Holistic Admissions

Diversifying the workforce starts with college admissions. That’s why UU‐HEALTH led a landmark study of holistic review in admissions to assess the state of holistic admissions practices across health profession schools and examine the impact of those practices on diversity, student success, and community engagement. The report, Holistic Admissions in the Health Professions: Findings from a National Survey, outlines various admissions practices that can be adopted to improve diversity in health disciplines.

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 the potential for success both in school and later as a professional. Holistic review, when used in combination with a variety of other mission-based practices, constitutes a “holistic admission” process.

In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court officially described the strategy as a “highly individualized, holistic review of each applicant’s file, giving serious consideration to all the ways an applicant might contribute to a diverse educational environment”(Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306, 2003). The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) further refined this definition to provide specific guidance to medical schools, stating that in a holistic review process, “balanced consideration is given to experiences, attributes, and academic metrics and and, when considered in combination, how the individual might contribute value as a medical student and future physician” (Association of American Medical Colleges, 2013).

The desired outcomes of a holistic admission process will vary depending on each institution’s mission and goals. However, one core goal of a holistic process is the assembly of a diverse student body — diverse not only in race, ethnicity, and gender, but also in experience, socioeconomic status, and perspective. A key tenet of holistic review is the recognition that a diverse learning environment benefits all students and provides teaching and learning opportunities that more homogenous environments do not (Milem, 2003).