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Holistic Admission Policies Has Positive Impact on Class Diversity, Student Success Across Health Disciplines

A new national study finds that health professions schools report an overall positive impact from the use of holistic review – a university admissions process that assesses an applicant’s unique experiences alongside traditional measures of academic achievement such as grades and test scores.

The report, Holistic Admissions in the Health Profession, was released today during a panel discussion at the National Press Club. The report is the first large-scale study to examine the prevalence and effectiveness of holistic review across multiple health disciplines at universities nationwide.

The national survey coordinated by Urban Universities for HEALTH – a collaboration between the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU) and the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), with funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) – finds the majority of schools report an increase in the diversity of their incoming classes and no change to measures of academic quality, student academic performance, or student retention. Half of schools surveyed reported that the average GPA of the incoming class remained unchanged, while 40 percent reported that it increased (Read the full report).

“Our study shows that holistic review is a very promising admissions practice that not only increased access for diverse students but also admitted students who excelled academically and have the right qualities to be successful in the workforce,” said Dr. Greer Glazer, Dean of the College of Nursing at the University of Cincinnati, who led the study.

Many colleges and universities use a holistic admission process to select students. The practice has become more popular in health fields such as medicine, because it enables schools to evaluate a broader range of criteria important for student success, and to select individuals with the background and skills needed to meet the demands of a transforming health care environment.

“Being a good health professional is about more than scientific knowledge. It also requires an understanding of people. Holistic review helps schools find students who have the attributes and abilities to become outstanding humanistic health professionals and leaders in their field,” said Darrell Kirch, M.D., president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). “It is gratifying to see holistic review being used by so many institutions to recruit the kind of health providers you and I would want at our bedside. Furthermore, it’s heartening to see that these admission practices are showing signs of improving academic success, diversity, and other outcomes we want to encourage in the health professions.”

“What we found is that universities can expand access to higher education for disadvantaged students while maintaining or improving academic standards,” said. Peter McPherson, President of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU). “This is exciting news for us, because our universities are looking for ways to help students from all backgrounds succeed, and we hope that our health profession schools in particular will use this evidence to recruit and train a health workforce that meets community and employer needs.”

About the Data

Data were collected through an electronic survey that was sent to the presidents of 163 universities. A total of 104 universities from 45 different states participated in the study with 228 individual health professions schools (nursing, medicine, dentistry, public health, and pharmacy) providing their data on practices and outcomes. Survey respondents self-reported their use of holistic review, but they also reported their schools’ actual admissions practices. Actual practices were held up against a theoretical model for holistic admissions in order to objectively assess the extent to which schools have a holistic admission process.

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