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What is Holistic Review?

When colleges review applications, they are trying to answer two questions:

  • Will this student be successful here?

  • What intellectual and social contribution is the student likely to make to our campus?

To gain a deeper understanding of applicants, many colleges employ a holistic approach. That means that potential students are evaluated in a variety of areas beyond their GPA and test scores. With colleges moving toward standardized testing flexibility, those other characteristics are likely to carry even more weight. The following elements are examples of what may be considered in a holistic evaluation:

  • GPA in the context of course rigor-AP, honors, or community college courses indicate a student’s willingness to challenge himself/herself/themselves.

  • Number of and performance in academic courses beyond those required-For example, three or four years of a language, five years of English, etc.

  • Class ranking-A student’s academic standing in relation to others in his/her/their class.

  • Outstanding performance in a particular academic area(s).

  • Extracurricular activities-Shows an applicant’s interests as well as depth and breadth of participation in an area of interest over time.

  • Special talents or passions-Performing arts, fine arts, etc.

  • Achievements and awards-Honors bestowed, competitions won.

  • Marked improvement in academic performance-A striking upswing in grades.

  • Community service-Significant time spent in meaningful service.

  • Leadership experience or potential-Offices/positions held, leadership training.

  • Work experience-Skills gained from paid jobs or internships.

  • Special projects completed-Research, science fair, robotics, etc.

  • Academic achievement in the context of life experiences and special circumstances-including disabilities, illness, low income, disadvantaged school or home environment, first generation, need to work or care for family members, etc.

  • Letters of recommendation-Assessments written by teachers, counselors, and others who know the student well.

  • Personal essays-Those that reveal the perspective, character and values of the student.

  • Major selection-Students academic preparation for their first-choice major.

In readying yourself for college and ultimately crafting your applications, remember that colleges are looking to understand the person you are beyond your GPA and test numbers. Make sure that your application tells your unique story.


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