Holistic Admissions

Key Highlights

  • Holistic review considers a broader range factors in admissions decisions, assessing an applicant’s unique experiences alongside traditional measures of academic readiness.
  • APLU and USU helped lead landmark study of holistic review in the admissions process to assess the state of such practices across health profession schools.
  • APLU and USU helped issue a report outlining the findings of the study on holistic admissions in the health professions.

Diversifying the workforce starts with college admissions. That’s why APLU and USU have partnered with the American Association of Medical Colleges, and the National Institutes of Health to form Urban Universities for Health (UU‐HEALTH) to educate a health workforce that reflects the diverse population it serves. UU‐HEALTH led a landmark study of holistic review in admissions to assess the state of holistic admissions practices across health profession schools and examine the impact of those practices on diversity, student success, and community engagement. The report, Holistic Admissions in the Health Professions: Findings from a National Survey, outlines various admissions practices that can be adopted to improve diversity in health disciplines.

What is Holistic Review?

Holistic review is a university admissions strategy that assesses an applicant’s unique experiences alongside traditional measures of academic achievement such as grades and test scores. It is designed to help universities consider a broad range of factors reflecting the applicant’s academic readiness, contribution to the incoming class, and potential for success both in school and later as a professional. Holistic review, when used in combination with a variety of other mission-based practices, constitutes a “holistic admission” process.

In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court officially described the strategy as a “highly individualized, holistic review of each applicant’s file, giving serious consideration to all the ways an applicant might contribute to a diverse educational environment”(Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306, 2003). The ssociation of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) further refined this definition to provide specific guidance to medical schools, stating that in a holistic review process, “balanced consideration is given to experiences, attributes, and academic metrics and and, when considered in combination, how the individual might contribute value as a medical student and future physician” (Association of American Medical Colleges, 2013).

The desired outcomes of a holistic admission process will vary depending on each institution’s mission and goals. However, one core goal of a holistic process is the assembly of a diverse student body — diverse not only in race, ethnicity, and gender, but also in experience, socioeconomic status, and perspective. A key tenet of holistic review is the recognition that a diverse learning environment benefits all students and provides teaching and learning opportunities that more homogenous environments do not (Milem, 2003).

How Holistic Review Impacts Diversity

The majority of schools self-identified as using holistic review reported an increase in the diversity of the student body over the past decade. When these schools were further assessed, more of the schools with a high holistic review score (“many elements of a holistic process”) reported an increase in diversity, compared to schools with lower holistic review scores (“few or no elements of a holistic process”). The correlation is statistically significant, suggesting schools that implement many elements of holistic review are more likely to see an increase in diversity than schools that implement fewer practices.

How Holistic Admissions Impacts Academic Success

Among schools self-identified as using a holistic admission process, the majority reported that measures of student success over the past decade were unchanged or improved (see Figure 3). The schools using holistic review were asked to report changes to the following measures of student success including:

  • Measures of incoming class quality were largely unchanged or improved. Over the past decade, 90 percent of the schools using holistic review reported that the average GPA of the incoming class remained unchanged or increased, while 10 percent reported a decrease. Eighty-nine percent reported that average standardized test scores for incoming classes remained unchanged or increased, while 11 percent reported a decrease.
  • Ninety-six percent of the schools using holistic review reported that graduation rates were unchanged or increased, while only 4 percent reported a decrease.
  • Measures of student academic performance were largely unchanged or improved. Ninety-seven percent of schools reported that the average GPA of the graduating class was either unchanged or increased, while only 3 percent reported a decrease. Ninety-one percent of schools reported that the average number of attempts for students to pass required licensing exams remained unchanged or improved (decreased number of attempts needed).

Featured Project & Initiative

The Data Literacy Institute – a partnership between APLU and the Association for Institutional Research with funding from Ascendium – brings together cross-departmental teams from 11 Powered by Publics institutions from Cluster 14 to engage in training that enhance their use of data to improve equitable student outcomes. In May 2022, Powered by Publics held […]

Featured Project & Initiative

Powered by Publics is convening nearly 125 change-ready institutions within 16 “transformation clusters” focused on solving different pieces of the student success puzzle. Participating institutions are working collaboratively to increase college access, eliminate the achievement gap, and award hundreds of thousands more degrees by 2025.