualified applicants?

I think schools overwhelmed with many applicants should pay the most attention to soft skills. If you can admit any of a number of very strong applicants, the best students for your program and community may not be those with the highest traditional academic indicators.Think about the most selective colleges, who avoid admitting the brilliant but one-dimensional student, who seek those who will add to community, who will help all students grow, who can add different perspectives, who change the tone of the classroom or community for the better, and have the skills to do so meaningfully. Schools can do the same. Think about your mission and identified outcomes and let them lead you in considering soft skills.