Brennan Barnard on How Character Counts: An Ethical Approach to College Admissions

Apr 9, 2021 | podcast

Welcome to College Admissions in the Era of COVID-19 Virtual Summit! On today’s episode, we give you a glimpse into Dr. Legatt’s conversation with Brennan Barnard.


VO: Welcome to College Admissions Real Talk with Dr. Aviva Legatt, a podcast for students seeking to get admitted to top-tier colleges. Each episode will feature an important tip for your college admission success, delivered with candor and love. If you’ve ever wanted to take a peek inside the mind of a college admissions officer, this is your chance. Have a question? Text Dr. Legatt at 610-222-5762. So, what’s your dream school? 

AL: Welcome to College Admissions Real Talk. I am Dr. Aviva Legatt, founder and elite admissions expert at Ivy Insight and author of “Get Real and Get In”. You’re going to be hearing today from our summit speaker, and I’m so excited to share just a glimpse of the summit with you. I wanted to give you a sense of what you missed if you had to miss it and invite you to get a VIP All-Access Pass to the summit. This access pass will allow you to get full, unlimited and lifetime access to all those session recordings. This is just a clip. You’ll also have the ability to attend live Q & A session with me where I will answer your questions about college admissions right on the spot. And you’re going to also gain access to my personal Ultimate College Application Template bundle with bonus materials and that has a value of $397. So click on the show notes. Go ahead, reserve your VIP ticket so that you can gain access to the full summit experience and all its perks. See you soon. 

Thanks so much for being here, Brennan. 

BB: Hi. Thanks for having me. 

AL: So, Brennan Barnard is the director of College Counseling and outreach at the Dairy Field School. This is an independent day school in Manchester, New Hampshire, and he’s also at the U S Performance Academy, which is an independent online high school for elite athletes. He is the College Admissions Program Advisor with Making Caring Common Project at Harvard Graduates of Education. And he’s the co-author of “The Truth About College Admission, A Family Guide to Getting In and Staying Together” with his co author, Rick Clark. Today we’re going to be talking about character accounts and ethical approach to college admissions So tell us a little bit about yourself, your work, the character collaborative we’d love to hear more about. And Harvard is Making Care in Common Project. 

BB: I’ve been in college admission and college counseling for probably over 20 years now in a number of different roles, but I joined Making Caring Common two and a half three years ago. It is a project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and there’s a bunch of different initiatives within the project. The overall mission of the project is raising kids who care about others in the common good can’t get much more kind of pure and direct than that, right? So it’s this idea of how do we create a caring society with citizens that care about each other and want to do better and be better? They’ve done a bunch of research, and Rick Weisberg, the faculty director, had done some research that was asking students about the messages they receive from their parents. And what are the barriers for them in caring about each other? And again and again, they were receiving these messages that ‘I’d like to be a better person and be more caring about others and show that concern.’ But I need to get into a good college. My parents want me to get into a good college, and there were all these mixed messages from parents about what they expected about kids and kids, what they expected from their parents. And back in 2016, they put together a group of admissions officers that released the report, which is turning the tide in college admissions because they really wanted to work with college admissions officers to change the narrative around what matters, that it’s not just achievement. It’s not just test scores, but  who you are as a person and what you bring to a community. We then released another report right around the same time as the BRC Blue scandal about what parents could do and what schools could do to reinforce ethical character. My role as the program advisor is to kind of help a bunch of different initials we have around Democratizing quality information in college mission. How do we get out good information in an equitable way to the masses? 

AL: Are there specific traits that you think have been or will be more emphasized going forward because of this collaborative? Or is it just a matter of defining what those character traits are that we’re valuing and whatever it was to be curious if you could share just a couple of examples of things that folks are talking about and looking for. 

BB: Sure, it’s not a set kind of menu of traits necessarily like you need to have these five character traits. It really is more about defining for any given institution because it’s different for each school and each person, what matters to them and what is a priority on their campus, things like compassion and empathy and persistence and resilience and all these things that make kind of who you are and how you show up in the world.

AL: That’s really interesting. I know that when I speak with folks who are looking for some of the top colleges behind me. I think there’s always this challenge or this tension between navigating the competitive landscape and then also being really mindful and developing these really important traits as well. Do you have any thoughts about how to reconcile wanting to get to the top of whatever applicant pools you’re looking to get into and developing these traits that are so important for college and for life? It’s not an either or right. I mean, all those schools behind you and schools of also activity could take as many students as they want to where straight A students had done everything. But they want to enroll people who are good people and who care about each other and form a healthy community. If you are a great person, but have straight fees, is this going to change your options? Probably not. But schools, and especially the most selective schools in the country who can kind of choose their class pretty selectively, innate, this matters.

VO: College Admissions Real Talk is hosted by Aviva Legatt, edited by Stephanie Carlin, and produced by Incontrera Consulting. I’m Caroline Stokes and this has been your daily boost of college admissions insight. Have a question? Text Dr. Legatt at 610-222-5762. For more information on Dr. Legatt and Ivy Insight visit www.ivyinsight.com. And you can pick up Dr. Legatt’s book, “Get Real and Get In”, at major retail outlets across the world. Insight out.