More than numbers: colleges should practice holistic review policy

February 5, 2015 — by Fiona Sequeira

When evaluating applicants, colleges should practice holistic review policy, which allows them to gain insight into the qualities that transcend academic statistics.  

When evaluating applicants, colleges should practice holistic review policy, which allows them to gain insight into the qualities that transcend academic statistics.  

While empirical data such as GPA and standardized test scores are useful markers for academic achievement, they do not always portray the full scope of a student’s qualities, which are better demonstrated through the level of their extracurriculars, jobs, creative talents and passions and essays. While many colleges do consider these other aspects in the overall application package, a better balance needs to be attained, as far too much stress is placed first and foremost on the straight up numbers.

The result? Students are defined by a constricted point of view, which is more fit for robots than living, breathing human beings. The emphasis in applications ought to rest on the whole person, and how the individual can contribute to the school and world in meaningful ways. After all, intangible qualities that make each student valuable cannot be wholly measured by the small boxes allocated for scores on an application.

UCs often solely look at grades and test scores to get students through the door, and it is only after they’re in that the other aspects of their applications are considered. This approach neglects the other parts of a student that distinguish them from others.

Under the holistic admissions policy, a student with a lower GPA who swims or plays the French horn at a national or award-winning level may be admitted over a student with a high SAT who does not participate in any meaningful extracurriculars. By giving extracurriculars and other endeavors more weight than test scores in the admissions process, colleges are taking the time to get to know a student as an individual with distinct talents, and can thus make a more informed decision.

However, some students regard holistic applications with uneasiness because they are characterized by undefined subjectivity. For example, how can colleges compare principal violinist A to yearbook editor-in-chief B? Aren’t they both leadership positions?

That’s where empirical data is effective: it’s objective, clear cut, and evens the playing field, unlike holistic review, which may be enshrouded in smoke and mirrors regarding exactly how qualities other than numbers are measured. Additionally, students may even fraudulently mold themselves to embody “authenticity” by pursuing specific extracurriculars because they believe they will demonstrate qualities colleges like. Holistic review may not be a foolproof method, yet without it, the admissions process would be nowhere close to an accurate assessment of a potential applicant.

Yes, achievement in challenging courses is an important constituent of all college applications, and colleges need to be assured that the students they admit will succeed academically at their institution. However, holistic admissions do not neglect empirical data it just places other aspects of the application at the same level, or even above.

Colleges should practice the holistic review policy because students will be able to avoid judgment based solely on cold, emotionless numbers. Whether or not a student receives a thin envelope or a congratulatory acceptance from the college of his or her choice, the student should at least be assured that they were considered as a whole person. 

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