The Character Skills Snapshot

Better understand your applicants for a more holistic admissions process.

Download Datasheet

Families want schools to have a more complete picture of their student during the admissions process.

Enrollment professionals want a more consistent way to understand the whole applicant.

The Character Skills Snapshot is the answer to the question: How do we better measure students' essential character skills, improve independent school admissions practices, and support the current strengths and emerging skills of all students?

Learn MoreWatch Video

Character matters —

to students, families, and independent schools.

What is The Character Skills Snapshot?

It’s an innovative online tool that gives EMA members a standardized way to assess seven essential character skills of students seeking entrance to grades 6–12:


Intellectual Engagement

Highlights the student's preference toward willingness and enjoyment of pursuing learning opportunities, regardless of how much difficulty they might experience.


Highlights the student's preference toward a willingness to try new things.



Highlights the student's preference toward an inclination to work on assignments in a timely manner and emphasizes the point at which a student chooses to start work rather than when the student finishes work.


Highlights the student's preference to adjust to unexpected situations and changing circumstances.


Highlights the student’s preference to monitor and control his/her/their thoughts and actions, and what he/she/they say to others.


Social Awareness

Highlights the student’s evaluation of the appropriateness of responses to everyday situations.


Highlights the student's preference to engage in supportive behaviors and emphasizes empathetic qualities that enable productive collaboration with others.

“Who you are as a school is who a student should see from the moment they enter the admissions process. At Crossroads, this meant making the student, rather than the school, the focus of our admissions process. The Snapshot was the ideal tool to help us do that.”

Amy Walia-Fazio
Director of Secondary Admission
Crossroads School for Arts and Sciences
See it in action

Here’s how it works:

The Snapshot is an online assessment that students can take in a location of their choosing (it is not permitted to be given at schools). The assessment is untimed but takes approximately 25 minutes to complete.

Families who register students for the SSAT will automatically receive an email inviting them to consent for their students to take The Snapshot. Schools that do not use the SSAT can use EMA-provided messaging to instruct applying families to take The Snapshot.
Review Step-by-Step Registration


Applicants access The Character Skills Snapshot online.

There are tons of multi-purpose options.
Each question on The Snapshot was written by assessment development specialists and subject matter experts in psychology and education, as well as members from the independent school community.
View Sample Questions


Students answer two types of questions.

There are tons of multi-purpose options.
The Snapshot measures a student’s preferences, attitudes, and beliefs about their character. It does not measure their behavior and is not an achievement test.

Member schools using The Character Skills Snapshot will receive reports from those parents/guardians who select them as report recipients approximately two weeks following Snapshot completion. Families have the opportunity to review their report before it appears on their selected schools’ Member Access Portal (MAP).
Access Snapshot Results


Snapshot Reports summarize results.

There are tons of multi-purpose options.
The Snapshot is meant to complement, not replace, a holistic admissions process that includes information from cognitive tests (such as the SSAT), recommendation letters, interviews, etc.

It is not intended to determine if a student should or should not be admitted. Instead, it offers context to help you better understand the whole student.
Learn How to Interpret Results


Schools use Snapshot insights to better understand applicants.

There are tons of multi-purpose options.

Finally, character skills can be measured consistently.

The Science Behind The Character Skills Snapshot

The Snapshot’s framework stems from extensive research drawn from and conducted by:

  • EMA’s Think Tank on the Future of Assessment
  • Independent School Enrollment Leaders
  • The Educational Testing Service (ETS) 
  • Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century (The National Research Council, 2012)

To maintain security, a new form of The Snapshot is developed every academic year. Every item on The Snapshot undergoes rigorous pilot testing that involves multiple stages. For example, the 2017–2018 Snapshot form was pilot-tested on 12,000 students prior to its launch.

View Summary of Research

The better you understand your applicants,

the stronger your admissions process.

Snapshot Resources

Some of the Schools Benefitting From Snapshot

Click the logos below to read success stories.

Frequently Asked Questions

How were the skills selected?

After comprehensive deliberation and a series of surveys, focus groups, and meetings, admission directors, heads of schools, and administrators selected the character skills they thought were most important to consider in an admission context.

For what age groups is it intended?

The Character Skills Snapshot is intended for students seeing application to independent schools in grades 6 through 12. The Snapshot was pilot tested with students in grades 5 through 11. The measurement properties of The Snapshot are stable across these grade levels.

How do you know students are answering honestly?

The Character Skills Snapshot is meant to capture a student’s perceptions of themselves in relation to the character skills. They should answer the questions on their own with no help from parent, guardian, or peers. In the unlikely event that students do attempt to fake their answers, they should find it extremely difficult to fake the forced-choice portion. Given that the situational judgment test portion (section 2) is knowledge-based, there is no real threat of faking.

Is it the same as the SSAT?

It is not the same thing as the SSAT. The Character Skills Snapshot was designed to complement standardized cognitive testing measures like the SSAT to provide a richer, more well-rounded picture of an individual applicant. It is taken separately from the SSAT. Schools can choose whether and how to utilize The Snapshot in their admission processes.

What is The Character Skills Snapshot?

The Character Skills Snapshot is a noncognitive assessment tool that measures character skills (initiative, intellectual engagement, open-mindedness, resilience, self-control, social awareness, and teamwork).

Why are character skills important?

There is a plethora of literature that suggests character skills are important for success in school, work, and life. It is one goal of independent schools to foster these skills in their students. Learn more about character and assessment on this NAIS page authored by David Holmes.

How was it developed?

The Enrollment Management Association collaborated with admission directors, heads of schools, and teachers from more than 56 independent schools to develop The Character Skills Snapshot. Assessment development experts from the Educational Testing Service wrote some of the questions, and others were written by teachers and admission professionals from independent schools. It has been through rigorous pilot testing with approximately 12,000 students enrolled in or applying to independent schools across the country. Listen to a podcast with Dr. David Holmes, cofounder and codirector of the Institute on Character and Admission, and Meghan Brenneman, Ed.D., Director of Character Assessment Programs for The Enrollment Management Association, at the bottom of this page.

How is The Snapshot administered?

The Character Skills Snapshot is administered online in a student's home or other location with internet service. It is not available on mobile devices and is not given at schools.

What is the cost of The Character Skills Snapshot?

There is no cost for The Character Skills Snapshot if a student registers to take the SSAT; registration will be available through the student's SSAT account. If a student does not register to take the SSAT, the cost is $40.00 USD.

What if a family is having trouble accessing The Snapshot?

For families having logistical issues with The Snapshot, please direct questions to us at or 609-683-4440 or live chat on, Monday through Friday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm ET.  Additionally, step-by-step tutorials and answers to many frequently asked questions can be found on the family Snapshot page at

Parents/guardians must create both parent and student SSAT accounts to take The Snapshot.

The Parent Account

  • Provides parent/guardian and student information; creates a parent account
  • Creates a student account with username and password
  • Gives consent and signs an integrity statement

The Student Account

  • Once the parent/guardian has provided consent and submits integrity statement, student signs in to his/her account.
  • A "Take the Snapshot"  icon will appear on student account
  • Student submits integrity statement
  • Student takes The Snapshot
  • The Snapshot can only be taken on the student account, not the parent account. The student must be logged in to see Snapshot access.

Are fee waivers available for students who are not SSAT test takers, but need assistance to take The Character Skills Snapshot?

Yes. Participating member schools can issue fee waivers to those in financial need from their member access portals (MAPs). We'll automatically generate an email that will be sent to families which will include the fee waiver code that families can use in order to gain access to The Snapshot. Directions for utilizing fee waivers for The Snapshot can be found here.

Can a student stop and start the assessment, or does it have to be taken in one sitting?

The Character Skills Snapshot must be taken in one sitting. In our pretesting, it took students an average of 30 minutes to complete.

Can a student retake The Character Skills Snapshot?

Students may take The Character Skills Snapshot one time per testing year (August 1 - July 15th) The Character Skills Snapshot is intended to capture a snapshot of the student at the moment when they apply and results are valid for one year. Reports are accessible via your portal for one year.

Can a school that accepts the ISEE or another standardized test receive Snapshot reports?

A school must be a member of The Enrollment Management Association in order to receive Character Skills Snapshot reports. Member schools that use the ISEE or another admission test must let students know they use The Snapshot so that families can sign up to access it.

How can schools sign up to participate?

If a member school would like to use The Snapshot, they simply log into their Member Access Portal (MAP), click on the link titled Character Skills Snapshot, and follow the steps to opt in to receive results.

Are results sent directly to schools?

Member schools will receive reports from those parents/guardians who select them as report recipients. A parent/guardian must choose to send Snapshot reports to a school. The reports will then be delivered to the schools Member Access Portal (MAP). Snapshot results are released according to the schedule listed online each year.

When do we get reports?

When a school is selected as a score recipient following the receipt of results by the parent/guardian, the school will receive results in real time.

How should the results be used to impact an admission decision?

Admission offices should use the information provided from The Character Skills Snapshot to complement other information required as a part of the application process, including SSAT test scores, interviews, grades, letters of recommendation, and other information. The Character Skills Snapshot is not intended and should not be used alone to make an admission decision. Schools are required to sign a fair use agreement prior to agreeing to accept Snapshot reports.

Can Character Skills Snapshot reports change over time?

Yes, a student’s character skills are expected to change over time. There is a lot of research about the malleability of character skills.

Character Skills Snapshot Success Stories

Eric Barber
Crossroads School
for Arts and Sciences (CA)

For Crossroads School in Santa Monica, the admission entry point at sixth grade is particularly challenging. With applicants coming primarily from public schools, there is significant price sensitivity and less of an orientation to the value of an independent school education and the admission process. In addition, the information the admission team receives about students varies widely, depending on whether the student is coming from a public school or private school.

Eric Barber, director of enrollment management at Crossroads, believes The Character Skills Snapshot will help level that playing field. It will also help us “differentiate our admission process from the competitor schools, in that we really are showing that we care about the entire brain and the entire kid, because that's who we are as a school.”

Interested in The Character Skills Snapshot?

Fill out this form to get started!