Application Essentials I: The Holistic Review Process

November 30, 2012
Alex Macnow

Earlier this month, I had the great fortune of attending the 2012 AAMC Annual Conference in San Francisco, CA.  This meeting represents one of the largest gatherings of medical educators, premedical advisors, admissions officers, practicing physicians and students in the country, all with one common goal:  your education.  This is the group that writes the MCAT, runs the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) and creates informative resources like Careers in Medicine to help you plan your future medical career.

One of the “hot topics” in medical admissions these days is holistic review.  While a full detailing of this process would probably take a half-dozen posts to explain, it boils down to the idea that an applicant should be evaluated on all of his or her credentials – not just GPA and MCAT score.  This has always been true, but schools that have committed to holistic review are taking it to the next level.  Holistic review gives balanced attention to an applicant’s experiences, attributes and academic metrics (what the AAMC refers to as E-A-M).  Rather than assessing an applicant’s personal statement, extracurricular activities and experience (both medically- and non-medically oriented), letters of recommendation, and interpersonal characteristics in the context of their scores, these parts of the application are dealt with on their own.  This is not to say that GPA and MCAT are decreasing in importance (in fact, as you might have learned from Kaplan’s Medical School Officer Survey Debrief last night, the MCAT is getting more important – 51% of medical school officers consider it the most important factor in medical admissions, up from 43% in last year’s survey).  What it does mean, though, is that each aspect of your application will now be looked at with an even finer-tooth comb, and every credential you present is now taking on more significance in the admissions decisions schools are making.

What effect will holistic review have on medical schools?  As AAMC states, “[m]edicine is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary, collaborative, and technology-enables, just as our society is growing more diverse, multicultural, and globally interconnected. … [Holistic review] assist[s] medical schools in establishing, implementing, and evaluating mission-driven, student diversity-related policies, processes, and practices that help build a physician workforce capable of and committed to improving the health of all.”­1  In other words, by diversifying the demographics and experiences of their incoming class, schools will be able to turn out physicians more representative of that school’s mission and – more importantly – able to respond to the ever-changing world of healthcare.

So what does this mean for you?  Again, the processing of your application and attention to each facet of you – as a student, physician-to-be, and individual within society – will be taken to a higher level with more rigorous review.  But no worries!  We’ve got your back.  We’ve already talked plenty about metrics (see my posts on the average GPA and average MCAT scores for medical school applicants); so this is the kick-off for a series on the rest of your application.


1.  AAMC Holistic Review Project:  Achieving Improved Learning and Workforce Outcomes through Admissions.  AAMC.  May 2012.

This article is Part I in a seven-part series on Holistic Admissions.  For more information, check out:

Alex Macnow

Alex Macnow I graduated from Boston University with a BA in Musicology and am currently a fourth year in medical school at the University of Pennsylvania. I took Kaplan to prep for my MCAT. After such a great experience with my course, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to teach and tutor hundreds of pre-health students for the MCAT, DAT, OAT and PCAT in both our Boston – Haymarket and Philadelphia Kaplan Centers. I am one of the Content Managers for Kaplan's new MCAT 2015 course. When I’m not preparing for residency or teaching MCAT, I enjoy playing classical piano, exploring new cuisines and traveling on road trips.

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