Holistic Review in Medical School Admissions

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Holistic review is an admissions process that considers each applicant individually by balancing their academic metrics with experiences and attributes.

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What is Holistic Review?

Holistic review is an admissions process that considers each applicant individually by balancing their academic metrics with experiences and attributes. These factors are viewed in combination to consider how an individual might contribute value not only as a medical student, but also as a future physician. Nearly all medical schools report using some elements of holistic review.

How do schools implement Holistic Review?

In a holistic admissions process, admissions criteria are clearly tied to institutional mission and goals, and therefore vary by school. However, the Experiences-Attributes-Metrics (E-A-M) model is a widely-used tool for admissions staff and committee members to think broadly about diversity, and to help them identify mission-centric experiences and attributes.

You can read more about Holistic Review and its four basic principles.

How do schools use their mission in admissions?

Mission-based admissions means that a medical school’s admissions criteria, policies and procedures align with its mission and goals. For example, one medical school might seek students interested in providing care in rural areas, while another medical school might seek students with expressed interest in urban environments. One medical school’s mission might emphasize research, while another might emphasize primary care. Each medical school’s mission statement can be found at the Medical School Admissions Requirements® (MSAR™) website. By reading these statements, you can figure out if a school’s goals align with your own. You can use this information to prepare your application and help you highlight how your experiences make you a good fit for a particular institution.

What do life experiences communicate about an applicant?

On your application, it’s important to convey a full picture of who you are, including the parts not related to medicine. Your background, perspectives and experiences matter in the decision-making process. Where have you come from to get to where you are now? What about you illustrates resilience, drive, passion, and commitment?

Regardless of your path, be it relatively smooth or somewhat rocky, admissions officers are most interested in what you have learned along the way and how you plan to apply those lessons moving forward. One of the main goals in the admissions process is to make sure students will succeed in medical school and contribute positively to their future patients and the medical community.

What makes a competitive applicant?

Because holistic review is mission-based, schools will have different definitions for “competitive.” The Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) will help you get a better idea of school-specific criteria.

However, all medical schools look for these 15 core competencies for entering medical students: 

  • Service Orientation
  • Social Skills
  • Cultural Competence
  • Teamwork
  • Oral Communication
  • Ethical Responsibility to Self and Others
  • Reliability and Dependability
  • Resilience and Adaptability
  • Capacity for Improvement
  • Critical Thinking
  • Quantitative Reasoning
  • Scientific Inquiry
  • Written Communication
  • Living Systems
  • Human Behavior

One experience, such as leading your local Habitat for Humanity Chapter, can speak to numerous competencies (service orientation, social skills, culture competence, teamwork, etc.) To see how current medical students were able to demonstrate these competencies throughout their application, learn more detailed information about these competencies, visit Anatomy of an Applicant.

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