Adapted from the Dean DePauw's blog, "Transforming Graduate Education," on the Graduate School's holistic admissions initiative:
Holistic admissions in graduate education
In preparation for action on this initiative, Graduate School staff investigated the use of holistic admissions at selected universities in the U.S. to identify promising practices. The next step was to survey departments and programs to determine the admission practices already in use at Virginia Tech. After reviewing the results of the surveys and wanting to identify admission criteria beyond the typical GPA, GRE scores (or other standardized test scores) and reputation of the university, we decided to make changes to the Graduate School application and the letters of recommendation process. Based specifically on information provided by our departments and programs, we modified the application so that applicants could provide additional educational experience for consideration in admissions: community involvement and/or service; leadership; overcoming social, economic and/or physical barriers; personal and/or professional ethics; recognition of achievements over time; and research and scholarship.
In alignment with the personal attributes critical to academic success studied intensively by Educational Testing Services in its development of the Personal Potential Index (PPI), we modified the letter of recommendation form to include specific questions about the following: communication skills, ethics and integrity, initiative, innovation and creativity, planning and organization, and teamwork. Letter writers are asked to evaluate the applicant on these attributes and then provide a brief statement about the most compelling reason to admit the candidate. Full letters of recommendation are still to be submitted.
The changes in the application and the letter of recommendation form were designed and built in such a fashion that departments/programs can “sort” by the additional educational experiences and personal attributes as well as GPA and other measures departments wish. Admissions committee are encouraged to use these experiences and attributes systematically in determining qualified candidates and not just “sort” by high GPA and high GREs. Specifically, department are asked to “sort” initially and then revisit the applicant pool to “sort” at least two more times to expand the pool by the addition of those who were rated high on the pertinent additional educational experiences and personal attributes of value for academic success.
See the short video below for more information about the Holistic Admissions process: