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What are Holistic Admissions?

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Question: What are Holistic Admissions?
Most of the country's highly selective colleges and universities have holistic admissions, but what exactly does this mean for an applicant?
Answer: "Holistic" can be defined as an emphasis on the whole person, not just select pieces that make up the whole person.

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:

Keep in mind that even with holistic admissions, colleges will admit just those students who they think will succeed academically. At the most selective colleges, admissions officers will be looking for interesting applicants who also have high grades and test scores.
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