I'll scream if I hear the word "holistic" at a college info session again. What it really means is that the admissions people love their own sensibilities and power. This might be fine if the choice was between two applicants for one open slot, but it's now a choice between 5 or 10 applicants at some colleges. They claim that there is no merit function that they use, but they don't tell you that the intangible factor has now risen to well over 50 percent of the admissions judgment. Since so many students meet some basic level of ability to handle the rigor at the college, one application out of 5 or 10 is selected based on the judgment of admissions people. They don't even turn some of their holistic decisions over to individual departments that know about academic content. They can't tell whether an applicant is at a base camp or a mountain top.
The admissions judgments are based on essays, recommendation letters, and character intangibles rather than academic intangibles. The admissions person we saw yesterday talked about their criteria of whether you would be an interesting person to have a cup of coffee with. They claim that they can see right through all applicants to tell if they are "authentic", "genuine", and "consistent". I think it just means that you have to be less authentic and hire better admissions prep people. They tell us that the essay and letters of recommendation are critical, but do they really think that the people they select did not get professional help? Sure, they can see through some applications, but what about the difference between authentic students who get help and authentic students who do not?
The other problem is that admissions people seem so anti-math and science. I'll scream a second time if I hear another admissions person or tour student tell us that the general education requirements allows you to not have to take another real math class; that there are other classes that will fulfill the requirements (ha ha). These are Ivy League schools. So here is this engaging English major tour guide who appeals to admissions more than a bookish math student who might have qualified for the AIME test.
We talked with a professor of music who said that they don't get audio portfolios of students to evaluate unless there is a final tie-breaking issue. He was having trouble getting a chance to evaluate and comment on an applicant who was a Presidential Scholar in the Arts. The holistic intangibles are closely held by the admissions people. It's OK, however, to select applicants who are clearly at the top of their math career. Then again, the admissions people may not know the difference.