What is Holistic College Admission?

When we parent-aged people applied to college years ago, we knew that the super-selective colleges were looking for “well-rounded” students with top grades and test scores.  There was no holistic admission back then; top grades and scores were the driving factor.

The Shift to Holistic Admission

However, things have changed.  Over the past decade, more and more students have graduated from high school with higher GPAs – nearly 40% of graduating seniors have an “A” average – and as the test prep industry has grown, the number of students with top test scores has tripled.  So many colleges have moved to a process in which they consider other factors – sometimes they strongly consider them.  This is called holistic admission, and it allows college admission offices to build a well-rounded class, filled with students who are deeply talented or involved in one or two specific areas, and/or who have overcome significant struggles to achieve academic or personal success.

One of our favorite voices in the college admission world is Rick Clark, the Director of Admission at Georgia Tech – a college that admits around 20% of the students who apply.  He offers a GREAT description of holistic admission in this post (this is part 2 of a 3-part series; make sure to click on part 3 as well!).

Well-rounded isn’t the goal anymore.

26 admission
These are the 26 factors that the University of Maryland considers when reviewing applications. Most colleges consider most or all of these same factors!

How Does Holistic Admission Impact My College Application Process?

Holistic admission gives colleges the opportunity to look at the student as a whole, not just their grades and test scores.  Colleges that practice a holistic admission process – and that’s most of them these days – think more about how each student will contribute to their campus community.  This broader review process gives students an opportunity to tell their story, how they’ve developed their interests and talents, and who they aspire to be in the future.  The process certainly benefits students who are good writers and storytellers.

However, students who have top grades and test scores (and their parents) sometimes feel frustrated by this seeming change in emphasis.  As hard as you’ve worked for those top grades and test scores, you may be disappointed that they won’t guarantee you’ll be admitted to your dream college.  As you’ll hear in the video above, colleges have had to move to holistic admissions and look at factors other than grades and test scores.

UC Berkeley holistic admission
Here’s how Femi Ogundele, the Director of Admission at UC Berkeley, describes what holistic admission means to him.

More than ever, it’s important to look for colleges that fit who you are and what you’re looking for in your overall college experience, rather than relying on rankings or past years’ test score averages to determine where you should apply.

College admission is filled with nuance.  We’ve been writing this blog for 9 years and we hope to provide useful information as you begin the college search and application process with your child.

Here are a few other articles that may help you learn more about how colleges make admission decisions:

Lessons Learned: College Admissions 2019


The Black Box of A College Admissions Decision

College Financial Aid


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