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Getting Into Grad School: the Holistic Review Process

UL Grad School -- 09/30/2021

Applying to graduate school takes a good deal of time and effort. Naturally, you’ll want to know about your chances of getting into grad school, and how to make your application as strong as possible.

That’s why, when looking at each program and school’s requirements, you’ll need to understand how a holistic review process works.

What is holistic review, and why is it important to consider when you’re applying to grad school? Let this blog be your guide.

What is Holistic Review?

The graduate admissions process is meant to identify students who show strong potential to succeed in graduate studies and contribute to the program and the field of study.

So how does holistic review differ from other admission practices?

For many years, graduate admissions emphasized grades and standardized test scores, focusing on quantitative achievements.

An emphasis on holistic review has broadened the focus. With holistic review, there’s more balance and consideration for other areas of achievement, persistence, and potential. Information included in your statement of purpose, resume or CV, writing sample, and letters of reference help graduate programs learn more about you, your interests and experience, and your potential for success in their program.

As a report from the Council of Graduate Schools explains, “Holistic review, or the consideration of a broad range of candidate qualities including ‘noncognitive’ or personal attributes, is a growing strategy for widening the evidence base that graduate programs consider when evaluating a candidate for admission.”

Why Is Holistic Review Used in Graduate Admissions?

There are many reasons why holistic review is used in graduate admissions, including:

To help admissions committees evaluate applicants from a range of backgrounds

The emphasis on quantitative measure can disadvantage underrepresented, non-traditional, and older students. By conducting a portfolio review that takes multiple criteria into consideration, graduate admissions committees are able to identify different measures of success across academic, work, and life experiences.

To identify important skills not measured by test scores or grades

Standardized test scores and GPA are an incomplete predictor of success in graduate school. Grad school isn’t just about making good grades, after all. It takes determination, resiliency, and the ability to manage your time and your priorities successfully.

To make graduate programs more inclusive

Bringing together students from diverse backgrounds and perspectives helps to drive innovation and improve problem-solving, as demonstrated by the research of Dr, Scott Page, an economist and professor of political and complex systems.

Promoting access, diversity, and inclusion within a graduate program is a great way to improve students’ experiences and to help the field grow.

How to Prepare Your Application for the Holistic Review Process

Your application is an opportunity to show why you are a good fit for their program, and why you will succeed in graduate studies and your chosen field.

In your application, you’ll need to demonstrate how your past experiences have prepared you for graduate school. Here’s what grad schools look for during the holistic review process:

What have you learned?

The admissions committee will review your academic preparation, research experience, and professional accomplishments to learn about the skills and knowledge you’ll bring to the program.

If you’re providing a resume or CV, make sure it clearly maps out your academic and professional credentials. Include important projects you’ve worked on, technical skills, and awards and accomplishments.

How have you grown?

In a holistic review process, faculty want to see qualities such as adaptability, initiative, conscientiousness, and perseverance. Keep in mind to be a successful grad student, you’ll need to take responsibility for your progress, move ahead despite setbacks, and strive to meet a standard of excellence.

Take some time to identify your strengths and how you’ve overcome the obstacles. Your statement of purpose is a great place to link your accomplishments with your personal and professional strengths.

You should also consider the qualities and skills you want to highlight in your application when requesting letters of recommendation.

What are your goals?

When looking at your application, graduate programs are looking for connections. Show how your interests align with their faculty member’s research, and how completing their unique program will help you find success in your career. Having clear goals and aspirations in mind is a great way to demonstrate that you’re well prepared to succeed in graduate school.


The Graduate School at UL Lafayette encourages holistic admissions practices that promote access, diversity, and inclusion. Learn more about graduate studies at UL Lafayette →