How To Develop A Better Personality To Get Into An Elite University

Want to get into an elite university? Develop a better personality so you can receive a higher personality score during the admissions process.

In the Supreme Court case regarding using race-conscious admissions (affirmative action) at Harvard University and UNC, we learn Harvard assigns a personality score to every applicant.

By assigning a lower personality score to Asian applicants, Harvard attempts to justify its rejection of some Asian applicants, despite their higher overall grades and test scores. This is one way universities use to better shape what they believe the racial mix of each incoming class should be.

Below is a chart that shows the percentage of undergraduate enrollment of Asians has been relatively steady at Ivy League schools since 1990 but increased at Caltech. 1997 was the last year before the affirmative action ban in California took effect.

Asian acceptance in academics

Asians Are Less Personable?

As someone who has always had friends in low and high places, I never realized I had a worse personality than people of other races. It also seems hard to measure someone’s personality, self-confidence, likability, and courage without at least spending an hour with them in person.

Although I attended a state school (William & Mary), I ended up getting a front-office job at Goldman Sachs in NYC. Goldman is a highly coveted employer by many graduates from elite universities.

As a Goldman employee interviewing perspective applicants, it was actually kind of surreal rejecting ~95% of the Ivy League applicants who got past “Super Day,” the first round of all-day interviews.

Heck, I’ve even had a girlfriend or wife since the 7th grade! Even if I was the best-looking fella, which I’m clearly not, there’s no way I could have always had a love interest since 12 years old if I had had a terrible personality.

But let’s say Harvard is right and I’m not as personable as others due to my race. I don’t have the self-confidence to speak up for myself nor do I have the courage to live life on my terms.

I’m good with that because I’m financially free, baby! There’s nobody I need to constantly suck up to to try and get ahead.

However, as a parent of multi-racial kids, they might inherit my bad personality. And after we got rejected by six-out-of-seven preschools, I realized that having a minimum amount of status matters.

Hence, it’s a good idea to think of ways to help our kids develop better personalities to give them more opportunities. Maybe this post can help you develop a better personality as well.

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Long Shot To Get Into An Elite University

I know the odds are stacked against my kids for getting into any elite university. The average acceptance rates are in the single digits. Based on my mediocre SAT score, if my kids inherit my academic prowess, they’ve got no shot.

But as any good Financial Samurai believes, the longer the odds the greater the upside! It’s still worth trying to develop better personalities to improve our lives.

After writing this article, I realize the end goal is not to get into an elite university and pay over $300,000 in today’s dollars for the privilege. Goodness knows there are plenty of graduates of elite universities that end up doing nothing special.

Instead of obtaining a fancy diploma, the end goal is to live a life of purpose, ultimately, with someone who will love you no matter what. Will you wake up excited most days? If so, you’re on the right track.

SAT performance by race and sex

The Worry I Have As A Parent

I have this one nagging worry my children will still be living with us when they are 30+ years old. If this happens, it will mean they weren’t able to utilize their education to find a job that pays enough for them to live independently. It probably also means they had a tougher time finding someone, which is the greater heartbreaker.

The worry may seem strange, but I have been constantly reminded of this concern since I first bought a single-family house in San Francisco in 2005. From 2005 – 2014, my next door neighborhood returned home after college and never left. When I moved to a new neighborhood in 2014, my new next door neighbor’s son moved in after graduating college at 25 and has also never left.

Then after I purchased a forever house in 2020, I met three neighbors who had adult children living at home. Maybe this phenomenon is due to the high cost of living in San Francisco. Surely, part of the reason more adult children moved back is due to the pandemic.

However, the trend of adult children living at home seems to have only increased since 2005. I make this observation based on chats with my neighbors who seemingly want to tell me their life stories.

I wrote about this experience in the post, A Massive Generational Wealth Transfer Is Why Everything Will Be OK. Living at home in your mid-20s to save money is smart. But living at home after 30 seems like there is more downside than upside.

Percentage of adult children living at home with their parents

One Common Denominator: Not Very Personable

Except for one adult living at home, the common denominator I’ve noticed is that these adult children still living at home seem to be more socially awkward than average.

For example, most don’t look at me in the eye when we talk. Nor do they seem to know how to carry on a conversation. So eventually, we stopped talking and now I just wave every time I see them.

From a person with a poor personality, here are my tips on how to develop a better personality and be a better communicator. For more background, I spent 13 years building relationships with financial clients and 13 years so far building Financial Samurai into a top personal finance site by mostly telling stories.

How To Develop A Better Personality To Get Into A Elite University

Is there a standard criteria by Harvard and other elite universities for what a great personality should be? If there is one, let’s see it so students can work on improving their personalities. But here are eleven things we can all do to improve our personalities.

1) Remember and say people’s names

When you say someone’s name, you command their attention. Everybody likes to hear their name mentioned because it makes them feel recognized and important.

2) Look at people in their eyes when speaking

When speaking to someone, don’t be shy. Look at them in the eyes for a couple seconds, glance at something else, and look back at them. It’s an art to look at someone without making them feel uncomfortable.

3) Smile and smile some more

A person can’t help but smile back at you if you first smile at them. Smiling is a superpower that automatically makes people warm up to you.

4) Listen with empathy

Listening with empathy means tilting your head a little, nodding in agreement, making appropriate sounds, and mirroring body language and words. If you’re looking at your watch or phone while someone is speaking to you, you obviously don’t care.

5) Learn how to have a 50/50 dialogue

People can’t stand others who dominate a conversation. Instead, let people speak and then share your point of view. Always ask back what is asked of you. A 50/50 dialogue is like a dance of give and take.

6) Learn how to tell good stories

Everybody loves a good story with mystery, intrigue, and humor. Stories with emotion create a stronger connection between the storyteller and the listener. Practice telling stories to your friends or writing articles with stories. Here’s an article on tips on how to tell good stories.

7) Give genuine compliments and don’t be shy to say “thank you”

If somebody says something nice about you, simply say “thank you!” I had trouble with this simple response because I used to feel embarrassed or undeserved. You can also respond with humility with any compliment, such as, “I just got lucky.”

It is also important to learn how to give genuine compliments. A genuine compliment happens when you recognize a person’s effort to achieve a result.

For example, if you know your friend spent the past six months dieting and working out, compliment her by saying, “You look great! Please tell me your secret to staying so disciplined hitting the gym three times a week and cutting out the cookies. I’m having a hard time getting motivated going just once a week.”

Recognize a person’s genuine struggle before complimenting them on their triumph. It shows you empathize with what they’ve gone through to achieve their results. By putting yourself in an inferior light, it makes the person more empathetic to your situation.

8) Speak with clarity, volume, and confidence

If you mumble with your shoulders slumped people might get annoyed they can’t hear you clearly. Eventually, they might start ignoring you altogether. Learn to speak clearly and with confidence. You’ll come across as more charismatic and inspiring.

A person who has great communication skills will trump a person with more knowledge and expertise any day. Ideally, you have both.

9) Be great or at least passionate about something

Try to be really good at something. It can be anything from a sport, to music, to art, to dance, to writing. By being a top one percent performer in something, you will feel more confident because you became a master at your craft. People admire others who are passionate about something.

10) Be inclusive and kind

People who are more welcoming of others are more welcomed themselves. Conversely, people who are more exclusive tend to have been hurt or excluded themselves.

People will better remember how you make them feel, not as much as what you say. It’s natural to feel insecure about something. But if you show kindness and welcome others no matter who they are, they will like you more.

11) Learn how to make fun of yourself and not take things too seriously

You can disarm someone’s envy or distrust in you by making fun of yourself first. Poke fun at your flaws, highlight your struggles, and try to look on the bright side of things.

Just be careful not to joke around too much amongst serious people or in a serious setting. Learn how to read the room and match the atmosphere.

When A Better Personality Is Needed

One of the problems with being unemployed and financially independent is that you stop interacting with as many people. As a result, your social skills may atrophy because you have less practice.

Just like getting good at anything, you must practice, practice, practice at improving your personality! You don’t read a post about how to develop a better personality and then suddenly you’re the most charismatic and charming person in the world.

Leaving work for good in 2012 has decreased my desire to be liked. I’m no longer trying to get paid and promoted to the promised land. As a result, I haven’t worked on improving my personality much at all since.

It was only when I went on my book marketing tour in 3Q 2022 did I need to try to be more likable. If I didn’t, fewer people would invite me on their podcasts, YouTube channels, or TV shows. Which also meant that fewer people would purchase Buy This, Not That.

So I decided to jump back in the fire and worked on being more personable. After every interview, I got a little better. The marketing process was both scary and exhilarating, hopeful and dreadful. I felt like I was back at work, selling a product that most people would reject. But in the end, my book became a national bestseller, so something went right despite my poor personality.

In a big way, the need to make money and the desire to become more popular will naturally force you to improve your personality. If you don’t care about these things, then you won’t bother. After all, everything is long-term rational.

Some of the worst personalities reside with people with amazingly good looks who were also born into great wealth. It’s not their fault. They just didn’t need to try as hard to get ahead. 

Personalities For College Admission

Harvard admittance rates by academic decile and race
Harvard admit rates by academic decile and race

Having a great personality will make your life better. You’ll have more friends, increase your chances of finding a significant other, get more job offers, be invited to more events, raise more money, make more money, and be more loved by more people in general. You’ll probably be happier too.

I can see why some universities have a personality score variable for each applicant. It’s just unfortunate schools like Harvard are penalizing Asians for our personalities. An intense focus on education is part of many Asian cultures. Shouldn’t that be celebrated instead?

Using a subjective score to deny someone admission despite having objective higher scores is a tough pill to swallow. But that’s just the way things are for any private institution, company, or university. Private institutions can do what they want, just like private citizens can apply to wherever they want.

The one caveat is a private university taking federal funding. If so, it must follow Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color or national origin. Let’s see what the Supreme Court rules this time.

Reader Questions And Action Items

Readers, what do you think about Harvard rating Asians lower on its personality score? What are your suggestions for how we can improve our personalities? How much does having a good personality matter for getting ahead? What are your thoughts on affirmative action?

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For a good book on charismatic communication, check out the book Cues, by Vanessa Van Edwards. She is a fellow Portfolio Penguin author.

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