Moving Beyond Holistic Admissions
Despite mounting pressures for transparency, affordability, accountability, and access, higher education is notoriously slow to change. However, in this time of great reorganization spurred by the pandemic, rapid change has proven possible and unprecedented opportunities for innovation remain.
The surge in test-optional policies (the relaxation of the SAT and ACT test requirement in the admissions process) is one such example contrary to the typical slow culture of change. Before the pandemic struck in 2020 and forced schools to abruptly drop the requirement, less than a third of higher education institutions offered such policies. Just 2 years later, the practice has become mainstream with 89 percent of Common Application institutions participating. The speed of this transformation is exceptional.
The sudden removal of standardized testing raises questions about another longstanding tradition in U.S. higher education: holistic admissions. A uniquely American concept, the practice purports to look beyond academic achievement and evaluate a student’s whole character. Admissions offices evaluate students’ personal qualities to identify individuals with the “best fit” for their institution’s unique profile.
The sudden removal of standardized testing raises questions about another longstanding tradition in U.S. higher education: holistic admissions.
Much criticism has been leveled at institutions for the subjectivity of this practice and for the improbability that student character can be discerned from the reading of an admissions application. Holistic reviews can be particularly challenging for highly selective institutions where admission rates are under 10 percent and heavy application volume can hinder a deep evaluation of each candidate.