Navigating Your Child's Education: Grades 9-12

3 min read

More than a Number: Holistic Review in College Admissions

Nov 12, 2019 7:00 PM

Every year, I have hundreds of interactions at college fairs and high school visits with students who approach me with a nervous and apprehensive look. With sadness, they admit that their GPA isn’t as high as they would like it to be, or that they don’t do well on standardized tests like the ACT or SAT. My message to those students is always the same, and it’s the same message I give to you today:

The numbers don’t always tell the full story, and at Miami, we will be considering many other factors.

I review a significant number of Miami University’s nearly 30,000 applications for admission each year, and I spend equal time evaluating a student’s numeric achievements and reading their essay, reviewing their activities list, and assessing their potential through other information offered in the application. I read every page of every application in an effort to get to know that student beyond the numbers, and at Miami, we review all applications for students who apply—no matter what their GPA or standardized test score might be.

Colleges and universities, like Miami, that practice a holistic application review want to get to know students beyond the numbers on their transcripts or test reports. At Miami, we consider many factors when a student applies, including but not limited to:

  • Class rank (6-semester cumulative), if available
  • Commitment to social service and/or volunteer activities
  • Demonstrated leadership
  • Employment status during high school
  • Extenuating circumstances
  • Extra- and co-curricular involvement
  • First-generation college student status
  • Grade trends
  • High school profile
  • Legacy status (family members that have graduated from Miami)
  • Letter(s) of recommendation
  • Life experiences
  • Obstacles overcome
  • Potential contributions to diversity (breadth of experience, geography, ideology, lifestyle, race/ethnicity, world view)
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Special abilities, talents, and achievements
  • Strength of high school curriculum (depth in each core academic area, honors or accelerated courses, AP/IB courses, College Credit Plus, or dual credit courses)
  • Writing ability

Upper School Boy

Don’t get me wrong—numbers like grade point averages and test scores do play an important role in the application review process, but they often aren’t the sole determining factor. A student’s GPA and their score on a standardized test can often serve as a great predictor of that individual’s likelihood for success on our campus. However, we also realize that intelligence cannot be arbitrarily measured by a number in every single student scenario. There are no minimum requirements when students apply to Miami (and most other schools that practice a holistic review), although many schools will share average numbers in their student profiles. Although we might use a GPA and ACT/SAT score to tell us something about an applicant, we realize those numbers alone don’t tell us everything about them.

At Miami specifically, we also look at a student’s numeric credentials within the context of their specific high school. For students from some schools, we are able to look at their GPA within a multi-year perspective of previous students who have applied from the same school. Every student’s GPA will be contextualized within the setting of their specific high school, which also benefits the applicant and gives their application reviewer a fuller picture of their potential.

Now, this is not a free pass to perform poorly in an academic setting. Students should focus on improving their GPA and ACT/SAT score to enhance their chances for college admission, but they should never feel as if the numbers alone will be the sole determinant. Yes, there are some schools across the country where the numbers will play a more important role than others, but schools that practice a holistic review are committed to seeing the student behind the numbers.

When asking questions about each school’s specific review practice, your student should be asking about the application review process. Although most schools (including Miami) won’t be able to estimate a student’s likelihood for acceptance, they will be able to give you insights into what factors they consider when reviewing an application. Although there are some schools that are stricter when it comes to numeric achievements they expect of applicants, there are plenty of schools practicing a holistic review that could be a great home for your student.

My heart breaks for each one of those students who approach my table with trepidation over a test score or GPA because I was one of them. When I graduated from high school, my standardized test score was much lower than what it should have been, and I worried that schools would not be able to see my potential. I am proud to work at an institution that digs deep into a student’s application to find students that are a good fit for Miami. As nerve-wracking as the college admission process might be for your family, understand that at schools that practice a holistic review, your student will be much more than a number.

Tyler Bradshaw
Written by Tyler Bradshaw

Tyler Bradshaw has over ten years of experience in the college admissions world. He worked in the Office of Admission at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio from 2011-2021. Tyler is a two-time Miami alum, earning his Bachelor's degree in American Studies and Master's in Student Affairs in Higher Education. Tyler is also currently working on a Doctoral degree in Organizational Leadership and Crisis Management at Miami.