“What has been your greatest life lesson?” My aunt proposed this question during a recent family dinner. Kind of a tough question for a light-hearted dinner, I thought. While I pondered, my mom piped up without hesitation, “There are many ways to be smart.”
This has been my mom’s mantra as long as I can remember. Mom, an elementary school librarian, consistently reminds us that everyone has an incredible set of strengths and talents, but they come in varied forms.
I have been hearing this axiom--“Now remember, Colleen, there are many ways to be smart”--since age 6. This time, however, it carried new meaning. I realized this phrase is not only at the core of my family’s values, but also at the core of the principles we embrace in the holistic admissions.
When reviewing an application, I am constantly thinking about the myriad of ways that a student shows their “smarts”: through how they interact with others; in the way they balance competing priorities; on the sports field; during a research project; in how they handle difficult family situations; through artistic expression; via intellectual discussions (in & out of the classroom); though writing; by inspirational leadership or building bridges in their communities… there are so many ways to be smart.
So how do standardized measures of achievement fit into this picture? I see them as a practicality necessitated by the volume of applications in the college admissions process today. The number of places in each class at Dartmouth is finite, yet the number of applicants and the diverse array of talents they bring seem boundless. As we struggle with the inherent difficulties of this conundrum, conventional methods of assessing achievement (eg. transcripts or testing) can serve as one grounded metric. But one among many.
I believe the core of our process relies on understanding the multiple ways students display their smarts--in the broadest sense of the word. For me, discovering those diverse expressions of intelligence is the joy in reading each application, and in building each class of Dartmouth students.