Methods: We developed the methods for this review using the preferred reporting items for systematic review and meta-analysis protocols (PRISMA)-P for systematic reviews. After consulting with a reference librarian, we searched eight bibliographic databases in March 2019 using eight keywords relevant to holistic admissions practices. Articles included in this review met the following inclusion criteria: (a) U.S.-based study, (b) published in a peer-reviewed journal after 2009; (c) written in English; and (d) empirically evaluated holistic admissions practices in graduate or professional schools with admitted student racial diversity as an outcome. To further enhance rigor, our team of two reviewers independently extracted information from the included articles using a standardized abstraction form. We also identified additional articles through reference harvesting, hand searching, and forward citation chaining.
Results: Five studies, were identified that met our inclusion criteria. Three articles examined medical school practices and two articles examined dental school practices. Holistic admissions practices that were evaluated included comprehensive application review that included noncognitive factors, holistic admissions educational workshops, and application and interview timing. Holistic admissions practices were found to increase the racial diversity of interviewed, admitted, and matriculating studentscompared to application processes that primarily considered academic metrics. One study also found that students historically marginalized based on racial identity tended to apply later in rolling admissions processes and, therefore, faced greater competition for fewer spots.
Conclusions/Implications: There are few studies that examine the effectiveness of holistic admissions practices to enhance racial diversity of students admitted to our matriculating to graduate programs. However, the results of these studies are promising. Holistic admissions has been shown to enhance racial diversity of incoming cohorts in medical and dental graduate programs. Adapting holistic admissions practices from other fields could aid social work graduate programs in enhancing racial diversity as well. Development and testing of holistic admissions interventions tailored to the missions of social work graduate programs is needed. Increasing the racial diversity of admitted and matriculating students through holistic admissions translates could translate to increased racial diversity among social work professionals. Additional research is also needed that examines the full social work profession pipeline, including steps leading toward applying to social work graduate programs and retention of alumni in the social work profession.