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Colleges that practice holistic admissions consider factors beyond grades and test scores when making admission decisions. For most colleges, grades earned and courses selected make up the bulk of the admission criteria; selective colleges want to see evidence of high grades in a challenging curriculum. With the majority of US colleges now offering test-optional admission (at least for the current year), additional factors take on new importance in holistic admissions. So what else counts?
Holistic admissions looks closely at the ways in which the applicant chooses to spend their time. Evidence of depth of commitment and growth over time in a few extracurricular activities makes the applicant a more competitive candidate. Impact on others, through leadership activities and community service, also plays a significant role. These qualities are seen in the applicant’s activity list, resume, essays and recommendations.
Holistic admissions also looks at the institution’s priorities in a given year. The college may need more students able to pay the whole bill, more students from under-represented areas of the country, or more students interested in majoring in the classics or languages. Sometimes, the institutional priorities include more legacy candidates, a flautist for the orchestra, a catcher for the baseball team, or a journalist for the newspaper. Institutional priorities vary from college to college, and change from year to year.
Holistic admissions may also take demonstrated interest (DI) into account. For colleges that do consider DI, have you connected with their admission officers, opened (and perhaps responded) to their emails, visited either virtually or in-person, connected with admission officers when they have visited your area (or online), and accepted offers of interviews with either staff or alumni?
While you can’t affect many of these factors and institutional priorities, you can still make yourself a competitive candidate for admission by maximizing those you can control including involvement in activities, your academic profile, and demonstrating interest in each college on your list.
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