New Study Finds Holistic Admissions Benefit Health Professions Schools

A new study, funded in part by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), finds holistic admissions has a positive impact on diversity, student success and academics in health professions schools. Holistic review is a university admissions strategy that assesses an applicant’s unique experiences alongside traditional measures of academic achievement such as grades and test scores.

The report, Holistic Admissions in the Health Professions, is the first large-scale study to examine the prevalence and effectiveness of holistic review across multiple health disciplines at universities nationwide. A total of 104 public universities in 45 states participated in the study, including 228 individual medical, dental, pharmacy, nursing and public health schools that completed an electronic survey about student outcomes, admission practices, and use of holistic review.

“This study shows that holistic review is an effective strategy for schools that seek to improve access to higher education, diversity in the health professions, and overall student success,” said Dr. Yvonne T. Maddox, acting director of NIMHD.

According to the study, 67 percent of health professions schools have changed to a holistic admission process within the past 10 years, and 8 percent have used a holistic admission process for more than 10 years. More than 90 percent of dental and medical schools reported using holistic review, as compared with 82 percent of public health, 78 percent of pharmacy, and 47 percent of nursing schools.

The majority of schools using holistic review reported an increase in the diversity of the student body—not only in race, ethnicity, and gender, but also in experience, socioeconomic status and perspective—over the past decade. In addition, 90 percent of schools using holistic review reported that the average GPA of the incoming class remained unchanged or increased; 89 percent reported that average standardized test scores for incoming classes remained unchanged or increased; and 96 percent reported that graduation rates were unchanged or increased.

Leaders from 91 percent of the schools stated that holistic review had a positive impact on the school, including increased diversity; admission of students who are better prepared for success in the profession; admission of students who have faced barriers to success in their lifetimes and who would have been excluded under traditional admissions processes; and increased awareness of and sensitivity to diversity among admissions committee members.

“Colleges using holistic review were more likely to track student engagement with the community, student cooperation and teamwork, and student openness to ideas and perspectives different from their own,” said Dr. Greer Glazer, dean of the College of Nursing at the University of Cincinnati, who led the study. “These measures are important contributors to individual student success as well as the teaching and learning environment at the school.”

While many colleges and universities currently use a holistic admission process to select students, the practice has become more popular in health fields such as medicine and dentistry in efforts to respond to growing health workforce shortages, a rapidly diversifying patient population, and transformative changes to the health care system. Lack of diversity among health care professionals may contribute to disparities in access to health care and services for minority populations, according to the report. Thus, the goal of a holistic admissions process is to admit a diverse student body that will excel academically and succeed professionally.

The national survey was coordinated by Urban Universities for HEALTH—a collaboration between the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities and the Association of American Medical Colleges. The project was supported by NIMHD, Award Number U24MD006960, with additional funding support provided by the Health Resources and Services Administration.

Click here (PDF, 744 KB) to read the report.

Click here for more information about Urban Universities for Health.