A practice called ‘holistic admissions’ plays a role in decisions at elite universities.

elite-admissionsIn May, 60 groups filed a complaint with the Justice and Education departments claiming that Asian-Americans are held to a different standard — a higher standard — than other students applying for admission at elite universities. They believe that “holistic admissions” is being used as a modern-day form of racial discrimination.

I worked in admissions at the University of Pennsylvania and at Franklin & Marshall College, and I can tell you something about what goes on. Elite universities — public and private — practice what is called “holistic admissions,” a policy based on the idea that a test score or GPA does not completely reflect who a student is and what he or she can bring to a college community.

It allows a college to factor in a student’s background, challenges overcome, extracurricular involvement, letters of recommendation, special talents, writing ability and many other criteria. Private schools and many public universities can include race among the characteristics they consider, as long as they don’t apply racial quotas.

(Next page: How holistic admissions can influence decisions)

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