Holistic review in graduate admissions is the process of reviewing an applicant as a whole individual, not merely select parts, such as GPA or test scores. Holistic review challenges the idea that quantitative measures alone are an accurate predictor of success in graduate school and offers admission committees with an alternative method for evaluating applicants. The University of Oregon Graduate School encourages our graduate programs to conduct a holistic review of graduate applicants.
Across the country graduate admissions committees have historically often relied on a small set of factors to narrow down their applicant pool, typically focusing on undergraduate GPA, undergraduate institution, and GRE scores. Studies are beginning to show that these criteria alone do not accurately predict success in graduate studies and often serve as barriers to diverse and non-traditional student access to graduate school.
Due to a variety of factors, many graduate admission committees often rely on the status quo admission process without taking a deep look at their process and its outcomes.
The Graduate School urges our programs to take a deeper look at their admissions application, process, and outcomes, by considering the following questions:
- How do we measure “success” in our program?
- What is our program’s ideal graduate student? Ideal cohort?
- What criteria are we currently using to evaluate applicants?
- Are our evaluation criteria and processes the same across faculty reviewers?
- Who is involved in the review process?
- What can we change about our application or application process to evaluate holistically? Are there criteria that are outdated? Are there criteria we could add?
The GRE testing agency, ETS, has prepared a detailed document with additional questions to consider about your admissions process. We highly recommend that each graduate program’s admissions committee use this document as a starting point for discussions around application review within their program. You can view this document here.
Holistic Review Factors
The graduate admissions process across UO programs varies greatly among graduate programs. The information needed to adequately assess the academic promise of a Theater Arts applicant is understandably different than the information needed to assess the academic promise of a Human Physiology Student or even an MBA student. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for graduate admissions, so we encourage programs to consider which factors should be included in a holistic review of their applicant pool.
The University of Michigan Rackham Graduate School website breaks down holistic review categories as Academic Performance, Research Potential, and Persistence & Commitment. Their website is a great resource for diving deeper into those categories and mapping them to the graduate application. Read more here.
We recommend that faculty and staff involved in the evaluation of prospective graduate students to dive further into this subject by exploring the resource list we have compiled below.
- Best Practices for Graduate Enrollment Management Professionals, NAGAP
- Check your Implicit Bias, Harvard University
- The Case for Noncognitive Measures, William Sedlacek in Choosing Students: Higher Education Admissions Tools for the 21st Century, Wayne Camara & Ernest W. Kimmel (Editors)
- Connecting Graduate Admissions Practices with Goals: Questions to Consider, ETS GRE
- Findings from the 2019 CGS/GRE Survey of Graduate Enrollment and Degrees, Council of Graduate Schools
- GREs Don’t Predict Grad School Success. What does? Beryl Lieff Benderly, Science
- Holistic Admissions Expands Options During (and After) COVID. Michele Sandlin, AACRAO
- Holistic Review in Graduate Admissions, Council of Graduate Schools
- Holistic Review of Applications for Admission to Graduate Degree Programs, University of Michigan, Rackham Graduate School
- Inside Graduate Admissions: Merit, Diversity and Faculty Gatekeeping, Julie R. Posselt
- Measuring Noncognitive Variables: Improving Admissions, Success and Retention for Underrepresented Students, William Sedlacek
- Toward Inclusive Excellence in Graduate Education: Constructing Merit and Diversity in Ph.D. Admissions, Julie R. Posselt, American Journal of Education
- Using GRE Scores in a Holistic Approach, ETS GRE
- Understanding Holistic Review in Higher Education Admissions: Guiding Principles and Model Illustrations, Arthur L. Coleman & Jamie Lewis Keith, supported by the College Board and EducationCounsel