If you have attended college information sessions this summer, you may have heard admissions officers say that they take a “holistic” review of applications. What does that phrase mean, and how does it affect their review of your personal statement?

Many of you are familiar with the common refrain, “If you’re not in the pile, your application will not even be considered.” The way to get into “the pile” is through a minimum level of grades or standardized test scores, or a combination thereof. But for the 2014-2015 admissions cycle, some colleges and universities are sorting through college applications differently. This year, many admissions departments are reviewing applications “holistically.” Under a holistic review, all parts of your application will be considered, with no particular weight accorded to grades or test scores. Under this model, everyone has an equal chance of being seen and heard. This is welcome news for students applying to “reach” schools since you no longer run the risk of being placed in the “wrong” pile. The implications for your personal statement are huge and means that a stand-out essay is more important than ever. It could very well tip the scales in your favor when applying to schools that are just within your reach.