Holistic admissions: Training is key to implementation

December 11, 2020
  • AACRAO Publications
  • Admissions and Recruitment
  • Competencies
  • Holistic Admissions
professional woman with ponytail in blue suit wearing mask reading a document at a desk

Institutions across the country have added or are considering adding a noncognitive component to their admissions requirements. 

The “why” is clear: the research, student success outcomes, and legal decisions thoroughly support the effectiveness of a holistic noncognitive approach to admissions.

The challenge, then, is “how.” Your process must be based on research, legal court decisions, data — and provide a detailed, ongoing, and annually verified training program.

Focus on training

In the Fisher II Supreme Court case, Justice Kennedy stated that “if a holistic plan is adopted, reviewers must be trained to ensure uniform standards.”

The recently published Holistic Admissions: Predicting the Likelihood of Student Success offers the following five essential components of a robust noncognitive reviewer training program.

Formal training of all noncognitive reviewers should include:

1. Comprehensive training on how to read questions/measures/variables. Variables must have been legally tested, be reinforced by research, and support the mission of the institution. 

2. Training on how to score using the scoring rubric. Rubric must be supported by research, legally tested, and calibrated to the questions/measures/variables.

3. Reader reliability measures. Refresher courses may be helpful for reviewers who regularly score outside thresholds.

4. Bias awareness training. Reviewers can learn to be aware of personal biases and given the option to opt-out of reviewing specific files.

5. Ongoing cultural competency training. “The lack of core cultural competency skills is directly related to poorer holistic review scores, wide variation in reviewer reliability, and miscommunication with diverse students, faculty, staff, and the public, and it will be evident in persistence/retention.” (Holistic Admissions, 33)

6. Train the trainer session.

Managing bias

According to the research (Schmidt 2016), among reviewers:

  • Alumni counselors were more likely to have a “strong preference for high-achieving candidates from a wealthier background.” 

  • Women were more likely to award higher scores and to consider lower-income applicants.

  • Reviewers of color were less likely to admit high-achieving, higher-income applicants.

“All the above can have an impact on the diversity, or lack thereof, of the entering class each year,” write the authors of Holistic Admissions. “It is clear that all reviewers must be trained and be made aware of how their personal biases may factor into their review/scoring.”

For more in-depth discussion of training, as well as comprehensive discussion of holistic admissions and case studies of specific institution’s experiences, buy Holistic Admissions here.

And watch for the online Holistic Admissions course coming from AACRAO in 2021.



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