If a college has holistic admissions, the school's admissions officers consider the whole applicant, not just empirical data like a GPA or SAT scores. Colleges with holistic admissions are not simply looking for students with good grades. They want to admit interesting students who will contribute to the campus community in meaningful ways.
Under a holistic admissions policy, a student with a 3.8 GPA might be turned down while an award-winning trumpet player with a 3.0 GPA might get accepted. The student who wrote a stellar essay might get preference over the student who had higher ACT scores but a bland essay. In general, holistic admissions take into account a student's interests, passions, special talents, and personality.
The admissions folks at the University of Maine at Farmington describe their holistic policy well, so I'll share their words here:
"We're far more interested in who you are and what you can bring to our campus community than how you happened to score on a high-pressure, high-stakes standardized test.
We look at your high school achievements, your extracurricular activities, your work and life experiences, community service activities, artistic and creative talents, and more. All the unique, personal traits that make you ... you.
When we review your application we take the time and care to get to know you as an individual, not as a number on a score sheet."
Most of us would agree that it's preferable to be treated as a person rather than a number. The challenge, of course, is conveying to a college what it is that makes you ... you. At a college with holistic admissions, all of the following are most likely important:
- A strong academic record with challenging courses. Your record should show that you're the type of student who takes on a challenge rather than shies away from it.
- Glowing letters of recommendation. What do your teachers and mentors say about you? What do they see as your defining characteristics?
- Interesting extracurricular activities. It doesn't matter so much what you do, but that you have a passion for something outside of the classroom.
- A winning application essay. Make sure your essay presents both your personality and your sharp mind.
- A strong college interview. Try to do an interview even if it is optional. The interview is one of the best ways for the college to get to know you as a person.