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Monday, July 28, 2014
Colleges and the Holistic Review Process
I feel the need to issue a disclaimer right out of the gate. The reference article I'm using for this post is the musings of a single application reader, employed for a single application cycle at one university. I'm not pretending to offer insight into the global admissions process. I'm not promising the answer to the million-dollar question: "what are colleges looking for in a candidate?"
I'm merely drawing attention to the murkiness of the whole process.
Ruth Starkman's year-old article recounts her struggle with the subjectively objective process of ranking candidates using the University of California, Berkeley's "holistic" review process of college applicants. While one would hope that all colleges take a holistic approach to evaluations, the term has become ever more important since California's 1996 passage of Proposition 209-the law making it illegal to consider race, ethnicity and gender in college admissions.
Starkman struggles with the university's acrobatic attempts to completely avoid the conversation of race, ethnicity and gender in college admissions. It's one thing for the law to say none of those things can even be considered. It's another for application evaluators to pretend race/ethnicity and gender don't exist. Particularly when charged with making a "holistic" review of an application.
College applicants may find some consolation in the rigors of the process. People like Starkman, who is a writing professor, are classed as "external readers". They spend an average of eight minutes per application, give the student a rank, and then pass the application on, where it is vetted by a more experienced reader before being passed off to an "inner committee" of admissions officers.
Still, how is this scientific? Who is the best candidate? What makes them the best? Should the student who had to work harder to succeed get extra points for perseverance? Should the student without the funds to compete with their more privileged peers be penalized for being poor? These kinds of considerations make it impossible to call the process objective.
I wish I had an answer, and so do people like Starkman, who are far more qualified than me to provide one.
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