The Importance of Holistic Admissions in Business School Admissions

The business landscape is changing quickly, and the importance of building a diverse generation of leaders who possess both strong business acumen and people skills cannot be overstated. When it comes to educating these emerging leaders, soft skills play a pivotal role in ensuring their success both within their programs and subsequent careers.

This week on the Holistic Success Show, we had the pleasure of hosting Dan Shaw, MBA Program Director at Dalhousie University. Under Shaw’s guidance, Dalhousie became the first business program to integrate Casper, a situational judgement test, into their admissions process, signalling a pivotal shift towards a more holistic review of candidates. This move not only underscores the significance of soft skills in business success but also reflects a broader commitment to nurturing well-rounded professionals.

Why embrace holistic admissions?

Business school admissions are at a crossroads, particularly with their reliance on traditional measures like the GMAT. This test, focused heavily on quantitative skills, is increasingly seen as insufficient for predicting a student’s overall success in both academic and professional realms. Surprisingly, even departments steeped in numbers, like the finance department at Dalhousie, have voiced concerns, pointing out that the GMAT’s ability to predict meaningful outcomes is limited. This critique has sparked a wider discussion on the need to revamp the admissions approach to encompass a broader range of student abilities.

The drive towards holistic admissions stems from an understanding that incoming students often lack soft skills that are crucial for both academic and professional success. This gap underscores the importance of adopting assessments like Casper, which was designed to evaluate a broader set of competencies, including emotional intelligence, ethical reasoning, and communication skills. 

By expanding the admissions criteria, business schools are acknowledging that the key to preparing students for the complexities of today’s business world lies not only in academic knowledge but also in a well-rounded skill set. This shift towards a more inclusive and comprehensive evaluation process represents a significant evolution in how future business leaders are selected and nurtured.

How do soft skills factor into program success?

Within the business sector, soft skills such as communication, leadership, and emotional intelligence are not just complementary to technical knowledge; they are fundamental to career progression and effectiveness in the workplace. Recognizing this, business schools are increasingly seeking ways to assess and develop these skills from the moment students enter their doors. 

Through targeted professional development courses and real-world applications via internships or cooperative education opportunities, students receive a well-rounded education that prepares them for the complexities of the business world.

What challenges are associated with nurturing soft skills?

Identifying and developing non-cognitive skills in learners is challenging. Students begin academic programs with varying levels of proficiency in these areas, requiring educators to adopt a personalized approach to skill development. This often involves one-on-one coaching and the integration of feedback from multiple sources, including academic advisors, career services, and industry partners. Creating an environment where constructive feedback is normalized and acted upon is crucial for student growth and development.

How is the approach to holistic development assessed?

The effectiveness of incorporating soft skills into business school admissions is continually evaluated through both academic performance and success in cooperative education placements. This data-driven approach allows for the refinement of teaching methods and the curriculum to better meet the needs of students and the demands of the business world. 

Furthermore, the feedback loop between current students, alumni, and industry professionals plays a vital role in ensuring the program remains relevant and impactful.


The move towards holistic admissions in business education marks a significant shift in how future executives are selected and trained. By valuing the full spectrum of a candidate’s abilities, including those non-cognitive skills crucial for effective leadership and innovation, programs can foster a new generation of business professionals equipped to navigate the challenges of a rapidly changing global economy. 

This approach enhances students’ educational experience and contributes to a more dynamic and resilient business community. As we continue to witness the integration of holistic admissions criteria and the emphasis on soft skills development, the blueprint for business education evolves, promising a more inclusive and comprehensive pathway to success.

Watch the full Holistic Success Show episode now