Developed by: University of Georgia and University of Maryland, College Park


Faculty approach diversity and inclusion challenges from different starting points. Leaders in graduate education must therefore make decisions about what projects would make the most difference in improving the climate and what faculty are most ready to be able to do and commit time. An argument can be made that if faculty and future faculty start to shift their mindset in one area of graduate education, then that will impact how they approach other areas.

For many faculty, the most compelling diversity and inclusion goals are the final outcomes, i.e., diverse scholars as future faculty and professionals, which bring diverse perspectives to scholarship, as well as the benefits of representation and role models. These outcomes require changes in faculty and academic culture that address the following within a localized context of an academic program:

  • how to create an inclusive climate where Black, Hispanic/Latine, and Indigenous (BHI) can develop a sense of community and belonging;
  • how to successfully mentor BHI students whose backgrounds are historically underrepresented in academia; and
  • how to recruit, admit, enroll BHI students and support them in their progression and postgraduate outcomes.

Graduate admissions may be a strategic entry point for work on changes in academic culture and faculty mindset. Faculty are strongly invested in graduate admissions, and may contribute to systemic changes in admissions if these changes are likely to lead to desired outcomes such as stronger and more diverse applicant pools. As part of a holistic review process, faculty must reflect on what experiences and characteristics are critical to successful graduate study in their programs (for example, demonstrating persistence, learning from failure, working well on teams, etc.) and assess whether their application is set up to capture this information from applicants and their references. This reflective work should also include having faculty review their admission criteria to inform the development of a well-aligned selection rubric to support their holistic and more objective assessment of applicants. Such a rubric aids in developing and maintaining a shared understanding of how a department defines degrees of strength within the areas being assessed in selection.

With a holistic mindset, faculty are asked to consider applicants as whole individuals and within the context of their academic and personal experiences.This more thorough consideration of applicants can provide critical insights into their experiences and attributes that contextually demonstrate their potential for success within graduate studies in a particular program. Shifting to a mindset in admissions that more holistically considers a student’s background, experiences, and potential to succeed as a graduate student, also provides faculty and future faculty the opportunity to more thoughtfully calibrate their mentoring practices to meet student needs, and create conditions where students can more readily establish a sense of belonging, thrive, and fulfill their potential.

Following his participation in a holistic admissions training for faculty and future faculty at the University of Maryland, College Park, Leo Torres, Bioengineering doctoral candidate, stated “as a Ph.D. candidate that aspires to join the professoriate, and who happens to come from an underrepresented minority group, this event presented an aspect of the academy that I did not consider in the past: forging departmental culture and community through graduate admissions. The culture of a department can have an impact on the success and emotional/mental well-being of graduate students therefore, it is important to provide a nurturing environment for all. This workshop presented methods on how faculty can remove bias, preserve academic excellence, and build a diverse and inclusive graduate student and faculty population. This is incredibly helpful in preparing for the application process and in choosing institutions and departments I would like to be a part of. I plan to implement philosophies discussed today when I am a faculty member.”

Goals & Objectives

  1. Faculty begin mindset change using the discrete task of planning and applying equity-based holistic admissions practices
  2. Faculty define what experiences and characteristics have been demonstrated to be critical to successful graduate study in their programs and align their application to capture the data necessary to assess candidates in these areas
  3. Faculty develop a well-aligned selection rubric and a process for its application
  4. Faculty utilize their experience instituting systemic changes in selection practices to inform systemic changes in mentoring practices.
  5. Future Faculty learn how they can proactively influence positive systemic change in admissions and mentoring practices once they enter the professoriate.

Partners, or Who to Engage, and Why

  • Faculty and admissions committees in departments.
  • Graduate school admissions software experts, especially support on configuration of department-level requirements
  • Other departments, universities, and/or national experts on holistic admissions
  • Diversity practitioners and offices that can support faculty development in areas such as implicit bias, diversity recruitment, culturally aware mentoring practices, etc.
  • Disciplinary researchers and societies that have shown, in their fields, the low correlation between GRE scores and student success.
  • Institutional data offices that can provide data on e.g., admissions, enrollment, attrition, time to degree, and postgraduate outcomes
  • Provost, Graduate Dean, and college deans so they can provide their support.

Planning & Logistics

  1. Make a case for developing and applying holistic admissions practices
  2. Provide case study examples from other institutions that have implemented holistic admissions with strong outcomes
  3. Provide data and research literature from national and/or local studies
  4. Workshops are hosted in departments identified as change ready and where there is a strong presence of shared responsibility for advancing holistic admission practices.
  5. Engage future faculty in parallel workshops to support their development of knowledge and skills in holistic admissions practices.
  6. Provide consultations to departments initiating changes in their admissions practices.
  7. Assess the impact of changes in admissions practices and identify opportunities for continued refinement.
  8. Use experiences initiating change in admissions practices to inform complementary systemic change in mentoring practices.

A Pilot / Initial Rollout

  • Conversations with departments that are willing to start creating a more inclusive graduate program.
  • Engage with ~5 departments where advancement in holistic admissions practices might be a useful starting place.
  • A small team (pilot team) with workshop leaders, 1-2 representatives from each of these five departments, and someone who knows what is possible to configure the admissions system.
    • An option is to hire a national consultant to run this workshop.
  • Holistic admissions workshop scheduled and run by the pilot team, attended by all the department leaders (e.g., graduate admissions committee, graduate director, department chair).
    • If the department does not have an admissions committee, but traditionally applicants are reviewed by a single faculty, consider inviting well-respected faculty with positive spheres of influence to participate in this workshop.
  • The pilot team convenes regularly to
    • Configure the admissions tools used in each of the pilot departments.
    • Support the department representatives as the first holistic reviews start taking place in their department.

Full-Scale Solution

  • The pilot team presents their work to the Provost, Graduate Dean, and academic deans.
    • This leadership group may decide not to pursue a full rollout
    • Or advises on a path how to reach all graduate programs
  • Possible paths to reach all graduate programs.
    • If there is strong support from an academic dean, invite all graduate programs in the college to attend an annual workshop on holistic admissions run by the graduate school.
    • Otherwise invite, e.g.,10 departments at a time from across campus
    • Attendees to each workshop should include department leaders (e.g., graduate admissions) on holistic admissions.
    • Provide technical support to each department on how to reconfigure the admissions software.
  • Other options include
    • Removing GRE scores from being uploaded to the admissions software.

Associated Costs

ItemUnit Cost# of UnitsCost
Pilot workshop$10,000 if an outside expert is used; up to $500 otherwise depending on local expenses1$0-$10,000
Materials and supplies for pilot workshop$4001$400
Materials and supplies for scale-up workshops (attended by 10 departments at a time)$2008$1,600
Graduate school staff time0.25 FTE / year2 years$40,000
Data analysis from central office0.1 FTE / year2 years$20,000
Total$62,000 – $72,000

Assessment Options

  • Survey of pilot departments on their experiences with the quality of the matriculated class and the size of application pool after implementing holistic admissions

Attribution Statement

For those that might adapt and adopt this program model, please provide attribution to UGA and UMD holistic admissions work established in part with support from the National Science Foundation funded CIRTL AGEP Project.

References and Resources

  • Posselt, J. R. (2014). Toward inclusive excellence in graduate education: Constructing merit and diversity in PhD admissions. American Journal of Education, 120(4), 481-514.
  • Posselt, J. R. (2016). Inside graduate admissions: Merit, diversity, and faculty gatekeeping. Harvard University Press.
  • I-GEN

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