The vast majority of US boarding/independent schools, colleges, and universities abide by what is commonly referred to as a “holistic” admissions process. “Holistic” admission means that schools assess a variety of factors in order to gain as complete a picture of each applicant as possible. It is not merely about establishing an applicant’s academic credentials, though that certainly plays a large role in admission decisions; schools are just as interested in a prospective student’s extracurricular engagements, non-academic interests and passions, and evidence of drive, resilience, discipline, and maturity overall. Beyond that, schools will discern whether the applicant is a good fit, both intellectually and socially, as revealed by the different components of an application.
The complexity of a US college application reflects this holistic approach to admissions. On the academic front, schools typically require submission of the entire high school transcript as well as standardized test scores (which may or may not include SAT Subject Tests and/or Advanced Placement tests). Additionally, applicants are asked to give an account of and explain their extracurricular activities throughout the school year as well as the projects or programs they have pursued during every summer since they began high school. Teachers are also asked to write letters of recommendation on behalf of the applicant specifically addressing the applicant’s approach to learning, intellectual growth, and willingness to push him or herself in the classroom.
Schools are also deeply interested in getting to know the applicant as a person, in his or her own voice. This is the main purpose of the application essay(s) or personal statement(s). Different schools or programs will ask applicants to answer different questions through their essay(s), but all such questions have one key feature in common: they are opportunities for applicants to give a sense of who they are in their own voice, by revealing their interests and the way they think about important questions or issues that matter to them personally
Letters of Recommendation