holistic reviews and college admissions


The college admissions process is undergoing changes to better reflect the diversity found in college communities. While academics still play an important role in the admissions process, more factors are being introduced. These holistic reviews aim to create additional and fair opportunities for college applicants to demonstrate strengths and potential beyond academics.

What are Holistic Reviews?

Holistic reviews, or holistic admission processes, are a college admissions selection process designed to consider the whole applicant. The College Board believes holistic reviews will better align the college application process with various aspects of the college experience. Traditionally, the college admissions process requires admissions officers to judge an applicant’s potential based on their academic performance.

Admissions officers use academics to predict an applicant’s potential to make meaningful contributions to their campus. The issue with the current selection process lies in its lack of diversity, fairness, and consideration for talents beyond academics. It also inaccurately represents the diversity of student organizations, clubs, groups, and athletics commonly found in college communities.

Holistic reviews consider academic and nonacademic experiences to paint a holistic picture of applicants as individuals. Nonacademic experiences can include volunteer work, community service, participation in school organizations or clubs, personal achievements, or work experience. These experiences can highlight different ways applicants can contribute to a college’s community and demonstrate interests beyond the classroom.

What Do Holistic Reviews Mean for College Admissions?

Performing holistic reviews provides more data points for admissions officers to consider during their selection process. They allow college applicants to showcase what makes them unique, their life goals, and dedication to their interests. Most importantly, they ensure a fair admissions process and help admissions officers ensure their campus maintains a diverse student body.

Holistic reviews create opportunities for college applicants to demonstrate different ways they can contribute to a college’s existing community. While some applicants may excel in academics, others may excel in athletics, leadership, music, or art. Utilizing a holistic review process expands a college’s selection criteria to provide equal opportunities for applicants to demonstrate their potential.

Building a Holistic College Application

The main purpose of a holistic admissions process is to present a well-rounded image of the applicant. It highlights academic accomplishments, demonstrated areas of interest, and allows admissions officers to learn about the applicant as an individual. This introduction should put an applicant’s best foot forward by showcasing their strengths, authenticity, character, and goals.

When creating a holistic college application, remember to:

Showcase Academic Achievement

Holistic reviews consider nonacademic and academic experiences. Applicants should strive to maintain a high GPA and challenge themselves to undergo more rigorous coursework. They can enroll in honors classes or Advanced Placement® (AP) classes to demonstrate their commitment to academic success.

Enrolling and performing well in more rigorous classes can also indicate a student’s potential success in higher education. This can help an application stand out from the competition.

Commit to Extracurricular Activities

Actively participating in extracurricular activities can demonstrate an applicant’s leadership abilities, passions beyond school, and dedication to their community. These activities can include being part of a high school sports team, volunteering, or joining a school club. Participating in an extracurricular activity can reflect an applicant’s interests, passions, and may even align with their personal goals.

Participating in extracurriculars is an excellent way to showcase time management skills and an student’s ability to take initiative. This can create a more memorable application and provide an advantage during the selection process.

Indirectly, this could imply that an applicant may enrich a college’s community by joining existing clubs, organizations, or teams. This allows colleges to continue traditions such as homecoming, indoor and outdoor sports events, food drives, or community service projects.

Earn High Standardized Test Scores

Much like maintaining a high GPA, scoring well on standardized tests such as the SAT® or ACT® demonstrates academic potential. More importantly, it demonstrates an applicant’s work ethic and their dedication to reaching their goals.

Showcase Areas of Demonstrated Interest

Colleges understand sending out acceptance letters does not guarantee a student will enroll. Applicants who explain why they chose to apply to a specific college may appear more likely to enroll. Applicants can demonstrate interest in their prospective college by:

  • Reaching out to admissions officers with questions
  • Visiting their campus
  • Attending virtual events such as webinars
  • Applying early and more

Actively showing interest in prospective schools can leave a favorable impression on admissions counselors. It demonstrates an applicant’s commitment to attending their school and likelihood of enrolling.

Receive Glowing Recommendation Letters

Receiving positive recommendation letters from a teacher or coach can provide an outside perspective of an applicant’s personality. These letters allow admissions officers to learn about an applicant from someone who has worked closely with them for years. This can lend further credibility to an applicant’s achievements, character, and work ethic.

Craft an Authentic Personal Essay

Personal essays allow applicants to flex their writing skills, showcase their voice, and indirectly introduce themselves to the admissions officers. This essay provides applicants the freedom to express their goals, personality, and genuine interest in the college of their choice. They can highlight strengths and passions which may not be reflected in their academic record.

Personal essays can also be an excellent place to highlight obstacles an applicant overcame to be where they are today. These essays should capture an applicant’s personality, history, excitement for higher education, and leave a memorable impression on admissions officers.

Elevate College Essays with C2

Preparing for college is a stressful time for most high school students. They’re preparing for upcoming standardized tests, juggling application deadlines, writing college essays, managing extracurriculars, and more. With so much to track, how can an applicant know if they’re highlighting their best qualities in their college essays?

C2 Education’s College Essay program helps students take their personal statements to the next level. Our expert tutors provide customized support to help students write powerful and authentic personal essays. Upon program completion, our students will have:

  • A completed idea matrix filled with various essay topics
  • Up to 4 completed personal essays
  • Improved writing skills and techniques

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Next Steps

Holistic reviews are a way to expand the existing college admissions selection process. This process provides a holistic perspective of an applicant’s abilities rather than quantifying their ability based on an academic score. This can increase an applicant’s chances of being accepted by showcasing ways they can contribute to a college community.

In need of college admissions counseling or college essay services? Contact C2 today to get started.