Building a Diverse Class
United States colleges and universities employ a “holistic review” process when trying to meet their goal of building a diverse class of students. This means admissions officers place emphasis on the applicant as a whole person, not just his or her academic achievements.
In holistic review, admissions officers look at “hard factors” (quantitative data) and “soft factors” (qualitative data) go get a complete picture of applicants. These include the following:
● Course Rigor
● Standardized Test Scores
● Extracurricular Activities
● Recommendation Letters
● Strength of School
● Demonstrated Interest
A lot goes on behind the scenes before decisions are made about who to admit and who not to admit. Predictions about yield, discussions about the institution’s needs, and consideration of the overall quality of an applicant pool are factors admissions officers consider.
Other factors like departmental or institutional needs can also play a role. For example, the school may need more music majors, so all music majors who the school thinks will succeed and make an impact on campus will likely be considered for admission. Or there might be too many biology majors, so only those applicants intending to study biology with application characteristics above the median requirements for admission are considered.
These elements vary from school to school and year to year, but the main purpose of evaluating applicants and their components is to help establish the applicants that will succeed at the institution.
Determining the institution’s needs and building a diverse class of specialists is also where background, race, and ethnicity can be considered at private and highly selective institutions like the Ivies. Schools want to build diverse classes of high-performing students. Diversity comes in many forms and can include socio-economic, geographical, gender, ethnicity and race. If a school feels that a certain group on campus is underrepresented, they may fill that need by affirming some students of a certain background that fall into that range of students who were already determined able to do the work and succeed at the school. A student with impressive grades, test scores, extracurricular, and great essays might be even more attractive if he or she comes from a unique background.
In any selective admissions pool, admissions offices review students by considering contextual information. Elements like an applicant’s test scores will be evaluated in the context of those with a similar background. For example, an Asian applicant is going to be reviewed in the context of his or her ethnicity because being Cambodian-American is very different than being a Chinese international student.
In the case of Kwasi Enin, a student that was admitted to all eight Ivy League schools this year, his status as a first-generation American from Ghana is rare in any applicant pool. Along with his many academic and personal accomplishments, his racial and ethnic background make him an even more interesting applicant to admissions committees. Enin’s test scores were in the top percentile for all students, as well for African-American students and males. He was an impressive applicant on paper, and his Ghanaian background, along with being a first-generation American, set him apart from other applicants who identified as black or African-American. While this may seem unfair or disadvantageous, it ensures that all applicants are evaluated by reviewing all contextual considerations, not just against the applicant pool as a whole.
Dozens of factors are considered when making admissions decisions about how to build a diverse class.