Most elite colleges and universities describe their admissions policies as "holistic," suggesting that they look at the totality of an applicant - grades, test scores, essays, recommendations, activities and so forth. But a new survey of admissions officials at the 75 most competitive colleges and universities (defined as those with the lowest admit rates) finds that there are distinct patterns, typically not known by applicants, that differentiate some holistic colleges from others.
Most colleges focus entirely on academic qualifications first, and then consider other factors. But a minority of institutions focuses first on issues of "fit" between a college's needs and an applicant's needs. This approach - most common among liberal arts colleges and some of the most competitive private universities - results in a focus on non-academic qualities of applicants, and tends to favor those who are members of minority groups underrepresented on campus and those who can afford to pay all costs of attending.