Ask A Nerd! “What Does Holistic Admissions Mean?”

Question: What does it mean when a college states that they have Holistic Admissions? 

Brief: When a college advertises that they have holistic admissions it means that they will consider the entire student not just one grade or test score.



When a college or university states that they have a holistic admissions process it means that they will consider every aspect of the application and applicant. This includes a student’s grades and GPA, especially grades in the field of study the student wants to major in (assuming they are declaring a major as a freshman). It also means they will consider test scores and may take scores from both the SAT and the ACT and might also consider ‘super scoring’. The college’s admissions department will also focus on the student’s various AP courses, and look heavily into the student’s personal essay, whether it’s on the Common Application or provided directly from the university – our private Orange County college admissions consultants are here to assist you through the application process.

1. The Application Essay

Many college prep students focus heavily on their standardized exams and eventually become too tired to focus on their personal essay or, alternatively, simply don’t spend time on the essay because they feel it’s not that important. In fact, universities that advertise holistic admissions will heavily view the personal essay. Students might have excellent test scores and endless AP classes but still not be admitted. A poorly written application essay is a common reason for rejection. It’s important for college prep students to remember that the essay is their one and only chance to stand out as a unique individual who can greatly add to the academic community (READ: “Ask A Nerd! How Should I Start My College Essays?”).

2. Standardized Tests

Students shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that, because a college advertises holistic admissions, test scores aren’t paramount. Anyone applying to a large university should be prepared to achieve an SAT or ACT score well within the acceptable range of the college’s ‘average admitted students’. Holistic admissions means accepting everything, which definitely includes standardized exams! The exception includes small liberal arts colleges that will sometimes advertise that the personal essay is worth much more than grades and standardized test scores. To be on the safe side, students are advised to consult the website of the specific university to ensure they understand how much their personal essay and test scores are weighted.

3. The Individual

Universities with holistic admissions will often look at the individual applicant as a unique person as opposed to a number. This is a benefit for nearly every applicant because it gives them a chance to stand out as a talented and important member of their high school community who will later become a unique and contributing member to their college campus. For instance, did a student go out of their way to take AP Psychology because they wanted to later become a social worker or therapist? Did the student hire a special tutor for AP Art History because they want to be an archaeologist or travel the world to learn about different cultures? Does the student participate in team sports because they have a passion for Kinesiology? Any time a student finds out that a university uses holistic admissions, they should know they have a chance to stand out and demonstrate they’re a well-rounded individual (READ: “5 Things to do Before You Go Away to College”).

Bottom Line

Although holistic admissions are widely used and are a positive aspect of the university application process, applicants should be aware that their test scores and GPA will still be a huge and important part of the process. In many ways, colleges and universities will use test scores and grades as a way to narrow down the amount of applications that receive careful consideration. Many large public universities will only consider applicants if they meet the minimum test score/GPA requirements. However, it’s important to know that each university’s admissions process is confidential, meaning any strategic planning is only an educated speculation. Students are advised to apply to a mixture of schools including large public research universities, small private schools, and liberal arts colleges. Regardless of how universities choose their applicants, the more universities a student applies to, the better chance they will have of being accepted to at least one of the schools on their list.

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