White Paper: Holistic Review – What Does this Mean?

If you have any contact with a US university representative, they will talk about the “holistic” admissions review process. This means that US universities evaluate a student in their entirety, taking note of both their scholarly and personal traits. Thus, they will review the academic record, standardised testing results, extracurricular pursuits, essays that reveal personal characteristics which will make the student an ideal community member, and letters of recommendation from your secondary school. This holistic approach does mean that excelling in one area may offset a weakness in another. However, it is important to note that holistic review means that every part of a student’s profile is important. For example, perfect test scores will not make up for uneven GCSE or A-Level/ IB predictions just as perfect grades will not be enough to make up for a lack of extracurricular activities. Rather, it is important for students to make sure they are meeting the benchmarks for every category.

To better prepare for this holistic review process, we have the components of the US application so you can carefully prepare for your first-choice school.


Core Components of US University Applications

YOUR ACADEMIC HISTORY AND GRADES:  Your academic achievement is the most significant part of the evaluation. Assessing a student’s secondary school record will include a review of the rigor of the courses taken, grades received and/or predicted. Keep in mind that university admissions offices are knowledgeable about all secondary school curricula across the globe. Because international students will often only have two sets of formal grades, GCSE results and A-Level/IB predictions, these sets of grades carry significant weight in the review process.

SAT/ACT RESULTS: The majority of US universities use standardized tests in the application review process: the SAT and ACT.  They do require specialized preparation months before you begin sitting official exams. Also, when planning your application, ensure you register to take your chosen exam at a testing centre at the earliest possible opportunity, as centres can become oversubscribed.

PERSONAL STATEMENT AND SUPPLEMENTAL ESSAYS: The US personal statement is an essay that helps the admissions reader imagine you within a university community. Though most other systems want you to explain what kind of student you will be on a course and in the classroom, the US personal statement wants you to reflect about your qualities and reveal, through vivid details, what kind of person you will be on campus.

ACTIVITIES OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM:  US admissions committees carefully review and evaluate a student’s extracurricular activities. They want to see consistency and commitment as well as evidence of authentic passion. This part of the application plays a significant role in the US admissions process. Planning in advance by choosing activities thoughtfully, and committing to them thoroughly, is one of the best ways to improve your chances of being admitted to the US university of your choice. 

REFERENCES: Schools often ask to receive letters of support from teachers or officials. The number required can vary from one to three. Schools believe that the best referees are teachers who can comment upon your academic ability, work ethic, scholarly interests and academic potential for university.

As you are applying to colleges and hope to get accepted to your top-choice school,  please feel free to reach out to the A-List Team.  We would love to help.

White Paper: Holistic Review – What Does this Mean?
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