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What Is Holistic Admissions?

In years past, a student could assess his chances of admission to a certain college by comparing his class rank and test scores against well-known benchmarks. There were tacitly acknowledged cut-off scores below which the applicant could not expect to be admitted. That was a reach school. But even more important, there were scores above which you were virtually certain to get in. This was how you knew you had a safety school.

Many public colleges and universities still operate along these lines. But the trend among private schools, and publics that aspire to be more selective, is toward something they call "holistic admissions." Admissions officers at these schools look "beyond the numbers" to compose a class. More and more high schools are encouraging this by refusing to provide one set of numbers (class rank), and more and more colleges are reducing reliance on another set (test scores).

What are these factors "beyond the numbers"? They include letters of recommendation, essays, extracurricular involvement, minority background, income, athletic achievement, legacy status and demonstrated interest. You may have noticed that all of these factors are a lot harder to quantify. To the outsider/applicant, the holistic admissions process can seem more arbitray than simply offering admission to those who evince academic achievement "by the numbers." This may or may not be intentional on the part of colleges. But there's no denying that the screen of "holistic admissions" allows a college to achieve its own institutional priorities without having to explain the process to outsiders. Institutional priorities include things like admitting more males, raising the average SAT score, increasing the number of first-generation students, increasing the number of full-pay students, or accepting more Classics majors. Using holistic admissions, the staff have the flexibility to admit the applicants they want without necessarily heeding cut-off scores, whether high or low. Reaches and safties are no longer so accurately identified!

If you would like guidance in assessing the realities of holistic admissions for your student, please call 847-660-8625, or click the button at the bottom of the page for a free consultation.

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