What Does "Holistic Admission" Really Mean?

One of the hallmarks of UM's admission process is "holistic review." We explain just what that phrase means to the admission counselors reviewing your application.

Wherever you are in your college search and admission journey, you’ve probably heard or read the phrase “holistic admission” 100+ times. (The term is so common that I recently saw a College Admissions Info Session bingo game, where “holistic admission” is the free space!)

Think of a holistic admission review as a three-part equation:

Whole file + Whole person + Context = holistic review

Part one: Read the whole application.

You know we look at your transcript and test scores to help us answer the question, “Will this student be successful in our classrooms?” But we also read the extracurricular section of the application, letters of recommendation, and your personal statement/essay.

Part two: Read to understand you—the applicant—as a whole person.

The “softer” parts of the application (letters, extracurricular history, and essay) help us answer the question, “How can this student contribute to our community?” So do all of the other special talents, like your writing ability and the many aspects you share with us in your essay and other parts of the application.

Part three: It’s all about the context.

This is the most important part of holistic review. We review your application and ask ourselves the questions above, within the context of your background, environment, and experiences. We consider the circumstances and/or educational opportunities that were available to you.

Did your grades dip the year after you had to move across the country? We get it because we read your application in a holistic way. Are concerned the two AP classes you took won’t be enough to be competitive for admission? Well, we know that your school only offers three, so taking two out of three is an extremely demanding curriculum! Are your SAT scores not meeting our published average? Doesn’t matter, because we know that first-generation college students may have limited resources. And, on average, first-generation college students don’t perform as well on standardized tests as second- or third-generation college students. Were you the captain of your volleyball team in your sophomore year, then moved to a high school with a premier, state championship winning volleyball team where you didn’t see as much playing time? Hey, as long as you’re a good teammate!

All of these scenarios are more than acceptable…because we have a holistic review process. We care about your academic performance. We care about who you are as a person. And, most importantly, we care about all of this within the context of your personal and unique situation.