Holistic review refers to mission-aligned admissions or selection processes that take into consideration the applicants’ experiences, attributes, and academic metrics as well as the value an applicant would contribute to learning, practice, and teaching.
In this process, reviewers consider all available information to get the fullest picture of everything that an applicant can bring to a program. Implemented appropriately, it can support a fair and inclusive process that helps to identify applicants that effectively meet program needs and support institutional goals.
Widen and Standardize the Scope of Review
Discussion of review criteria by admissions committees is essential to “widen the lens” through which committees assess applicants.
- Identify and rank the mission-driven experiences, attributes, and metrics that would add value to the graduate program.
- Develop a shared understanding of how review criteria are prioritized to facilitate recruitment, orient reviewers, and standardize the review process.
- Evaluate from a program-specific, broad-based, and mission-driven perspective with expectations applied across the entire candidate pool in an equitable manner.
Any set of review criteria should be a subject of annual discussion and modification by the program’s admission committees (or other governing entities of the graduate program, such as executive committees, etc.).
- Edit criteria for the selection process and consider if new criteria are important to the accomplishments of the program — or are needed to realize any annual updates to the program’s mission.
- Consider using holistic review rubrics to aid the graduate admission process by providing a flexible tool that integrates diversity and inclusion during the initial screening of applicants.
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Initial Considerations for Developing Program-Specific Review Criteria
Criteria should broadly address four areas:
- The applicant’s academic and scholarly achievement.
- Alignment of the applicant with the academic and scholarly interests of the program.
- Alignment of the applicant with the broader mission and goals of the program (e.g., community-based research, outreach, cultural competency).
- Personal attributes that contribute to student success (e.g., self-efficacy).
Classical application materials (CV, personal statement, transcripts, letters of recommendation) might not provide enough evidence to properly evaluate all the mission-driven experiences, attributes, and metrics in a holistic manner. Thus, it is essential that the application instructions point out the information relevant to the review process that should be included in the application (e.g., from a prompt-directed essay). This facilitates evaluation of the review criteria and helps to ensure that application materials will supply relevant information during the initial screening that sets up the interview invitation. Providing clear instructions on what to cover in the application improves equitability for students with less access to support for preparing graduate applications.
Additional resources for getting started are provided in the following section.
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Resources used to develop this material:
De Los Reyes and Uddin, Revising evaluation metrics for graduate admissions and faculty advancement to dismantle privilege, Nat Neurosci. 2021 Jun;24(6):755-758. doi: 10.1038/s41593-021-00836-2 | Kent, J.D. and McCarthy, M.T. (2016). Holistic Review in Graduate Admissions: A Report from the Council of Graduate Schools. Washington, DC: Council of Graduate Schools | https://www.aamc.org/services/member-capacity-building/holistic-review | https://www.aacnnursing.org/Education-Resources/Tool-Kits/Holistic-Admissions-Tool-Kit | https://www.holisticadmissions.org/