7 principles of holistic/broad based admissions

October 23, 2013
  • AACRAO Connect

Many colleges and universities are looking beyond high school grades and standardized test scores in making their admissions decisions. By emphasizing an analysis of the whole person, this practice is known as "holistic admissions," or "broad-based admissions" in Canada.


Within this context, William Sedlacek, Professor Emeritus from the University of Maryland, has developed a holistic assessment method that can complement traditional assessment measures. This method results in a fair, practical, ethical, and legal assessment of students' ability to succeed in college. From extensive research, Sedlacek has specified seven noncognitive variables┬" to consider:

1. Positive self concept- Demonstrates confidence, strength of character, determination and independence 

2. Realistic self appraisal- Recognizes and accepts any strengths and deficiencies, especially academic, and works hard at self development.

3. Understands and knows how to handle the system- Exhibits a realistic view of the system based upon personal experiences and is committed to improving the existing system. 

4. Prefers long-range to short-term or immediate needs- Able to respond to deferred gratification; plans ahead, and sets goals. 

5. Availability of strong support person- Seeks and takes advantage of strong support network.

6. Successful leadership experience- Demonstrates strong leadership in organizations. 

7. Demonstrated community service “ Identifies with a community, is involved in community work.

These noncognitive variables have been found to correlate with retention and graduation success rates. Institutions that positively engage in measuring a student's noncognitive variables have experienced significant gains in selecting and predicting successful students regardless of incoming grade point average or SAT/ACT scores. Both the University of Las Vegas and DePaul University have data that demonstrate the effectiveness of this approach. According to William Sedlacek, The degree and form of nontraditional experiences vary considerably across groups, but with these and other groups, assessments using non-cognitive variables can greatly facilitate admission decisions.┬" Thus, the holistic approach holds immense promise for admissions officers seeking to provide more robust assessments of potential students and to admit interesting students who will contribute to the campus community in meaningful ways.

Embracing holistic admissions and introducing innovative approaches to assessing students' readiness for college will become increasingly critical to strategic enrollment management efforts. The market pressures such as changing institutional goals, funding challenges, changes in leadership, and changes in student demographics all contribute to the complexity facing admissions and enrollment managers.

Implementation of SEM is an effective means of responding to these and other challenges facing higher education. For more than 20 years, AACRAO's SEM Conference has been the leading venue for investigating the most pressing SEM issues affecting higher education. We invite the enrollment community to join us at AACRAO's 23nd Annual SEM Conference, which will take place November 10-13, 2013 at the Hilton Chicago. A separate pre-conference workshop will be offered by William Sedlacek and Michele Sandlin covering Holistic Admissions in the Ongoing Fisher Era. This workshop will explore holistic/broad-based admissions, the retention predictability value of adding non-cognitive variables within the admissions requirements, an overview of the 30 years of supportive research, and graduation success rates directly correlated to their holistic/broad-based admissions criteria.


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