The Urgency of Fair and Equitable Holistic Review of College Applicants
This brief is focused on holistic review, a strategy in college admissions that assesses an applicant’s unique experiences alongside a range of indicators that include grades, extra curriculars, environmental context, among other factors. For admissions officers and college leaders, it is a powerful tool and a fairer and more thoughtful approach to reviewing student applications and ensuring a more diverse student body. Promising policy practices in admissions can ensure greater equity and access for students if admission officers and college leaders act decisively and with commitment. Colleges can use their own data to examine the disparate racial effects of their current policies and practices and choose a different path, one that is both legally permissible and more racially equitable, to mitigate the effects of a ban on race-conscious admissions.
Achieving racial equity will be even more challenging as a result of the recent Supreme Court ban on race-conscious admissions. The effects of California’s Proposition 209, passed in 1996, and other state bans on race-conscious admissions are well established across the undergraduate, graduate, and professional school levels. Even within race-conscious admissions environments, implementation of holistic review is often ambiguous, inequitable, and inconsistent. Radical proposals for admissions reform, such as an often-proposed move to admissions lotteries, would have devastating impacts on racialized minorities. But there are options, if admissions offices move decisively to adopt policies and practices that are known to improve racial equity in admissions and advocate for their admissions colleagues — and presidents, provosts, and boards of trustees — to adopt them, as well.