Application Essentials I: The Holistic Review Process

September 1, 2016
Emily Hause

Are you preparing for the holistic review process?

The AAMC empowers medical schools to evaluate candidates beyond MCAT score and GPA.

In this first installation of our a seven-part Application Essentials series, we discuss the AAMC’s holistic review initiative and how it could affect your application.

Although you might not realize it, the AAMC is an important part of your medical 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. They have a vested interest in helping applicants become amazing future physicians.

One hot topic in medical admissions in recent years is the AAMC’s initiative to enable medical schools to conduct a holistic review of their applicants. While a full detail of what this process entails would itself 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. Of course, all admissions committees try to see candidates as whole people, but schools that have committed to holistic review are taking it to the next level.

What is holistic review?

Holistic review gives balanced attention to an applicant’s experiences, attributes, and academic metrics (what the AAMC refers to as the E-A-M model). Rather than assessing an applicant’s personal statement, extracurricular activities, experience (both medical and nonmedical), 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 in the past, the MCAT is becoming more important: 51% of medical school officers consider it the most important factor in medical admissions, up from 43% in the prior year’s survey. What holistic review does mean, however, 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 that schools are making.

How will holistic review impact medical schools?

As AAMC states, “[m]edicine is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary, collaborative, and technology-enabled, 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.”­

In other words, by diversifying the demographics and experiences of their incoming class, medical schools will be able to turn out physicians more representative of their mission and—more importantly—able to respond to the ever-changing world of health care.

So what does this mean for you? Again, the processing of your application and attention to each facet of who you are—as a student, a physician-to-be, and an individual within society—will be taken to a higher level, with more rigorous review. But not to worry. We’ve got your back. We’ve already talked plenty about metrics, so stay tuned for the rest of this series to learn how the rest of your application will be evaluated.

Want to keep your educational goals on track? Plan your application with our free guide to getting into medical school.

A previous version of this article was originally published by Alex MacNow.

Emily Hause Emily has been a teacher for Kaplan for over eight years; she's taught MCAT, ACT, SAT, SAT2 and tutored pretty much every subject under the sun in both the classroom and live online (aka Classroom Anywhere) settings. She's also worked for Kaplan in content development and teacher mentorship roles. Emily is currently a fourth-year medical student at the University of Colorado and is hoping to go into Pediatrics. She's involved in many campus opportunities such as being a Prospective Student Representative, admissions committee member, CU-UNITE member, and co-president of the Education and Teaching Interest Group. Prior to medical school, Emily got a BA in Biochemistry and Spanish from Lawrence University and a Masters in Public Health- Epidemiology from the University of Minnesota. In her free time, Emily enjoys dancing, baking, playing tennis and exploring her new Colorado home.

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