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What Are Holistic Admissions?

November 2021

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” the great Aristotle once observed.

The term holistic refers to the fact that something or someone is a whole entity rather than just made up of individual parts. The concept of holistic admissions is much the same. At one time, school admissions focused heavily on a GPA or standardized test score such as the GRE® test or the GMAT™ exam to determine a candidate’s acceptance potential. However, the current climate in higher education is to take a more holistic approach and look at each candidate’s attributes in all aspects of their life.

Looking at the big picture

Criteria such as character, community service, letters of recommendation, personal statements, statements of purpose, research and work experience are weighed substantially along with academic performance in undergrad and standardized test scores from the GRE test, GMAT exam, LSAT®, MCAT® exam and others.

As an applicant, it’s imperative that you present a full picture of who you are as a person and as a potential student in the program you’re applying to. You don’t want to paint a partial picture of yourself, so show all your colors! This will give admissions officials the ability to make an acceptance decision based on the whole person, not just what you can do in a classroom or on a standardized test.

Crafting a holistic application

In order to provide the best holistic version of yourself, make sure each piece of the application puzzle fits together to form the picture you want admissions committees to see of you.

So what are those pieces?

  1. Provide transcripts with a GPA that shows you know how to put in the hard work.
  2. Craft a well thought out Personal Statement that explains how you’re more than just your academic accomplishments.
  3. Have a resume or CV that shows all relevant work experience and, if applicable, research experience. Also, be sure to include any community service that you’ve participated in.
  4. Provide letters of recommendation from professors, bosses and anyone else who attest to why you’d be a stellar candidate for the program you’re applying for.
  5. Even if you’re applying to a school that is test optional, test scores can still be a valuable component of your application.
    1. They show that you’re willing to provide an asset to your application that isn’t required.
    2. Standardized tests are designed to show a student’s cognitive skills, such as verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking and analytical writing, which are all skills needed to successfully complete a graduate level degree.
    3. Applying to programs that implement the holistic admissions process will take these scores into consideration equally amongst your other application components.

Getting into grad school is a very competitive landscape and providing the admissions committees the most well-rounded information about who you are as a whole person will give you the best chances at getting that acceptance letter.

Related Resources

Why You Should Take a Test for Test-optional Schools

While you may be relieved that many schools have become test optional, you might be selling yourself short by not submitting scores.

How to Ace Your Grad School Interview

You made it to the interview stage! Your application has passed the barrage of admissions scrutiny, so congratulations on making it this far, but you’re not in the door yet.