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Guest Q&A: Character at The Lawrenceville School

Expanding scientific research about connections between cognitive and noncognitive skills is creating new opportunities to discuss core values. Boarding schools have long recognized the relationship between character and the pursuit of academic and personal excellence. I will be exploring this topic more in-depth in an article in Moffly Magazine’s annual issue on education. This Q&A is part of a series exploring how boarding schools consider the character of candidates and ways in which they value and nurture character development on campus.  – Audrey Noyes Ludemann

Thomas Sheppard
Dean of Enrollment Management
The Lawrenceville School, New Jersey

School Snapshot: Founded in 1810, Lawrenceville is a coeducational, college-preparatory boarding school. Its 822 students represent 31 states and 39 countries.

School Mission: Through House and Harkness, Lawrenceville challenges a diverse community of promising young people to lead lives of learning, integrity, and high purpose. Our mission is to inspire the best in each to seek the best for all.

How is character integrated into your school culture?
Our community depends on character because it depends on students being able to think about the larger community. We teach and learn in Harkness-style classrooms and we foster community through our house system, so we need students to be collaborative.

Do you have specific initiatives around character development?
Every classroom incorporates character development because Harkness learning is inquiry-based and student-driven. It requires students to contribute to the conversation by articulating their own beliefs and experiences. At the same time, students must challenge themselves to sit back and actively contemplate other points of view. This encourages students to reflect on who they are—and perhaps change—in a way that might not happen in a regular classroom. Through this process, students come to understand that the success of the class is related to the conscientious attention of each individual. They discover that the tide lifts all together.

It is hard to describe the depth of what goes on here to cultivate school life beyond academics. In addition to being places to live, our house system offers strong communities—each with their own traditions and systems. The bonds run so deep that when I travel the world and meet alumni, loyalty to their house is on par with loyalty to the school.

How do you consider character in your admissions process?
We look for students who demonstrate resiliency and determination. We also value a sense of selflessness because community is the heart and soul of our school. When thinking about each candidate, we ask, “Is this person going to make this school a better place?”

Audrey Noyes Ludemann helps families seek independent school education, including day schools and boarding schools, from elementary to secondary grades. She also is an invaluable resource for addressing different learning styles—serving families whose students are gifted and/or have moderate learning differences. She can be reached at