Student filling out Common ApplicationThe University of Colorado Boulder employs a holistic application review process. Wait, what? Yes, a holistic application review process. How many times have you heard that phrase spoken at a college fair, application workshop or a high school visit? Do you really know what that means? Do you trust that we really know what that means?

A holistic application review process means we look at the application itself, all required documents and all related information available to us and make an informed decision on your ability to be a successful, contributing member of our campus community. Phew.

Let’s dive into details about each component of your application. I’ll share with you some of the questions that we ask ourselves as we review each component and what exactly we are hoping to learn.

First, let’s be clear. The core of our review is academics. It’s also important to know that we review all applications within their environment and educational context. This means that when I look at the first section of the application I’m learning where you are from, where you attend school and other basic information about who you are. This helps set the context for which I am looking at the components of your application.

High School Transcript

When reviewing your transcript we focus on course selection, grade trend and individual classroom performance/grades.

Are you challenging yourself in your course selection? If there are AP, Honors or IB courses offered at your school, did you take any? We certainly look positively on students who are willing to challenge themselves with upper level coursework!

What is your grade trend? Have you been performing consistently throughout high school? Perhaps you struggled a bit early on, but now have increased your performance and are much more focused on your academics. Both of these scenarios are positive!

How are you performing in individual classes? What grades are you achieving?

Let’s take a moment to discuss GPA.

I am often asked about the minimum GPA needed to get admitted to CU Boulder. Or what is a ‘good’ GPA. The answer I always provide is, it depends. Grading scales, and thus GPA’s, are not standardized across schools. Some schools might give 3 points of weight for an upper level course, other schools will give no weight at all. I have reviewed transcripts for students on 4.0, 5,0. 7.0 and 9.0 grading scales. I have also seen transcripts where in lieu of grades a narrative evaluation is provided.

This is why context is key.

Academic Letter of Recommendation

We require one academic letter of recommendation. This may come from a teacher, counselor or another individual of your choosing who can provide more information about you in an academic setting.

These letters help us understand how you achieved that B in Chemistry. Are your lab reports outstanding? Are you a natural leader in group projects? Perhaps that A in Honors English is a result of your critical thinking skills on display in classroom discussions. The academic letter of recommendation lets us know who you are in the classroom day in and day out and this lets us understand what type of student you will be in our classroom.

Standardized Test Scores

You have likely seen our middle 50% ACT and SAT scores posted on our website, in our materials and you’ve likely asked this question to one of our admission counselors. Yes, we do require an ACT or SAT and we do consider these results as part of the academic core of our review. It is important to note that we do super score the SAT or ACT, meaning that we will take the highest score from each section of the test (regardless of test date) to give you a new super scored composite score. Again, everything is reviewed within context and nothing is used in isolation.


The Common Application provides space to list up to 10 activities. Should you feel this format or space is not sufficient to share this information with us you can submit an additional resume. We are interested in learning how you spend your time outside of the classroom. Do you have a job? Are you involved in drama productions? Perhaps you’re an athlete? Are you engaged in community service?  We do not prefer certain activities over other activities. We are genuinely interested in learning who you are and how you spend your time. This gives us an idea of how you might be part of our community here at CU!


A great blog post about our required essays will be shared in the coming weeks. To tide you over I want you to consider that the two essays are the only section of the application where you, the student, gets to speak directly to the admission counselor. Use this space wisely. Oh, and please answer the essay questions!

I hope that in this post I was able to share some helpful information, that you were able to learn something new and that perhaps, I was able to debunk some myths about our application review process!


Colleen Newman

Colleen Newman
Director of Undergraduate Admissions
University of Colorado Boulder