Holistic review is a process, recently adopted by the University of California school system, in which student applications are reviewed in the context of particular challenges a student has had to endure. (To put it bluntly, under holistic review, a minority student growing up in South Central L.A. and a student attending a private school in a wealthier neighborhood may be held to different standards when their applications are reviewed.)

UC President Mark G. Yudof has said that he hopes the holistic review will prevent eligible minority and low-income students from being rejected at unfair rates.

My friend Randolf, who works as an application reader for Berkeley (which has used holistic review since 2001), asks this question when he’s reviewing applications:

“Did this student make the most of his or her opportunities? “

Some applaud holistic review, claiming that taking into account a student’s learning environment and particular life circumstances allows for a more fair and thorough assessment of a student.

But critics argue that the system is actually unfair, making the acceptance process too subjective.