“Holistic” admissions may be harmful

By Declan Chin

Staff Writer

Illustration by Sandra Moore

I am thinking more and more about college as I head into my junior year; more specifically, the dreaded college application process. When listening to admissions officers at college presentations, they all claim to assess students holistically; they swear we are not just a collection of numbers. We are not defined by our grades and test scores. This approach, at first glance, is ideal. But upon looking a little closer, I have began to question it. What exactly defines a holistic student?

Google defines holistic as “characterized by comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole”. Twenty or thirty years ago, this may have meant getting good grades, good test scores, playing sports, and doing a few extracurricular activities. Nowadays, this definition of a “holistic student” is a little bit different.

I’m starting to realize that a holistic student is not just a well-rounded student, but a student with a narrative. My own college counselor has told me that admissions officers are looking for students who have interconnected extracurriculars. When telling your story in essays, they want to see that you have an underlying goal; that all of your activities have driven you to where you are and where you want to go. However, this new definition of “holistic” isn’t free of consequences.

It is almost imperative that students choose a major to be the base of the story, as an anchor for their narrative. For example, a girl who wants to become a doctor chooses public health as her major. She works with nonprofits helping to raise money to fight diseases and volunteers at the hospital in her free time.

Having direction isn’t a bad thing, but forcing students into one narrow path is dangerous. High school students are exploring their interests and deciding what they want to become. Suddenly, all of the time that isn’t already dedicated to school and test prep is being devoted to volunteering and padding your narrative around one major that you may not even be certain about. There is no time to explore other opportunities. This system is taking away the self discovery aspect of adolescence, and instead implying that selling yourself and getting into college is more important.

Is this new system better than the old one? Perhaps. But it’s important to recognize that no system is perfect. To students: step back, recognize the flaws in the process, and take time to explore. High school is one brief period in our lives, and is the last time we will ever be kids. The application process is undoubtedly challenging, but remember not to sacrifice the present for the future. College isn’t all that matters.