Holistic Admission – The Struggle is Real (Part 2 of 3)

Formula vs… well, no Formula

If you are applying to Georgia Tech or schools with a similar or lower admit rate, you are being reviewed under a holistic admission process. Many of you have heard this term before but what does it really mean? Essentially, there are two types of admission review. The first is a formulaic process, which is what I described yesterday. Most less-selective schools utilize this process, and for many public schools in Georgia it is called a “Freshman Index.” You can literally plug in a GPA, test scores, and sometimes (though often not) factors for rigor of courses to determine admission. The upside here is that when you apply to a school like this you basically know your decision before you even apply. I always equate it to running track. There is a hurdle set at a certain height and you either clear it or crash into it. Formulaic admission is clean, clear, black and white, and pretty simple.

The easiest way to explain a holistic file review process (other than the video link I included above) is to say it’s exactly the opposite. It’s very much gray, and it’s not clean or clear or easy to predict. All of the certainty you get in a formulaic admission process essentially goes out the window with holistic review.

Tangent (Skip this section if you don’t want to join me on a personal diatribe)

And that’s why the whole “Chance me” thread from College Confidential is basically pointless. College Confidential is an online forum where students discuss the admission process, pose questions to other commenters, and share their experiences with particular schools. There are some helpful threads on subjects and occasional experts who provide facilitation of topical discussion. But largely, at least at this time of year, there are long exchanges between students and parents that have come to be known as “chance me.” In these threads parents, I mean students… well, let’s call a spade a spade, parents pretending to be students, post stats such as GPA, test scores, extracurricular involvement, essay topics, and other demographic descriptors. Then other forum members provide their thoughts, speculation, and odds of that person being admitted to a particular school. In reading those strings, I am reminded of the quote “most advice is sound- but it’s rarely sound advice.”

And, We’re Back

Nearly 600 of our denied students had either a 35-36 ACT or 1500-1600 SAT (CR+M). The vast majority of students who were denied or deferred have taken AP Calculus or higher and are in the top 10% of their class and taking the toughest curriculum in that context. In other words, numbers are by no means the whole story. Holistic admission is going to look at every single element of an application and weigh that overall file in comparison not only with the applicant pool, but also with institutional priorities. This is where you start to hear words like “fit” and “match.” Ultimately, colleges are attempting to enroll classes that are in line with the goals of the institution.

Competitive vs. Compelling

In admission committee, we often see notes or hear verbal summaries that include this distinction. A student may be extremely strong from a pure academic standpoint but fails to truly distinguish him or herself when it comes to evidence of fit or match overall. Here’s how this plays out: two schools have essentially the same academic profile but are worlds apart when it comes to the type of student that excels in that environment, or who will add value to their campus culture. Take Brown University and Cal Tech as examples. When you read their websites, hear their admission representatives speak, or walk around their campuses, you know there is a fundamental dichotomy. However, the academic profile of the two is not disparate. A student who applies to these two institution may have completely different admission results based not on numbers but rather on personal attributes or background, and how that either complements or fails to add distinct value to the rest of the student population or overall mission.

Tune in tomorrow for the final post in this 3-part series… my tips on how to handle the uncertainty of a holistic admission process.

Author: Rick Clark