Stop Ranking My Teenager: Great Students are Overlooked in CPS High School Enrollment Decisions

A holistic approach to admission processes is not a new idea. Simply put, a holistic admission review aims to “see” the whole applicant, not just their test scores or GPA. For many schools, the holistic approach includes consideration of an applicant’s: 

  • GPA 
  • Coursework and academic rigor
  • Standardized test scores
  • Recommendations
  • Essays or short-answer responses
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Other circumstances (learning differences, disabilities, finances, etc.) 

These materials paint a much more detailed picture of the applicant than their test scores and GPA alone. Instead of a number, it provides a portrait, but no matter how detailed, the holistic approach alone does not allow for the animated and values-aligned review our applicants deserve. To create an equitable and intentional admission review, we need to spend the time getting to know our applicants and their families and make the burdensome, complex, and overwhelming process fun. 

Fun does not mean devoid of purpose or substance. At GCE Lab School, instead of a four-hour test, pages of essay prompts, and a superficial list of extracurriculars, our application includes: 

  • a project
  • a presentation
  • a collaborative activity
  • a visit to campus 

Each component is active and customizable, encouraging applicants to explore their interests, share their unique perspectives, and demonstrate their non-cognitive skills. Studies have shown that we can learn as much about a student’s future academic success through their non-cognitive skills (critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, resilience, and collaboration) as their standardized test scores.  

This approach to holistic admissions review avoids reducing applicants to a number or a file. It is dynamic and aims to meet each applicant where they are, instead of pushing them to fit a model. To promote inclusivity and equity, we must acknowledge and affirm every applicant. And to do that, we need to know them and show that we care. 

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Sarah Brock

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