Toward Holistic Review in Graduate Admissions

Reflections in a glass wall of the Social Sciences and Humanities Building
A glass wall of the Social Sciences and Humanities Building creates interesting reflections. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

UC Davis is leading a project to develop holistic review methods for graduate admissions in selected humanities programs on two UC campuses to increase equity and inclusivity for all applicants.

The 4½-year project, supported by a $1,195,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, is a collaboration with UCLA and the University of Southern California. It will bring together faculty from interested graduate programs and graduate groups to develop holistic methods in eight humanities and humanistic social science graduate programs at each UC campus. Holistic review considers a wide range of applicant attributes and skills in addition to academic measures.

“We are excited because, ultimately, this project has the potential not only to reach across our 10-campus system, but also to reach peer institutions nationwide,” said Prasant Mohapatra, vice provost for Graduate Education and dean of Graduate Studies at UC Davis. He is the principal investigator for the project.

Diversity at the graduate level

Scholarship demonstrates that equitable admission processes result in increased numbers of applicants with more diverse backgrounds, said Josephine Moreno, the graduate diversity academic coordinator for humanities, arts, social sciences and education at UC Davis.

Like UC Davis, many research universities are making strides in the diversity of their undergraduate students and are launching initiatives to increase faculty diversity. Graduate student diversity is needed to increase diversity in the professoriate, added Moreno, who is project director.

However, the percentages of students from historically underrepresented populations in graduate programs remain significantly lower than in undergraduate programs and in the U.S. population, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Four of the eight UC Davis graduate programs to be involved in the new project will be identified by the spring quarter. The other four programs will be added in the third year of the grant.

UC Davis disciplines included in an exploratory year for the project, supported by a $150,000 seed grant from the Mellon Foundation, included French, Spanish, music, sociology, education and — for comparison purposes — biology, mechanical engineering, plant sciences and physics.

Barriers identified

The new project, called the Alliance for Multicampus, Inclusive Graduate Admissions (AMIGA), aims to overcome admission barriers identified in the exploratory year. These included too little information on graduate program websites, a constrained application platform, a heavy reliance on metrics and a decentralized admission process.

Claire Goldstein, associate professor of French, is one of three faculty advisers to the project. “The tools and methods developed in the AMIGA project will create a more equitable framework for the application process,” she said, “and help graduate programs uncover a broader pool of talented students by using methods that focus on students' potential for success.”

The UC system has been a leader in piloting and adopting holistic review for undergraduate admissions, but few such efforts exist for graduate admissions in the state or nation. However, the Council of Graduate Schools and other higher education organizations encourage holistic review at the graduate level.

Development modules for faculty

AMIGA will work with faculty leadership and deans to develop and implement a sustainable system of holistic review in the participating programs. Serving as advisor and assessment lead for the project will be Julie Posselt, an assistant professor of higher education at USC. She is the author of Inside Graduate Admissions: Merit, Diversity, and Faculty Gatekeeping, which sheds light on barriers to and opportunities for equity in graduate education.

The project will design and deliver faculty development modules on inclusive admissions and initiate faculty-to-faculty training as well as host two forums to disseminate inclusive graduate education scholarship and practices.

Moreno and Teresa Dillinger, also of Graduate Studies, led their Graduate Career Consortium colleagues in the creation of ImaginePhD, a free online tool for career exploration and planning for doctoral students and postdoctoral scholars in the humanities and social sciences. It launched in October.

The Mellon Foundation of New York City makes grants to strengthen, promote and support the contributions of the humanities and the arts to human flourishing and the well-being of diverse and democratic societies.

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