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Transparency in Graduate Admissions

Taking a holistic approach to student success
University Business, September 2018
(From left to right: Robert Ruiz, Vice President for Strategic Enrollment, Liaison International; Katherine Ruger, Assistant Dean, Admissions & Pre-College Programs, College of Osteopathic Medicine Michigan State University; Rochelle Michel, Research Director, ETS
(From left to right: Robert Ruiz, Vice President for Strategic Enrollment, Liaison International; Katherine Ruger, Assistant Dean, Admissions & Pre-College Programs, College of Osteopathic Medicine Michigan State University; Rochelle Michel, Research Director, ETS

In this thought leadership webcast, Liaison International brought together a panel of graduate admissions experts to discuss the topic of transparency in that department, including the practical application of a holistic admissions strategy, trends in evolving models of student support and how institutions can drive student success beyond the classroom.


Robert Ruiz
Vice President for Strategic Enrollment
Liaison International

Katherine Ruger
Assistant Dean, Admissions & Pre-College Programs College of Osteopathic Medicine
Michigan State University

Rochelle Michel
Research Director

Robert Ruiz: As enrollment professionals, we are the gatekeepers. We have a responsibility to meet multiple agendas concurrently. From an institutional standpoint, there may be enrollment, budget, revenue and diversity goals. Overall, it’s the simple idea of making sure your classes are filled with the students you believe will do well. We also have an obligation to our students—that we’re finding the best-fit students and exposing them to the best programs and choices, and that we’re supporting them through the admissions process and the enrollment process. We’re trying to put some art and science together to predict who will do well in our programs. Katherine and Rochelle, what does holistic admission mean to you and to the folks on your campus?  

Katherine Ruger: Our approach is: How do I identify candidates who have not only the academic prowess to be successful, but who are also mission-fit for us? Academic prowess is important, but patient-centered care is, too. The holistic process enables us and empowers us to identify those folks who will contribute to the mission of our institution. When we screen applications, or when our committee reviews applications, we don’t weigh certain qualifications or characteristics more than others. And we don’t have a standardized process for how our committee reviews applications. Some start reading the personal statement right away, others start with letters of recommendation, others start with extracurricular experiences and others may look at interview results first.

Rochelle Michel: We encourage admissions committees to think about the quantitative pieces of information—the test scores, the GPA—as well as the other information that they have, such as letters of recommendation and personal statements. It’s that combined picture that helps admissions committees get a clearer understanding of the value that the candidate will bring to the program. We also have a conversation about the connection between the program’s goals and missions as well as the admissions process and thinking at the forefront about what success means, creating a successful group of students who we bring in, and a successful admissions process. We think of holistic admissions as a five-step process:

1. Alignment between goals and mission—what data is being collected, and how we’re crafting a class.

2. Collection of the various pieces of information.

3. The review process. What does that look like? Who’s involved? What kinds of conversations need to occur to support a holistic admissions process?

4. Admissions committees making final decisions about who they will admit into the programs.

5. The evaluation component, where after the process has been completed, stepping back and saying, “All right, so did we achieve our goals? Are we happy with the end results?” We review not just on an annual basis, but over time, looking at how successful the students have been in the program, and then re-aligning that with the goals, missions, and materials that were used to make those decisions.  

Ruiz: Where are we going? What has changed from 10 years ago? What has stayed the same. What’s your prediction in terms of the next wave of graduate enrollment?

Ruger: Technology has changed. Ten years ago, we were paper-based system. We went from stapling, filing, calling and trying not to lose paper, to a complete transformation of how we function—maximizing efficiency, allocating time to things such as pre-college programs and thinking about continuity of experience. What has stayed the same? In admissions, we have a process of reviewing applications and making decisions accordingly—the profession stays consistent in terms of our objective. Everyone is focused on ensuring a well-rounded and diverse class. There’s greater competition in selecting the mission-fit individuals, and in making sure that we have a high-quality incoming class. Graduate admissions professionals need to be strategic about and creative in how they move forward in communicating with students, personalizing everything. Moving ahead, the focus is this idea of enrollment management—integrating recruitment, marketing, financial aid, student services and the registrar to admissions.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please visit