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8 Factors of the Holistic Review Process in College Admissions (Part 1)

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 (American Association of Colleges of Nursing).

In a nutshell, college’s want a sense of who you are as a student, a leader, a friend and community member, and a future professional.

There are 8 factors usually involved in an admission’s office holistic review of applicants. These include:

1. Rigor of academic coursework

Colleges want to see you pushing yourself. They want to see you stepping out of your comfort zone and working hard to accomplish good grades. College coursework will be more difficult and demanding than high school, so proving that you can handle tougher material ensures colleges that you will work just as hard while attending their own classes.

2. Any trends over the course of the student’s academic career

Colleges will notice if a student’s grades show a marked upward trend from freshman and sophomore year to substantially higher grades in junior and senior years. This might look like a student going from a C average in 9th and 10th to a B+ average in 11th and 12th. An upward grade trend can make a big difference in the admissions process.

Students should use the additional information section of the application to share the specific reasons behind the upward trend. For example, maybe the student improved their work habits and studied harder later in high school, or maybe they gained more confidence which reflected in their grades. Maybe adverse circumstances like mental or physical illness, death in the student’s family, or the need to work to support their family.

By discussing how adverse circumstances hurt them, how they overcame it to achieve better grades, students will show colleges that they are a serious student with a strong commitment to learning.

3. Test scores including SAT/ACT, AP/IB exams

Colleges use students' test scores to help to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses as well as for placement in freshman math and English courses. Test scores may also be used to determine merit scholarship amounts awarded.

4. What your counselor and teacher recommendations reveal

  • Do you move the conversation in the classroom forward?

  • Do you ask thoughtful questions?

  • Are you resilient? Can you bounce back after a failure?

  • If you’re applying to a specific program, you should obtain a recommendation from a teacher in that field. If you’re planning to be pre-med, for example, have your Biology teacher corroborate your commitment to studying medicine and conducting experiments.

  • How you demonstrate motivation, intellectual curiosity, and love of learning.

  • Demonstrated a willingness to take intellectual risks and go beyond the normal classroom experience.

Next week we will discuss the other four factors of a holistic review process in college admissions:

  • Extracurricular Activities

  • Strength of School

  • Essays

  • Demonstrated Interest


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This blog was written Janice Royal, MA. She is the Founder and CEO of Royal College Consulting.

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