What Does "Holistic Review" Mean in Graduate School Admissions?

Looking to understand what "holistic review" means in graduate school admissions? This article breaks it down and explains how you can stand out in a holistic application process.

Debby C.

By Debby C.

Posted April 20, 2023

Free Event

The Summer Before Round 1: Setting Yourself Up for Success

Starting Tuesday, May 28

3:00 PM UTC · 45 minutes

undefined's profile

Featuring Victoria G.

While exploring the application criteria for graduate programs, you may have come across the words "holistic review" to describe how the admissions committee reviews applications. When applications are reviewed holistically, the reviewers consider all aspects of the application rather than focusing on just one or two specific parts. This means that the reviewers will look at the entire application, including the student's academic record, essays, letters of recommendation, and any other materials that have been submitted. They will also consider non-academic factors, such as personal circumstances, hardships, and unique experiences in order to make admissions decisions.

During my time at Stanford, I had the opportunity to play a role in selecting future graduate students. While focusing solely on grades and test scores would have been easier, I quickly learned the importance of looking at each application holistically. By getting to know each applicant through their essays and other supporting documents, I made more informed decisions about who would be a good fit for our graduate programs.

The goal of the admissions review process is not just to admit students with the best grades and test scores but to find those who will thrive at the university and contribute positively to the academic community. In other words, admissions committees are looking for students who are a good fit for the program, not just those with the highest grades or test scores.

In addition, reviewing applications holistically can help identify individuals who may not have had the opportunity to excel academically but possess other qualities that make them excellent candidates for graduate school. It helps to promote diversity and inclusivity in graduate school admissions. By considering a range of experiences and perspectives, admissions committees can identify applicants from diverse backgrounds with unique perspectives to contribute to the program.

So, how can you make sure that you stand out in a holistic review process? Here are a few strategies.

  1. Develop a compelling statement of purpose showcasing your unique qualities and experiences and demonstrating how they align with the program.
  2. Seek strong letters of recommendation from individuals who know you well and can speak to your strengths and potential for success in the program.
  3. Take advantage of opportunities to demonstrate your interests and skills outside the classroom, such as participating in extracurricular activities, conducting research, or volunteering in your community.
  4. Provide detailed and specific examples of your achievements and experiences in your application.
  5. Be authentic and genuine in your application; admissions committee members want to get to know the real you and understand how you will contribute to the program.

If you have questions about the graduate school admissions process, feel free to reach out for a free intro call on my Leland coach profile! During our meeting, we'll talk about your circumstances and brainstorm ways to strengthen your application and increase your chances of getting into your dream school.

Free trial!

Access a library of videos, templates, and examples curated by Leland’s top coaches.

undefined's profileundefined's profileundefined's profile

From 109 top coaches

Example Essays

Example Essays Image

Example Resumes

Example Resumes Image

Application Prep

Application Prep Image

Video Courses

Video Courses Image

Browse hundreds of expert coaches

Leland coaches have helped thousands of people achieve their goals. A dedicated mentor can make all the difference.

Browse Related Articles