Holistic Review

What is a Holistic Review?

UC Davis’ Graduate Studies supports public access to education in all its forms. We oppose all forms of discrimination that marginalizes, discriminates and limits persons based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, citizenship, religion, ableism, and other backgrounds.

At UC Davis we participate in multiple projects and initiatives that focus on holistic review for graduate admissions that include,

These resources demonstrate equitable and inclusive graduate admissions practices that also address social justice access to graduate education.

Holistic review, whole file review, or comprehensive review, all refer to the consideration of quantitative and qualitative criteria and background, such as GPA, coursework, and personal motivations, values, and experiences without applying specific criteria as cutoff points, such as an overall GPA or test scores, to quickly reduce the number of applications to consider for admissions. To address equity, inclusiveness and social justice, graduate program faculty define a common set of criteria, participate in faculty admissions training and employ rubrics to maintain consistent and equitable admissions outcomes.

Promising Practices in Holistic Graduate Admissions

  1. Take stock of the graduate admissions process in the preceding admissions cycle. Ask the graduate admissions chair to record and share the previous admissions process so that faculty will have a starting point for the current cycle.
  2. In the summer prior to the academic year, review the graduate program website information for equitable and inclusive practices. In an earlier project, UC Davis faculty colleagues indicated that a successful holistic admission cycle begins with graduate program information on websites that does not assume every prospective graduate student knows about applying or preparing for graduate school. To provide leadership and raise knowledge about diversity and admissions, each year Graduate Studies offers two workshops for Graduate Coordinators as a part of the Graduate Education Certificate Series, Graduate Admissions: Best Practices in Application Review. In this workshop terminology, background, suggestions and examples of equitable and inclusive information on graduate program websites are presented. The two workshop dates in 2020 are June 24 and September XX, 2020.
  3. Identify and share on graduate program websites a contact person (preferably a faculty member) who champions graduate diversity in a program, in addition to including the diversity officers in Graduate Studies. In so doing a graduate program signals an internal commitment to a diverse graduate student body.
  4. In order for admissions committee members to participate in pre-admission discussions and can take advantage of faculty development, graduate program leadership should identify the new or continuing graduate admissions chairperson and admissions committee members by the start of the fall quarter.
  5. Review application materials to identify the information available about each applicant. Work with Graduate Studies to add unique fields for a particular graduate program.
  6. Lead dialogues with admissions committee members and program faculty about how the future of a field may be affected by changing demographics in the U.S., the extent of social justice in their field, how graduate admissions may shape a discipline, and the particular professional organizations’ perspectives on diversity.
  7. Review graduate program data for applications, enrollments and completions to understand past outcomes and to set goals for the current and future graduate student cohorts.
  8. Review admissions resources on the following websites to identify broad and specific tools that support equity, inclusion and social justice in graduate admissions through holistic review: AMIGA, Equity in Graduate Education, AAMC Diversity and Inclusion Tool Kit and the AAMC’s Situational Judgement Test. Topics to consider follow below with linked examples however, the links, are not comprehensive.
  9. Strongly encourage admissions committee faculty to participate in Graduate Studies “Holistic Review Essentials” or “Holistic Review Innovations” workshops held annually in the fall.
  10. Develop a rubric for the graduate admissions process identifying key criteria for the field and one’s graduate program that may include,
    1. Diversity – discuss and consider how contribution/s to diversity will valued and evaluated. See UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship Program criteria. Also consider unique qualities first generation or historically underrepresented students bring to the discipline.
    2. Discipline-specific skills – Consider if an applicant was able to take courses at the most advanced levels that may be signaled by undergraduate institution (e.g. does not offer Latin or Greek language study)
    3. Equitable review requires fair, clear and consistent review across all reviewers that can be accomplished through faculty admission training and the use of a scoring rubric.
    4. GPA – Consider an applicant’s GPA in context of overall GPA, last two years, upper division or major GPA and factors that influenced applicant’s GPA, such as major changes or personal circumstances.
    5. Recommendation letters – Consider the questions that faculty respond to for the recommendation letter. Be cognizant that unfamiliar faculty, program or institution do not signal a less talented applicant.
    6. Research experience – Consider the type and depth of research experience in the context of undergraduate institution, availability of grad preparation programs, and necessity to work to pay for college expenses.
    7. Socioeconomic background – Background such as first generation college, number of siblings, living conditions, “distance traveled”, parents’ education levels, location of high school and undergraduate college, and overcoming barriers to higher education can all be considered in admissions.
    8. Standardized test scores – Consider the suitable use of scores such as the GRE, GMAT and others.
  11. Meet to confirm criteria among admissions and broader program faculty. Norm the review process employing the developed rubric and using previous years’ applications for practice. Norming is a method much used in undergraduate comprehensive review that results in common review processes.
  12. Depending on the number of applications consider involving more faculty and possibly advanced graduate students to participate in application review.  Advanced graduate students will develop an essential professional development skill through participation.