What Are Holistic Admissions and Why It Matters to Universities

By Jordan French Jordan French has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on July 25, 2022

While other universities around the world rely on a series of standardized exams and school grades, the United States utilizes a ‘holistic’ admissions review process. A holistic review embraces the entirety of a student’s performance and accomplishments within and beyond the school curriculum.

The American concept of holistic admissions is unique due to the difference in the fundamental purpose of a college education. Although a student’s academic performance is still part of the holistic review process, the other key components are the parts within the application that allow students to display their accomplishments – in school and, more importantly, out of school.

“At the end of the day, universities are looking for students who make the university look good after graduation. Each alum, in a way, is the university’s brand ambassador and the best marketing is when a student goes on to have a successful career and not just stay a successful student. That’s what the holistic admission process helps them predict,” says Franklin Song, head of college counseling at leading education consultancy Zenith Prep Academy. “We’ve seen time and time again where top 50 universities prefer accepting students with lower GPAs and standardized test scores over students with higher ones.”

It may sound counterintuitive for universities to accept students with lower GPAs and standardized test scores, but this is clearly shown by universities like Stanford, where 1 in 4 of their students was accepted with below a 4.0 GPA, according to their admissions statistics that are reported to the U.S. Department of Education.

“This shows why universities are looking for students with the greatest potential to excel outside the classroom. Said differently, when universities are choosing between 2 candidates, they are willing to accept the student who might not be as academically gifted but shows strong potential to make meaningful contributions to the world after graduation, over the student who is strong academically but can only memorize information and get high test scores,” Song explains.

Yale University also confirms this, publicly stating on their admissions website that they “look at far more than test scores and grades.”

By working with students as young as fifth graders, Zenith is able to help build their ‘offense’ which identifies students’ academic and extracurricular strengths early on to guide them toward building “a competitive holistic profile to stand out to admissions officers by the time they apply to college.”

“In almost every situation, the offense can help increase a student’s chances of getting accepted into better universities. For example, if your student is high academic achieving and has the best grades and test scores, the offense will help them get accepted over other students with the same profile” Song explains. “Or suppose your student has other strengths where their transcripts and test scores don’t highlight their true potential. In that case, the offense can offset their lower GPAs and SATs to help them get into universities that are 1 to 2 tiers better than they otherwise would’ve gotten into. That’s the power of offense and why it’s such an important but low-hanging fruit that students and families must focus on. And frankly speaking, it’s much easier for most students to increase their chances of admissions through offense by pursuing activities they enjoy outside of the classroom than going to dozens of hours of tutoring only to improve their grades marginally.”

While the measureables of holistic admissions can be linked to success in the classroom (and are certainly important), the most important differentiation in these highly saturated applicant pools occurs in the offense outside the classroom.

By Jordan French Jordan French has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Journalist verified by Muck Rack verified

Jordan French is the Founder and Executive Editor of Grit Daily Group, encompassing Financial Tech Times, Smartech Daily, Transit Tomorrow, BlockTelegraph, Meditech Today, High Net Worth magazine, Luxury Miami magazine, CEO Official magazine, Luxury LA magazine, and flagship outlet, Grit Daily. The champion of live journalism, Grit Daily's team hails from ABC, CBS, CNN, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Forbes, Fox, PopSugar, SF Chronicle, VentureBeat, Verge, Vice, and Vox. An award-winning journalist, he was on the editorial staff at TheStreet.com and a Fast 50 and Inc. 500-ranked entrepreneur with one sale. Formerly an engineer and intellectual-property attorney, his third company, BeeHex, rose to fame for its "3D printed pizza for astronauts" and is now a military contractor. A prolific investor, he's invested in 50+ early stage startups with 10+ exits through 2023.

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