5 ways to give the 5 C’s a bigger role in college admissions

85% of students wish college applications provided more ways to showcase their personalities.
By: | September 23, 2020
(GettyImages/Yagi Studio)

While most educators agree soft skills are crucial for higher ed and workforce success, the so-called “5 C’s” may be getting short shrift in the college admissions process,  according to a new analysis.

Some 95% of admissions decision-makers, 97% of college placement counselors and 88% of high school students agreed that demonstrating creativity, communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creative problem solving should be an important part of applying to college, according to an Adobe for Education study released Wednesday.

One reason behind these sentiments is that more and more colleges and universities have made standardized test scores optional.

However, the college placement counselors and students surveyed for the report ranked soft skills behind grade-point averages, SAT and ACT scores and interviews ahead of soft skills as the most important factors in getting accepted to college.


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Admissions counselors put soft skills third, behind GPAs and interviews, according to the Adobe study.

So, here are four areas where Abode suggests that higher ed and K-12 leaders make adjustments to give soft skills their proper prominence in the college-and-career planning pipeline:

1. Students are not demonstrating soft skills on college applications.

  • 85% of students wish college applications provided more ways to showcase their personalities.
  • 84% don’t know how to showcase creativity in their applications.
  •  Only 20% of college admissions decision-makers say students demonstrate creativity “very well” on college applications.

2. A large majority of counselors want guidance in helping students demonstrate soft skills.

  • 97% of counselors say creative skills should be a priority throughout the K-12 curriculum.
  • 94% of college placement counselors says high school students should have access to online courses where they can learn creative software and earn industry credentials.
  • 56% of counselors think the number of students pursuing certifications or taking gap years will begin to grow in the near future.

3. Students say they are not taught the creative skills they need to apply to college.

  • 74% of students worry their college applications will not stand out.
  • 40% admit they don’t know how to stand out or reflect who they are within their application.
  • 74% wish there was more of a focus on creativity in their classes
  • 43% say they are learning creativity tools, such as photo, video and design apps.

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4. Admissions decision-makers say creative skills need to be more deeply incorporated into the process of evaluating college applicants. 

  • 94% of admissions decision-makers want to evaluate students beyond test scores, GPAs and other “hard skills.”
  • 85% said that colleges need to take a more holistic approach to evaluating students.
  • 77% say portfolios and personal websites can showcase skills like creativity, communication (only 20% of students surveyed are currently building an online portfolio).
  • 94% says creative skills would make the admissions process more equitable by encouraging a larger and more diverse candidate pool.

5. These challenges are compounded by the limited time admissions officers have to review each student’s applications.

  • Students spend an average 29 hours preparing their college applications.
  • College admissions officers spend an average 11 minutes reviewing each application,
  • 83% of college admissions officers review more than 400 applications each cycle

Some 1,000 students, 250 college decision-makers and 250 high school placement counselors participated in the survey.


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