The term “holistic review” is thrown around all the time in college admissions. You’ll hear it referenced at virtually every tour and information session that you attend and it is plastered on admission websites. But what does holistic actually mean?

Holistic review differs from high school to high school and can mean different things at each institution. The concept, however, remains similar. The school is going to evaluate your academic performance, personal qualities and overall achievements comprehensively.  The key is the word comprehensively. This is very different than equally. Often students want to know how much weight will be given to their AP US History course, or how important their role as Vice President of the class is. During the review process, admission officers are not evaluating applicants like that. A ‘B’ in US History at one school may be very from a ‘B’ in the same course at another school. The application is reviewed within the context of the high school and community. In the thousands of applications admissions officers review, they rarely think, “well student A only did 75 hours of community service and student B did 100, so let’s go with student B.” Instead, admissions officers try to get a better understanding of how those experiences influenced the student and how that perspective will impact the college community.

When completing applications it is important for students to think about not only what they have done, but how they have grown through their experiences. Evaluate what opportunities/privileges you were given, and what did you do with those opportunities? How has your perspective evolved? How have you become more of a leader? How has your role expanded within the organizations that you are a part of?

It is important to start thinking about these things early in the process – even as early as freshman year. The more you can understand your own school, community and peer group, the better you can differentiate yourself within that context.

About the author
Jamie Moynihan

Jamie received a BA from University of Mary Washington and an MA in higher education administration from George Mason University. Jamie has a decade of admissions experience at several institutions, including University of California – Berkeley and Loyola University Maryland. He also served as associate director of college counseling at a private high school in Washington, DC. Jamie provides oversight for all undergraduate counseling at AcceptU. He is an IECA Professional Member.

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