Why holistic applicant review needs to be mission based

There’s a lot to consider about your applicants when conducting a holistic review, such as their grades, background, experiences, and professional attributes. But what truly anchors your team’s decision is the consideration of how an applicant’s strengths and potential can help your program deliver on its mission, whether that’s serving a diverse community or accelerating research.

Here are 3 reasons why your program’s mission needs to drive holistic applicant review:

1. Align everyone on priorities and decision-making criteria

Your institution or program’s mission statement is meant to guide how you operate. Everything you do is meant to achieve that specific mission, which takes into consideration your institution or program’s unique history, objectives, as well as educational or societal contributions. As such, your mission statement should help align your team and provide clarity on what’s important when making decisions, especially where applicants are concerned.

At a time when higher education institutions are demanded to become more transparent, increase access and equity, and better serve their community, the mission statement provides a great starting point for decision making. It helps to balance all the different factors that come into play during holistic review since it is all too easy for each individual stakeholder to focus too much on a particular metric and weight it more heavily than others. It becomes more problematic when each stakeholder focuses on different metrics, making it harder to reach decisions as a team with confidence and with the right rationale. Aligning on the mission can help you look at the applicant as a whole and determine whether they can help you achieve that mission.

2. Attract the right kind of applicants

Applicants aren’t the only ones competing during the application process. Your program is competing with other programs for top applicants who possess the knowledge, skills, experience and professional attributes that will enable them to succeed in a people-centered profession. What can set your program apart is your mission statement. For example, a medical school whose mission is to increase access to care in rural areas will want to attract applicants who want to eventually work in a rural setting instead of those who seek to work in urban environments. Other programs who are more research focused will want to attract applicants whose career goals lie in research. Leveraging that mission statement in recruitment efforts can give you a stronger pool of applicants to consider, and reviewing their applications for alignment with your mission can help you choose those applicants who really want to be part of your program.

3. Help build a diverse student body

Although diversity is becoming increasingly important across a broad range of programs, the state of health care in under-represented communities and the fact that patients prefer to receive treatment from a provider who looks like them have propelled medical schools and health sciences programs to consider demographic factors. The AAMC’s core principles of holistic applicant review even encourages the consideration of race and ethnicity when “aligned with mission-related educational interests and goals associated with student diversity; and when considered as a broader mix of factors.”

Research also shows that mission-based holistic applicant review helps to meet diversity goals. For example, Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine brought in a significantly higher than expected number of women, traditionally under-represented, first generation, and self-identified disadvantaged applicants to interviews by considering non-cognitive attributes and their alignment with the program’s mission. The study noted that many of these individuals would have been excluded if the program relied on cognitive metrics alone to inform interview selections.

Learn how to implement mission-based applicant review

If you’re interested in learning how to implement this type of process and how programs have found success with it, then watch these presentations from the 2021 Admissions Summit:

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