Holistic admissions: A just solution at a pivotal moment

September 5, 2020
  • AACRAO Consulting
  • Admissions and Recruitment
  • Competencies
  • Diversity and Inclusion
  • Holistic Admissions
  • Holistic Admissions
  • blm
  • covid-19
yellow bracelet beads spelling out "perfect storm"

Higher education is in the midst of a “test-optional revolution,” according to Michele Sandlin, Managing Consultant, AACRAO Consulting.

“With the College Board and ACT unable to do college entrance exams due to the pandemic, a huge volume of schools are going test-optional,” Sandlin said. “Some are saying that change will be temporary, but a lot of predictions are that test-optional is here to stay.”

Race-neutral “add on” to academic criteria

Holistic admissions criteria are not a replacement for academic and cognitive standards. They do not take away from but rather supplement the normal admissions process. 

“One key consideration is that the approach be race-neutral, it doesn’t exclude any student,” Sandlin said. “You can have the intent of increasing diversity, as long as the benefit applies equally to all students, based on life experiences, background, talents, work experience, and so on.” 

The perfect storm

Coupled with the increased focus on access and diversity brought about by the Black Lives Matter movement, the time is right for institutions to consider deploying a holistic admissions model.

“Holistic admissions has been gaining momentum for years, but COVID and BLM have created a perfect storm,” Sandlin said. “Schools need something to address those issues, and AACRAO has a solution already built.” 

Though AACRAO offers a proven, customizable test-optional implementation plan based on the comprehensive research of Dr. William Sedlacek and years of fine-tuning, there are many ways to do holistic admissions. 

Regardless of the plan, Sandlin advises institutions considering holistic admissions should make sure their processes meet the following criteria:

  • Mission-driven. First and foremost, a holistic admissions process must be aligned with the institution’s mission statement, according to legal guidance from Education Counsel

  • Compliant with case law. The Supreme Court has made a number of rulings on the legality of holistic admissions, and an institution’s process must comply with that case law.

  • Driven by data and research. Research in the holistic admissions arena is deep and rich (ex: Sedlacek’s eight noncognitive variables that strongly predict student success) and should inform all decisions.

  • Implemented by well-trained professionals. “Training is key,” Sandlin said. “That’s critical guidance that came out of the Supreme Court.” 

Join the conversation. Sandlin and institutional leaders are holding a series of conversations around holistic admissions at this fall’s virtual 2020 AACRAO SEM Conference. Learn more and register now.

And look for Sandlin’s book Holistic Admissions: Predicting the Likelihood for Student Success to be released by AACRAO Publications later this month. (Join the list to be notified upon release.) The book contains a series of case studies of holistic admissions implementation by a variety of institutions,.


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