Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Holistic Review for Graduate School Admissions under Scrutiny

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Holistic Review for Graduate School Admissions under Scrutiny

Article excerpt

Graduate school admissions are a varied world. From Ph.D. programs where admits are selected by committee, to the notoriously LSAT-dependent law school admission process, it is a system that can be just as opaque as the admissions process at selective undergraduate institutions.

Admissions processes at the undergraduate level have received their fair share of scrutiny from parents, students, politicians, policymakers and the like. By comparison, graduate admissions have for the most part received far less examination.

A report from the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS), released in January, takes steps toward determining whether current admissions practices ensure that institutions will admit a class of students with the best chance of success. Examining holistic review--or the consideration of candidates on the basis of their "non-cognitive" attributes--practices at the graduate school level was the report's primary goal.

Holistic review is widely held to be one of the most effective ways to create a diverse and well-rounded class. "When students have the opportunity to work in labs and classrooms where they encounter students who come from a background that is different from their own, that supports the learning process," said Julia Kent, one of the co-authors of the report, "Holistic Review in Graduate Admissions."

"We hear a lot about the need for our students to be able to work in a diverse environment, wherever they end up working, whether that's in a company or in a university or in government," she added. "So it makes a lot of sense as part of that preparation they should have exposure to diversity and diverse viewpoints which they will have to then negotiate once they're on the job."

The report found that limited faculty and staff time was the primary deterrent to implementing more holistic review in the admissions process. Around 75 percent of respondents from both master's and graduate programs said that students were chosen by academic committees, not admissions professionals.

The report also found that the majority of respondents called for more data demonstrating the link between holistic review in the admissions process and student success. There was no clear unanimity among respondents about what the "key features" of holistic review are, the report found.

"We felt by the end of this study more work needs to be done to really pin down what constitutes a holistic approach [to admissions] and what kind of practices need to be in place to say that you're really achieving that approach," said Kent.

Part of what makes holistic review such a contentious subject, particularly at the undergraduate level, is that, in some cases, holistic review allows for race to be used as a factor in determining whether an applicant will be accepted at a given institution. …

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