What is ‘Holistic Admissions’?
Holistic admissions, in admissions officers lingo, means that the content of the entire application package is considered, not just grades and standardized test scores. This term will become more important in our new reality since more schools are going to be test optional during this upcoming admissions cycle.
What happens in holistic admissions?
Admissions officers ask applicants to write essays.
Sometimes they use the essays on the Common App. College-bound seniors can work on those over the summer, with help from counselors and teachers in the fall. Other schools have their own essays, with topics ranging from Why (school name)? to challenging questions that a high school student has never answered before. Admissions officers review these essays for authenticity, creativity and consistency. They want to get to know more about the applicant and be sure that s/he wrote the essays.
Admissions officers also want to know what “excites” an applicant.
This gives them insight on academic interests as well as how the applicant could be an asset to the campus community. The admissions officers who know their schools well will know which programs and activities receive considerable attention and investment. This includes not only athletics, but also areas such as creative writing, performing arts and speech and debate programs, among many others. It’s important for applicants to let admissions officers know which activities they plan to continue in college, as opposed to the ones that they “joined” in high school but were not active participants.
An admissions officer, especially a less-experienced one, wants to feel secure when s/he makes a recommendation.
That person has a career to think about, as well as their role on an admissions team. The job can be rewarding, but also heart breaking. It’s much tougher to say ‘no’ eight or nine times out of ten, then to say ‘yes’ most of the time. But the admissions officer also wants to get their recommendations right. The success of the students they support is important for their future as well as the student’s.
More often than not financial need is considered.
As hard as colleges try to be sensitive to a family’s financial situation, they try to award aid to the applicants that they believe are most likely to succeed in the classroom and graduate on to a rewarding life after college. Those who rank lower on academic considerations will likely rank lower when it comes to scholarships and need-based gift aid.
A family’s job is not to try to “game” or “guess” the holistic admissions process.
It may seem rewarding to “get someone in” to a school that turns away the vast majority of those who want to come. True, the good news validates that the applicant did a “good job” in high school, certainly a good-enough job to impress an admissions committee. But bad news does not mean that the applicant will have a far less rewarding life.
To me, a family’s job, with the aid of their counselor and others, is to find the school(s) where their son or daughter will have at least a fighting chance for admission (more likely where s/he will get in), offer the academic and social fit that s/he wants and appear willing to help a student succeed during and after college. Many schools use holistic admissions to help their applicants beyond merely welcoming them into a freshman class. They use the practice to award scholarships and match interested students to academic programs and activities that might be rewarding opportunities. These are the schools that families should try to identify–and aim for admission.
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