Evaluation Rubrics Best Practice and Examples

Holistic Admissions

A rubric is a classification system that employs consistent evaluation criteria across committee members and across applications. A rubric is composed of evaluation categories that reflect your program’s values and/or mission and key characteristics of successful students in your program.

 The Benefits of a Rubric

  • Structure and Equity: Applicants are assessed using a consistent structure on multiple dimensions.

  • Specificity: Implicit bias is mitigated by focusing on predefined factors.

  • Alignment:  Using program-based criteria reinforces a program's values and/or mission

  • Transparency: Rubrics provide evidence that support application decisions. Providing prospective students with criteria before submission of their application can clarify what is expected in the personal statement and leads to better applications.

  • Increase Efficiency: Rubrics can speed up the process of evaluating applications because the scoring levels for the criteria have already been defined and are not arbitrarily justified for each applicant.

Rubric Criteria

In order to define your program’s rubric categories, consider the top qualities that current students in your program possess that have helped them succeed. Consider non-cognitive variables such as

  • Resilience,
  • Work ethic,
  • Engagement in scholarship,
  • Creative problem-solving,
  • Leadership,
  • Service, etc.

The goal is to have between 3 - 5 categories with a defined rating scale. Create a “Master Rubric” with an explanation of each category and a descriptor of each rating for that category.  

Anatomy of a Rubric

These are several common parts of a rubric:

  • Categories - Qualities or skills that correlate with success in the program or field

  • Scoring Scale - three to five levels, can be descriptive (ex. High, medium, low) or numerical (1 to 3)

  • Quality Criteria - description of each level of scoring for each category

Example of rating definitions for each quality/skill and rating level.
Category Where to find evidence Excellent (3)

Good (2)

Poor (1)
Quality/Skill 1 Parts of the application this skill is usually addressed Demonstrate a proficiency in this quality/skill  Some experience with this quality/skill Little evidence of this quality/skill
Quality/Skill 2 Parts of the application this skill is usually addressed Demonstrate a proficiency in this quality/skill  Some experience with this quality/skill Little evidence of this quality/skill
Quality/Skill 3 Parts of the application this skill is usually addressed Demonstrate a proficiency in this quality/skill  Some experience with this quality/skill Little evidence of this quality/skill

Example Rubrics

Two rubric examples created by two different programs at UW-Madison and used in their holistic admissions review processes:

Example Rubric using Excel (link downloads an Excel file)

Example Rubric using PDF

The template rubric offered at the University of Illinois Urban-Champaign using their admissions platform Slate:

Example Rubric using Slate

Additional Practices

Prior to reviewing applications

When using rubrics it is a best practice to “norm” prior to each application season. This process is intended to build a rater’s internal consistency with how they are determining score levels. Each reviewer will review an application or two from the previous year using the rubric, then come together as a group to discuss results. It is okay if multiple raters score applicants differently on a few of the rubric criteria as there will always be some level of subjectivity and interpretation; however, major discrepancies between raters should always be discussed in depth.

Evaluating Applications

Evaluate applications independently; do not discuss applicants or applications with others on the admissions committee. This will reduce other's opinions biasing your own.


View additional modules in the Holistic Admissions Toolkit:

Target iconAdmissions Committees

Ribbon iconEvaluation Rubrics

Microphone iconInterviewing

Globe iconInternational Applicants



KeywordsHolistic Admissions, Graduate Admission, Admission Rubric   Doc ID131844
OwnerKatie B.GroupGraduate School
Created2023-10-03 10:54:04Updated2024-07-10 14:16:57
SitesGraduate School
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