WHAT IS “HOLISTIC REVIEW”?

Many of those charged with making college admissions decisions take a “holistic review” approach when evaluating individual applications. Authors Arthur L. Coleman and Jamie Lewis Keith explain the term in the Executive Summary of their 2018 College Board (Links to an external site.) publication “Understanding Holistic Review in Higher Education Admissions”:

Individualized holistic review is a cornerstone of admissions among institutions with varying levels of selectivity. Despite the remarkable variability among institution types—with respect to mission, setting, and more—key points of effective practice continue to guide the field. Individualized holistic review optimally reflects three common characteristics:

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    • Mission alignment, which is focused on advancing the institution’s core educational goals through the admissions process.
    • A two-part inquiry regarding applicants: attention to their likely ability to succeed and thrive at a given institution and attention to their ability to enhance the educational experiences of their peers in and out of the classroom.
    • Consideration of multiple, often intersecting, factors—academic, nonacademic, and contextual—that, in combination, uniquely define and reflect accomplishments and potential contributions of each applicant in light of his or her background and circumstances.

Additionally, such practices are most effective when they are part of a comprehensive, coordinated enrollment management process, including outreach and recruitment, financial aid and scholarships, capacity building (including first-year transitions), and curricular and co-curricular alignment.

The processes associated with individualized holistic review should reflect:

    • Integrity, with a focus on rigor, consistency, and fairness when applying valid criteria in selection, which should include multiple reviews, clear protocols, calibration, and ongoing professional development for enrollment staff and application readers.
    • A process of continuous improvement that involves a periodic evaluation of success in light of all relevant evidence inclusive of institutional goals, changing circumstances, and resource capacity issues.

Additionally, engagement with leaders throughout the institution on key policy and practice issues is a hallmark of success of holistic review in admissions.

Finally, appropriate transparency with proactive, collaborative, and sustained communications and engagement efforts with both internal and external audiences is a key element of holistic admission and is essential in engendering stakeholder and public trust.

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