Would you believe there used to be days when getting good grades (or personal connections) was all you needed to get into university? Well, those days are long gone. With the rise of holistic admissions, some universities are now looking beyondyour GPA and test scores to get a better sense of who you are as a person. But what exactly does holistic admissions mean, and why are universities making this shift? In this article, we’ll explore the benefits of holistic admissions and why it’s becoming increasingly popular among universities.
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What Are Holistic Admissions?
Universities have to deal with the difficult job of deciding which applicants to accept based on who will benefit best from the opportunities they provide and contribute positively to the community. Capacity restraints mean they can only accept a certain number of students each year, usually selected from a large pool of applicants. Globally, most universities rely on academic achievement and general cognitive abilities to make their selection decisions, usually based on a students’ performance on some form of standardised assessment. However, we are now seeing more universities adjusting their admission policies towards a more holistic understanding.
In a nutshell, the holistics admissions process – also called a holistic review – seeks to understand the person as a whole by considering a wider range of factors alongside just traditional academic achievements. Some of these factors may include:
- Extracurricular activities (e.g. sports, clubs, volunteer work, internships)
- Leadership experience (e.g. student government, community service, work experience)
- Personal qualities (e.g creativity, perseverance, empathy, resilience)
- Letters of recommendation (e.g. from teachers, mentors, employers)
- Essays or personal statements (these allow you to demonstrate why you are a good fit for the university)
- Diversity (e.g. racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, geographic, cultural)
- Special talents or achievements (e.g. artistic ability, research experience, entrepreneurship)
An interview (which can take place over the phone, online, or in-person) is an important holistic-based tool for universities get to know their applicants better. During the interview, you can expect to answer questions about their background, interests, and goals, and may also have the chance to ask questions about the university and its programs.
Why Are Universities Taking This Approach?
When it comes to university admissions, grades and test scores have traditionally been the holy grail. After all, they offer a clear and objective way to compare applicants and determine who is most likely to succeed in college. However, relying solely on these metrics can be a major drawback for both students and universities alike.
For one thing, grades and test scores only tell part of the story. They don’t capture the full range of skills, experiences, and personal qualities that make each student unique. By focusing solely on these metrics, universities risk overlooking talented and motivated students who may not have had access to the same educational opportunities as their peers, or who may have faced other challenges that impacted their academic performance.
This is where holistic admissions come in. By considering a wider range of factors in admissions decisions, universities can create a more diverse, innovative student body that reflects a broader range of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. It also addresses some long-standing issues of access and diversity in higher education institutions.
Holistic admissions also offer several other advantages. This approach helps universities identify students who have the potential to excel in a particular subject or field, even if their grades or test scores don’t necessarily reflect this. Recognition is given to students who are likely to contribute to the campus community in other ways, such as through extracurricular activities, leadership roles, or community service.
Ultimately, holistic admissions are about recognizing that every student has something unique and valuable to offer. Of course, that’s not to say that grades and test scores don’t matter at all. They still play an important role in the admissions process. But with holistic admissions, they’re just not the only thing that matters.
By considering a range of factors beyond academic achievement, universities can attract a more diverse pool of applicants and build a student body that better represents our global society.
How Does This Benefit You as an Applicant?
Attending a university that values holistic admissions can provide a wide range of benefits that can help you feel more connected to your peers and motivated towards your academic progress, including:
- A fairer, more inclusive application process. This approach benefits those who may otherwise not have had much success in their academic pursuits, whether due to their race, personal situation, learning difficulties, or a number of other factors.
- Exposure to diversity. As well offering the chance to learn from your peers, it allows you to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of different cultures and perspectives.
- Foster a sense of belonging. If you’re worried about fitting in, you might find some assurance where there is an increased likelihood of meeting other students who share similar interests, values, or experiences.
- More opportunities to explore your interests and passion. Those who are passionate about a particular subject or field may find that they are able to pursue their interests more fully, regardless of academic reflection.
Examples of Success with Holistic Admissions
Universities tend to vary on a scale when it comes to traditional and holistic admission policies. Many consider the non-academic qualities of a student by adopting “test-optional” policies, as an example. Here are case studies showing how some universities have had success with a holistic admissions approach.
Oregon State University in the U.S. introduced a holistic evaluation of students in the early 2000s. It requires each applicant to complete an Insight Resume, consisting of questions around traits that they believe are essential for student success. The institution found that for every one-point increase on an Insight Resume, there was a 10% increase in the chances of that student staying in college.
The National University of Singapore (NUS) has two admissions tracks; one based solely on academic performance and a Discretionary Admission (DA) track based on demonstrated non-academic qualities. One study between students admitted through each track found their academic performance in university ended up to be similar. However, those admitted through the DA track were more likely to be involved in extracurricular activities and had substantially higher paying jobs in the years following graduation.
Nanyang Technological University and Singapore Management of University also provide a Discretionary Admission scheme which we can help you apply through.
The University of Cambridge in the UK uses a holistic approach to admissions that provides opportunities for applicants who have faced educational disruption or disadvantage. In 2022, more than a quarter of their first-year students came from less advantaged backgrounds.
As a relatively new practice, there is a lack of strong consensus around the key features of a holistic admissions process. A 2015 survey by the Council of Graduate Schools found that higher education institutions associated a range of practices with the idea.
How to Succeed with Holistic Admissions
We hope this article has given you some valuable insight into university applications and the encouragement to apply to a university of your choice.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Be authentic: Share your unique story, experiences, and achievements in a genuine and honest way. Don’t try to fit into a particular mold or pretend to be someone you’re not.
- Focus on your strengths: Highlight your strengths and accomplishments, but also be honest about your weaknesses and how you’re working to improve them.
- Get involved: Participate in extracurricular activities, community service, or leadership roles that align with your interests and passions. This will demonstrate your commitment, initiative, and potential.
- Connect with the community: Engage with the university community, including faculty, staff, and current students, to learn more about the school’s culture, values, and opportunities.
Browse the Global Admissions website for some of the degrees and programs that you may be interested in, keeping in mind that it is entirely possible for you to possess particular traits and qualities that universities are interested in, even if you academic results don’t quite reflect it. Don’t forget, we’re here to support you in your applications!