The False Promise Of ‘Holistic’ College Admissions

Career College Central summary:

  • College applicants these days take the admissions process so personally. Not because today’s youth can’t face disappointment, but because the system for applying to selective colleges in the United States asks students to view the process as, well, personal.
  • This begins when students decide where to apply. As an applicant, you’re urged to find the school that’s most in line with your “personality.” Then comes the college admissions essay. Even students not the least bit inclined to confessional writing are asked to spill to strangers (and to parents who may be reading the thing over). You’re invited to show your truest self by sharing a story you might normally reserve for close friends.
  • All of this is leading up to the most personal aspect of the entire process: the “holistic” measures by which schools judge applications. In exchange for your candor (‘here are my parents’ tax returns, my transcript, an essay about my deepest secret, and some letters from my teachers about what I’m really like’), many colleges promise to evaluate you as a human being. Applicants to Oberlin, for example, learn the following: When making our admissions decisions, we draw upon a holistic review process. The holistic review allows us to get a sense of not only the applicant's academic qualifications, but also of what the applicant is like as a person, and what they will contribute to the Oberlin community.
  • Consider what’s being promised—not just by Oberlin, but also by selective schools generally. (The Common Application also encourages a “holistic selection process.”) Admissions committees don’t simply take factors beyond GPA and SATs into account. They claim that they're judging each applicant – as Oberlin puts it – "as a person."
  • The illogic of “holistic” is striking, as I’ve been pointing out since 2009; as Jason Willick’s excellent 2012 Daily Californian op-ed indicates, some students are beginning to question it as well.  

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