UW Graduate School

Holistic Admissions

Holistic Admissions has gained increased attention in graduate admission programs across the country. In our commitment to excellence in graduate education, the Graduate School at the University of Washington initiated on-going workshops and trainings for faculty and staff to promote understanding of issues pertaining to traditional admissions practices as well as understanding of the rationale and benefits in implementing holistic admissions review. Further recognizing the exclusionary impact and inequities due to reliance on standardized tests, UW undergraduate admissions recently stopped requiring submission of SAT/ACT scores.

Holistic admissions review refers to practices that promote an inclusive and rigorous graduate application review process that evaluates applicants through a variety of methods, rather than prioritizing GPA, standardized test scores such as GRE scores, or former school of attendance. In its 2016 report, the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) notes that reliance upon measures such as GPA and standardized test scores may not accurately predict success in graduate school. In addition, they may disadvantage underrepresented students, particularly those from low-income communities, as well as non-traditional and older students1 In her study, Benderly (2017) found that these same factors—GRE scores, undergraduate institution, and undergraduate GPA were not associated with graduate school productivity and not associated with graduate school GPA2

Research consistently highlights that holistic admissions review offers several benefits for graduate programs, including diversifying the student population. As noted in the 2016 CGS report, holistic review is widely viewed as a useful strategy for improving diversity, including racial and gender diversity. It allows for more robust inclusion of applicants with diverse backgrounds, identities, and experiences conducive to the excellence of a world-class and public university.1 A national study on the use and impact of holistic admissions in the health professions found that schools using holistic review experienced an improved learning environment, including student engagement with the community, teamwork, and openness to new ideas.3

This webpage offers several resources for units thinking about or planning to implement Holistic Admissions Review.

General information and salient literature for holistic admission standards. Below are links to resources that focus on holistic admissions.

  • Holistic Review in Graduate Admissions (2016). This report released by the Council of Graduate Schools offers a legal rationale for holistic admissions, as well as a summary of existing resources and the experiences of individual institutions. The “Supporting Holistic Review: Priorities for Graduate Institutions and Programs” and “Existing Resources” sections may be of particular interest.
  • Posselt, J.R. (2016). Inside Graduate Admissions: Merit, Diversity, and Faculty Gatekeeping. Harvard University Press. This is a ground-breaking book. Drawing on firsthand observations of admission committees and interviews with faculty in 10 top-ranked doctoral programs in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences, Posselt exposes the processes and limitations of admissions committees. In addition, she challenges a prevailing paradigm of reliance upon GRE scores and GPAs in admission practices.
  • Using GRE Scores in Holistic Admissions. Many graduate programs have stopped requiring the GRE while others use it as part of their holistic review. This resource was put together by the Educational Testing Service to explore how GRE scores could fit into holistic admission reviews.

UW Graduate School Holistic Admissions Resources

The Graduate School has developed two documents to help inform decisions and practices regarding holistic admissions review.

Powerpoint presentations and other materials from several workshops on Holistic Admissions for faculty and staff organized by the Graduate School are available below. These are helpful in providing historical context in the movement towards holistic admissions review and understanding some of the strengths and challenges.

  • University of Washington Julie Posselt 2018 (ppt)
  • University of Washington David Payne fall 2018 (ppt)
  • Connecting Graduate Admissions Practices with Goals: Questions to Consider—ETS & GRE (pdf)
  • Holistic Admissions Workshop winter 2017 (ppt)
  • Holistic Admissions – Context, Strengths and Challenges (ppt)

Evaluations for holistic admissions. These are links to general resources that focus on different ways to evaluate the holistic admissions process. Each link has a brief description of what you can expect from that resource. Please note: the type of materials included in a Holistic review of applicants can vary from discipline to discipline.


Kent, J.D. and McCarthy, M.T. (2016). Holistic Review in Graduate Admissions: A Report from the Council of Graduate Schools. Washington, DC: Council of Graduate Schools.

Benderly, B.L. (2017). GREs don’t predict grad school success. What does? Science. Retrieved from https://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2017/06/gres-dont-predict-grad-schoolsuccess-what-does

Glazer, G., Danek, J., Michaels, J., Bankston, K., Fair, M., Johnson, S. & Nivet, M. (2014). Holistic admissions in the health professions: findings from a national survey. Urban
Universities for HEALTH. Washington, DC.