Understanding the Admissions Decision Beyond the Application

Learn about the holistic approach to college admissions, the benefits for the institution and the student, how students can see if a school will actually be a good fit, and how to maximize your chances of getting in.
Girl walking on college campus

What happens after you submit your admissions application?

A fair question, given the enormous amount of time and energy students put into completing them. Each college treats applications differently, based on size of the college, time of year, enrollment goals, and institutional priorities. A recent trend, and one we believe will be around for some time, is a concerted effort among colleges to apply a holistic approach to college admissions, taking into account the entire student experience and what that might look like for a particular applicant.

What does this mean? How does it play out in practice? How are college admissions decisions made? We spoke with Danielle O'Connell, a former Dean of Admissions, to give us more insight into this approach.

Jonathan: Danielle, tell us more about this holistic approach to college admissions decisions.

Danielle: Gone are the days of simply enrolling students based on their application "hard numbers" (e.g. SAT® score, GPA, rank in class, etc.). Generally speaking, a school's goal is to enroll students they believe will be successful in the classroom, outside the classroom, and once they graduate. This holistic approach to college admissions goes beyond the application and focuses on the entire student experience. Schools do this by bringing in key campus stakeholders from day one to ask questions and evaluate admissions candidates. Will they succeed academically? How about socially? Do their goals and aspirations align with the college? All the pieces need to come together in order to make a sound decision.

Jonathan: So why this approach? What are the benefits for the institution and the student?

Danielle: Spending more time on the front end—considering the entire student experience from admission through the in-school experience and even into becoming an alum—allows schools to enroll students who they believe will be successful students and champions of the college once the graduate. For the students, this process maximizes their chance of success while enrolled, with completing their degree, and continuing to be a part of the college culture even after they leave.

Jonathan: If I am a student considering a school, what can I do/should I do before committing to see if this school will actually be a good fit?

Danielle: Great question. Students should find their "authentic fit". Sometimes this is easier said than done. However, there are a few things I suggest students do. First, visit the campus and sit in on a class. Ask questions and don't be afraid to speak with the professors and students after class. Second, check out the amenities. While residence halls are important, think beyond that. What type of technology is on campus? What resources are available through the library? Do the available resources align with a student's intended major? For instance, if you are a nursing student, what type of medical equipment is available on campus? Third, consider the size of the school and campus feel. Walk around campus and ask if can you imagine yourself there as a student (either resident or commuter). Finally, ask questions about the student experience. What goes on outside of the classroom? Are their clubs/organizations that peak my interest? How does the college encourage/support success beyond the class?

Jonathan: This is all great, but of course we still need to get accepted! Beyond the application (which we know is important), what can I do to maximize my chances of "getting in"?

Danielle: Whenever possible, tell the school about yourself. The essay is a great opportunity to do this, but so is an on-campus (or virtual) interview. When a school sends you communications (especially by email), open them…and read them! Having a vested interest in the college and what they are saying goes a long way. Of course, attending any events on campus (if possible) is another great way to show interest in the college. Finally, if you plan on majoring in a subject that makes sense with submitting a portfolio (e.g. art, creative design, etc.), share it with the school. This will help enhance your application.