Holistic Admissions

Inside the Admissions Office

Holistic Admissions

Admissions officers read applications knowing that that while strong test scores and grades often correlate with successful graduates, grades and scores alone do not predict who will be a happy and/or successful alumni. American universities have a reputation for excellence because the quality of the student is examined within the context of how they will contribute to the undergraduate college.


Think about it this way: most colleges have a symphony orchestra. If a college were to only accept students with the highest grades, they couldn’t ensure that they would have enough violins, violas, trombones, french horns, and percus-sionists to play Korsakov’s “Scheherazade.” Therefore, admissions officers ask to evaluate the skills you possess outside of the classroom.


Let’s do a quick thought experiment, and imagine three students applying to a Highly Selective University:


Student 1: 690 Math, 720 English. 96% average.

Involved in cancer research at a local university, therefore doesn’t have much time for activities at school. Teachers say she “is one of the most focused students in the school.”

Student 2: 790 Math, 700 English. 90% average.

Volunteers at a nursing home and is has won numerous regional cello competi-tions. Teachers say he “is quiet in class, but always keen to help others.”

Student 3: 650 Math, 800 English. 88% average.

Captain of the soccer team and has started her own tutoring company which em-ploys 5 classmates. Teachers say she, “is a natural leader, although occasionally misses homework assignments due to her busy schedule.”


Which student would YOU admit? The one with the strongest overall grades, or a star musician, or the entrepreneur? These are the types of decisions admissions officers must make when building a class, and many times officers do not agree with one another. Sometimes a student is put to a vote, and everyone in the room (usually 3 - 5 officers) will weigh in on what qualities will be needed that year to fill a healthy, happy, well-balanced class.


So what should you do to better your chances? To borrow a term from economics, “Diversify your portfolio.” Try to think outside the box. Ask questions in class. Follow your curiosities and read books for pleasure. Start a blog. Create something new that you are proud of. Volunteer in your community. Join a less popular club or team. Not only will this help you stand out in the crowded admissions field, but it could help develop new passions that you didn’t know you had.


Finally, remember that this process is not only about rankings. As we can see from the three imaginary students above, colleges are not only concerned with numbers. When researching schools you should take many things into consideration, including if they have a strong orchestra or soccer team. Because while the main focus of college is classroom learning, perhaps the most valuable thing you’ll gain from an international college experience is a network of diverse and interesting friends who are leaders, researchers, athletes, and entrepreneurs.