Here is a good summary of how universities make admissions decisions. https://socialassurity.com/social-media-insights/youre-not-going-to-get-accepted-into-a-top-university-on-merit-alone?utm_source=College+Counselors&utm_campaign=b855426814-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_06_29_03_39&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_9e5337f750-b855426814-262963857
So, how do universities make admissions decisions? William Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions at Harvard, writes of an “expansive view of excellence.” This includes “extracurricular distinction and personal qualities” in addition to test scores and grades. Evaluating applications is a long process. At Harvard, it involves at least two readers of each file. It also involves discussions among a subcommittee of at least four individuals that last up to an hour. The process is similar for other selective colleges. Admissions officers at the same university often differ about which students to admit. The process is more art than science.
Holistic evaluation allows admissions officers to take into account opportunities, hardships and other experiences that may have affected an applicant’s grades and SAT scores. They may also consider how those things affected their participation in activities outside of school.
In addition to the holistic evaluation process, admissions teams need to
These needs vary from campus to campus and from year to year. Coaches can recruit top athletes for positions on their teams played by graduating seniors, and those recruits enter the fast lane to admission. And, just as the baseball coach can recruit a shortstop, the orchestra director may request a top bassoon player to fill a missing part in the orchestra. Since needs of campus organizations and teams vary from year to year, you can’t glean much from admission files in isolation like the DOJ and curious students hope to do.